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Hear Your News relaunches with new(s) focus

Though the startup failed to make its Kickstarter goal, founder Francisco Martin-Rayo says he learned a lot. Here's what he's doing differently.

“Trains are now sharing a track on Metro’s red line between the Medical Center and Grosvenor stops,” a slightly disembodied, British female voice tells me. I’m listening to the Washington Post local section (WMATA coverage, what else) on the app Hear Your News. And while I’m not operating a motor vehicle, my attention is squarely directed towards my main task of the moment — writing this article. “Bridget” is just keeping me company.
You may recall that Hear Your News, the app that originally debuted in August 2015 as an answer to founder Francisco Martin-Rayo’s bad habit of reading the news while driving, launched a Kickstarter campaign in December hoping to raise some cash to add new voices and news sources to the app.
Ultimately the campaign was not a success which, of course, was “disappointing,” Martin-Rayo said. However, in the course of appealing to users he did learn some valuable things about how the app should move forward. These lessons were all front-of-mind when Hear Your News relaunched a cleaner, faster and more content-rich version earlier this week.
Recall, Martin-Rayo’s hypothesis at the beginning of the Kickstarter campaign was that users would want more news sources, yes, but also more choices of voices that articles could be read in. It turns out, though, that apart from Morgan Freeman (“Everyone wants Morgan Freeman,” Martin-Rayo said), users don’t really care about diversity of voices as much as Martin-Rayo thought they would. Bridget and Hugh, the app’s two current voices, do just fine.
What users find valuable, rather, is access to a lot of different outlets. Hearing this, Martin-Rayo decided to change course slightly, keep the voice options lean and simple for now, and focus on partnering with as many newspapers as possible. The goal now is to “own Washington first,” Martin-Rayo said, and then move on to other regions.
So Hear Your News set about conquering the D.C. “print” news market. And indeed it has come a long way since the days when the app could only read stories from the Associated Press RSS feed. Now users can chose stories from Politico, the Washington Blade, the Post, the Washington Times, Washington Free Beacon, RealClearPolitics, ProPublica and Talking Points Memo. Users can add any story from each of these publications to a playlist to be read aloud to them by either Hugh or Bridget.
Martin-Rayo said newspapers have been generally excited to partner with his startup. Perhaps that’s in part due to his devotion to the idea of “saving” newspaper journalism — back in December he told Technical.ly, “I don’t want this to be a thing where we didn’t appreciate [newspaper journalism] enough until it was gone.”
Martin-Rayo plans to make this new model work by selling ads and splitting revenue between his company and the content providers. Indeed, he’s already made a partnership with Triton Digital, the company that places ads for Spotify and Pandora and more. He said Hear Your News won’t start running ads for another six to nine months — for now the company is focused on growing its user base. But once they do he’s excited about the fact that the content providers themselves will be able to sell ads on the exchange as well — utilizing their large and experienced sales forces.
Oh, and Martin-Rayo has also gathered some numbers over the past couple months that support his project. Of the approximately 450,000 people who commute by car from Virginia or Maryland to D.C. each day, around 120,000 of them read the news while doing so. Yikes. If you’re among that 120,000, and it’s because you’ve just really got to get your morning Post/Politico fix, you’re in luck! Bridget and Hugh are here for you.

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