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Startup Diaries: DogEar News

F10 accompanies startups on their way and documents their progress in regular intervals – the big and small successes, the challenges, and the defeats. This time Haley Cohen from Toronto, Canada, founder of DogEar News, shares her story

How I came up with the idea
My background is in freshwater science research and holistic education. I entered the tech space this past year with the creation of DogEar. Like many other entrepreneurs, my first push towards going tech was found through my own frustrations: one year ago, I was on Facebook stumbling upon news posts and enjoying the social aspect of sharing news with friends. However, my newsfeed was much less diverse than what I would naturally have chosen. I am aware of the power of participatory journalism and know that digital social networks must be set-up responsibly. After a lot of research, I set out to develop DogEar, a space that promotes diverse and trustworthy news sharing between friends.

What I like about the tech space
It’s a lot of fun to drive an idea forward and to build a diverse team of visionaries. The possibilities for progressive creativity feel endless in the tech space. This ‘space’ theme applies to our audience, too. Digital companies have the potential for endless reach. Past projects of mine sometimes felt anticlimactic when stuck in one classroom, lab, or community. Now, I am moving the mission of improving the news-sharing environment forward to an audience that feels endless.

How DogEar works
DogEar is a news-sharing platform for friends to share trustworthy news. We want to move the news away from other social platforms that are cluttered with personal content, filled with dubious news sources, and excessively over-personalized.

DogEar combines AI, news literacyeducation, and human community to rebuild the news-sharing environment. News literacy is the key tool, a concept defined as our ability to critically assess the news. DogEar’s “News Literacy Flags” help us spot untrustworthy news and figure out what news is shareworthy.

The story behind the funny name
When you fold a page in a book to mark what you are reading, it is called a ‘dog ear’. I do this when I find something particularly interesting that I want to revisit or share. It felt like the right term for news sharing as well. Dogs are also social animals and can be such a friendly welcome into a space – we hope to embody that type of welcoming feeling on DogEar, too!

How to break into an already established market as a small company
DogEar is the only social app focused on sharing purely news content. DogEar streamlines trustworthy news sharing onto a single platform, bringing friends together over meaningful content and opportunities to make a collective impact.

The day we started
I started DogEar by researching the idea and beginning our networking tornado in the spring of 2018. Throughout this process, I tried to nail down an appropriate tech strategy, business strategy, solicited advice from expert friends, and learned the software necessary to design and prototype.

In the summer, we built a click-through prototype, applied for grants, and hired a full-stack developer.

By autumn, we had hired three interns, solidified an advisory team, built our brand identity, website, and social media. As the development of the software progressed, we continued to apply for grants, and push ourselves to keep networking.

This winter, we launched the app with a team of five. I led the business, UX/UI design, and project management. Our software developer developed with the aid of two computer science interns. And a marketing intern focused on targeted, digital marketing campaigns.

To better quantify our progress, we measured certain metrics against our app performance and used those results to improve the platform as well as acquire more users.

A typical week at DogEar is a combination of app updates, creating marketing initiatives, connecting with potential users, and searching for funding. With regards to funding, unless you are well connected through previous startups, it’s very hard to raise any money without a good proof of concept. Apart from that, we have gained funding support through government grants, friends, family, and my savings.

The first reactions
The majority of people who share the news on social media are educated millennial women. This demographic is easy to engage with as most of us working on DogEar are, in fact, this exact demographic. When we reach out to them, our reception is great – they understand the need for DogEar and are eager to jump on board. However, when pitching DogEar to 65-year-old men, things can get rough.

What went completely wrong
I have made a few regretful product and project management decisions. When working in a space that isn’t your expertise it can be hard to know how to best assess all the tech options.

Although, I’m still not sure that any path is the “perfect” path. There are pros and cons to most decisions, so I try to stay positive and focus on finding solutions to whatever problems arise.

The first milestones
Launching the app was a huge milestone. It wasn’t nerve-wracking, it was just a huge relief/accomplishment.

The next steps
To quickly get the app to where I think it needs to be for true adoption and growth. We are starting to onboard young journalists to be featured, and are finding ways to connect with our obtainable audience. Soon we will reach out to influencers that work hard to be activists and to educate. We hope that one – or many – will jump on board to form a tight partnership that helps us grow a big, diverse community of news sharers on DogEar.

My advice for other founders
Nurture your relationships and networking connections. My biggest supporters are people I’ve met in the startup community over the past few months.

Never miss out on an opportunity to learn, even if it’s from a mistake 🙂

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