Lessons from a news entrepreneur who just raised $500,000 for his startup

Here at the Knight Fellowships, we’re celebrating the news that one of our alums, Adriano Farano, has secured $500,000 in angel funding for his video journalism start-up Watchup.

But, we aren’t a bit surprised. Adriano is a news entrepreneur to his core. In fact, he’s never worked on the staff of a traditional news organization. Before his year as a Knight Fellow, Adriano had spent a decade leading cafebabel.com, a multilingual pan-European news magazine that he cofounded in 2001. The magazine is a pioneer in collaborative journalism.

Even so, Adriano says his understanding of being a news entrepreneur has grown exponentially because of his experiences these past two years in Silicon Valley – first as a Knight Fellow, then as serial founder of two start-ups and entrepreneur in residence at StartX, a Stanford start-up accelerator

Launching a news start-up isn’t for everyone and it isn’t the only way we define success in our program. Success is creating or starting something that is of value and use to other journalists and every year that takes many forms.

But, Adriano has learned a few things that are useful to other journalists who are launching new media ventures, or who are wondering whether to take that plunge. After writing about his top insights on the Idea Lab blog, Adriano answered a few additional questions we had:

Give us your elevator pitch: What is Watchup?

Watchup brings the power of video journalism to the tablet age with a beautiful iPad app that lets you build your own newsreel from trusted news channels. Tap the videos you want, hit play and sit back or multitask while you’re learning more about the world we live in. 

What did you want to accomplish in raising this round of funding?

Overall, we wanted to raise an angel round that could let us validate the Watchup model, which is based on our conviction that in the post-PC era we all still feel the need of a special moment during the day to get in-depth news and information.  This funding will let us expand the team. We will hire an additional designer and developer, and a video curator.

How important was winning a Knight News Challenge award last summer to your fundraising? 

We are very proud of the support we received from the Knight Foundation, not only because we won one of the six awards for a contest that received over 1,000 applications but also because they decided to invest in us through what I define as one of the biggest innovations in the field of media innovation in the last years — the Knight Enterprise Fund. Why? Because it’s a for-profit early stage fund that embodies that same hybrid we believe in — strong journalism values and faith in the power of technology. That means that you can actually preserve what you believe in (the power of journalism) by leveraging disruptive technology and playing by the rules of the angel and venture ecosystem. 

What types of investors did you decide to seek out and why?

What’s so exciting in our first round of funding is that it comes with a ton of validation from  both the news industry and the local Silicon Valley community. Our lineup of investors is bi-coastal and a true blend of journalism know-how and technology vision. That mix of journalism and technology background is at the heart of our own culture and DNA. My co-founder Jonathan Lundell is a veteran technologist and entrepreneur. In addition to the Knight Enterprise Fund, Watchup received angel investments from  the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, Gordon Crovitz, respected Silicon Valley angel Don Hutchinson, Steve Taylor, who fathered the Boston Globe’s digital operations, and other individual investors, as well as from angel funds such as Digital News Ventures, TEEC Angel Fund and Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs.

Your post for Idea Lab lists lessons you’ve learned in this process. Which of those are most important?

Out of the ten lessons I outlined in the article, I think the most important ones are: Hang out with other entrepreneurs since there’s nothing more powerful than peer learning, and be persistent and brilliant: if you believe in what you do you’ll get there. Also, you have to know that raising a first round of funding really is just the beginning of an entrepreneurial adventure. 

What is the first advice you give someone who wants to found a news startup?

Start by creating a stellar team and don’t be indulgent on the quality of people and their time commitment. You don’t want to outsource work, you want to find people who share your same passion and are ready to put everything they have at stake. That’s the trickiest part and I think that the most important tool we all have is the power of our ideas. If we strongly believe in what we do, attracting people is not hard. But it’s super important. After all you want to change the world, which is no easy task.

Read Adriano Farano’s 10 Things to Know Before Raising an Angle or Seed Round post  on the Idea Lab blog.