At the boot camp, Ford extolled his philosophy, honed during his time at Stanford’s d.school (that’s California-speak for design school), of what it takes to make a winning business. The technology must focus on the user. And designers must continually iterate, quickly, and learn from failures. Cross-pollination is creative: The product dreamed up by a hacker, a business dude, and a storyteller will be more rewarding than one designed by technology nerds alone.
The six companies Matter accepted got $50,000 and five months of coaching. They sat cheek-by-jowl in what is essentially a large garage in the trendy South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. Mostly they worked on their own, but twice a week they sat together. Tuesdays, they heard from a variety of speakers, usually successful entrepreneurs, designers, hackers, marketing folks, businesspeople, and investors. Fridays the campers shared their successes and problems with one another.
Once a month they rehearsed their pitches for demo day, when they hoped to secure the funding they need to survive. Throughout, they were encouraged to test their prototypes on real end users, like KQED.
Shapins, Oehler, and Burns’ company, called Zeega, mashes sound with visuals to create a new interactive storytelling format. Initially it was designed for professional clients like PRX. During their time at camp, though, they made two significant decisions: First, they wanted to simplify the technology so that anyone with a smartphone can make a Zeega. Second, they dropped the videos, at least for now.
The three founders want Zeega to be the creative person’s Twitter. “Creating a Zeega is not the same as making a video. It’s not the same as making a radio story. There are ways in which the medium itself is very appropriate for how we use media today,” says Shapins, the CEO.
KQED teamed up with Zeega as part of the radio’s “The Making of” series, a yearlong collaboration with independent producers to create the public-radio content of the future. Boland says he likes Zeega’s simplicity; its technology allows someone to tell a multimedia story with the help of a developer.
In August, National Public Radio mixed vintage photos and grainy video clips from the 1963 March on Washington with oral reminiscences from organizers 50 years later. “We really were jumping up and down; most of all because of the quality,” Shapins says. “What made us most excited was how NPR did the creative work themselves.”
In addition to Zeega, KQED is working with ChannelMeter, another graduate of Matter’s first camp, which ended in June. ChannelMeter helps companies analyze how and what videos viewers watch online. It monitors the top 50,000 YouTube channels on an hourly basis. That’s about 25 million videos every day.
Eugene Lee, 31, and Nimi Wariboko Jr., 21, the brains behind the company, hope to be tracking 10 times that number of videos in a year. From late winter through September of this year, they attended not one but two accelerator camps, where they got access to executives from The New York Times, Google News, News Corp, The Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine. What they learned is that publishers often were blindly uploading videos without knowing anything more than how many views each got.
But that YouTube number beneath the video is deceiving. It doesn’t divulge, for instance, whether someone watched for a few seconds or the whole four minutes. Nor did it disclose how the viewer found the video—via a Google search, a Facebook recommendation, or Twitter feed. “There was no strategy or planning,” Lee says. “What made it worse, they weren’t spending the time looking at the data.”