Publication-bundling startup NICKL 'decided to lean into the moment' when everyone wants the news - Technical.ly Philly

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May 13, 2020 11:44 am

Publication-bundling startup NICKL ‘decided to lean into the moment’ when everyone wants the news

The news subscription startup raised a small bridge round that's helped it onboard more publications and expand its customer base.
A recent NICKL team Zoom call, with CEO Sumorwuo Zaza in the bottom row.

A recent NICKL team Zoom call, with CEO Sumorwuo Zaza in the bottom row.

(Screenshot courtesy of NICKL)

Three-year-old startup NICKL, maker of news subscription bundling service NICKL Pass, has learned to strike while the iron is hot.

While other startups have struggled to deal with how the coronavirus pandemic will affect their business model, founder and CEO Sumorwuo Zaza told Technical.ly that the now-five-person full-time team (and a handful of part-timers) was growing steadily anyway.

Last year, the company participated in the LIFT Labs Accelerator where it heard from Comcast employees that there wasn’t a great way for teams of employees to share a subscription to news outlets. The team pivoted to address that concern, as well as officially moved operations from Brooklyn to Philadelphia.

NICKL now has 157 publishers on board and is working on expanding its subscriptions bundles within its existing customer companies. Currently, it services companies as small as 20 people and as large as 50,000, and a single team within a company could use the subscription service, Zaza said.

But a recent round of bridge fundraising — $225,000 from existing and new investors who Zaza declined to name — brings the company’s total investments to $1.5 million, some of which was earned through the accelerator last year. It comes at the perfect time when Zaza said the company was growing anyway, but especially now that everyone wants to be reading the news.

“People aren’t just interested in the breaking news, but also what [the virus] means for their team, their jobs, their life,” he said. “Because of that, it’s created a lot of demand.”

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The feedback from customers is that most want a variety of national, local and trade publications. Zaza also said that the company has heard requests to include free publications, so that all the news a reader wants can be bookmarked in one place. (The service currently works for desktop readers.) Part of the company’s move last year to Philly was that the team would continue to work out of LIFT Labs for the remainder of the year. But the city’s proven to have a wealth of “big, information-driven companies,” Zaza said which has made for a good customer base.

The founder added that NICKL is working on some new features and company rollouts that were part of the eventual plan, but things have picked up speed because of the pandemic.

“We just decided to lean into the moment,” Zaza said.

He heard from a handful of advisors that a very small amount of companies have been able to pull off fundraising right now, and they want to take advantage of it.

“We know at some point this will pass, at some point we will be able to get more customers and raise more capital,” he said. “And we want to be ready. There’s no slowing down.”

Companies: NICKL, Comcast
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