The Brilliant Pivot That Turned NewsCred Into One Of Silicon Alley's Hottest Startups

shafqat islam

Content marketing is one of the biggest new trends for companies. Businesses are bringing customers closer by building their own content, or getting it from elsewhere. One of the biggest new players in the market is New York startup NewsCred.

The company takes content from media outlets like Bloomberg, The Economist, and The Guardian, and brings it to third parties, taking care of all of the licensing and legal issues along the way.

At first their business was primarily with publishers, but increasingly, the company’s focus is on putting together customised content for huge brands like Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson, and Orange Telecom.  

Pepsi, for example, uses entertainment and music content on its consumer facing home page. 

NewsCred’s CEO and founder Shafqat Islam has huge hopes for that business, telling Business Insider that “every Fortune 2000 company today is a candidate for content marketing. If they’re not doing it, they will be, and we want to be in every single brand.”

Even though their focus is changing, Islam told us how being in the wrong business at first helped the company build content and technology that make it dominant in a space that didn’t exist a few years ago.  

“It’s interesting, we were actually a consumer-facing news site, this was back in the day when Digg and Reddit were really popular. We thought we could take our own angle on this by focusing on quality and not popularity, giving users a tool to vote, to rate, comment on the quality of news so we could focus on high quality journalism.

We very quickly realised that that wasn’t really a business, it was really a project or a non-profit. But while doing that, we had built out some pretty interesting technology for our site. When we tried to licence content, it was a very painful experience. It was either very expensive or when people would deliver content to us, they’d FCP us 5,000 articles and expect us to kind of trawl through it and figure out what to publish.

Also, the content in itself wasn’t that interesting, there was not that much diversity in terms of what our options were for licensing, so we said, why don’t we just solve the problem and really innovate and kind of disrupt this syndication space? That’s kind of how we got into this current business. Initially we were selling mainly to publishers, and then over the last year, year and half we realised the brand space has really taken off, and that’s when we really started focusing more and more on brands.”

Islam didn’t give up when it became clear his first idea wouldn’t work. Instead, he saw a new problem and changed the company to address it. Even their second focus, selling to publishers, wasn’t quite right. “It’s really hard, and it’s really slow, and it’s hard to extract kind of a lot of dollars because newsroom budgets are shrinking,” Islam says.

But by building a massive library of content, a tough task that took years, the company put itself in the right place at exactly the right time to take advantage of brand’s adoption of content and disrupt both the syndication and content marketing industries. 

It’s another reminder of two of the most important lessons for startups, the importance of timing, and the fact that some of the best businesses and lessons come after initial setbacks.

NOW READ: Big Brands Are Pouring Money Into Their Own Custom News Sites

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