Woody Sears has lengthy been all for storytelling. After spending a number of years in gross sales after nabbing an MBA from Pepperdine — and following the debut in 2007 of the primary iPhone — he based a storytelling app referred to as Zuuka that constructed up a library of narrated and illustrated youngsters’ books for the iPhone and iPad.
Sears later sold that firm to a small New York-based outfit referred to as Cupcake Digital. However Sears, who relies in Santa Barbara, Calif., isn’t finished with tales but. As a substitute, he simply raised $1.6 million in seed funding for his second and latest storytelling startup, HearHere, a subscription-based audio road-trip app that, with customers’ permission, pushes data to them as they’re driving, giving them informational tidbits in three- to five-minute-long segments about their environment, together with factors of curiosity they won’t have been conscious of in any respect.
The concept is to floor the unknown or forgotten historical past of areas, which is smart in a world the place more people have returned to street journeys and oldsters have grown determined to drag their youngsters’ consideration away from TikTok. The truth is, Sears’s neighbor, Kevin Costner, appreciated the thought a lot that he lately joined its five-person workforce as a cofounder and narrator and investor, together with Snap Inc., the regulation agency Cooley, Tenting World CEO and reality TV star Marcus Lemonis, AAA, and quite a few different particular person buyers, together with from NextGen Enterprise Companions.
As a result of we, too, like historical past and street journeys (and okay, positive, Kevin Costner), we discuss with Sears and Costner earlier as we speak to study why they assume they’re going to succeed with HearHere when different content-rich geo-location based mostly apps have fallen short of significant adoption.
Excerpts from that chat observe, edited flippantly for size.
TC: You are creating an audio map of the U.S., so what number of tales do you’ve gotten banked as we converse?
WS: We’re as much as 5,500 tales throughout 22 states, and we’ll be nationwide by summer season. The mission is to attach individuals to the locations that they are touring by means of, lending individuals tales in regards to the historical past, the pure wonders, and the colourful characters who’ve lived in that space. We additionally do tales about sports activities and music and supply native insights.
TC: That is a variety of content material to collect up, edit down, then file. What does the method appear to be?
WS: On the finish of the day, the content material is king, and we take nice care with these tales, producing them with a workforce of 22, researchers, writers, editors and narrators, most whom come from a journey journalism background. We actually really feel like we get the very best finish end result by means of that workforce strategy.
Finally, we’ll speak in confidence to third-party content material contributors, the place we’re internet hosting each skilled content material and likewise user-generated content material.
TC: Is there an AI part or will there be?
WS: We extra see this as augmented actuality in that these tales actually does overlay the panorama and offer you a unique perspective whereas all touring. However AI and machine studying re issues that we’ll incorporate as we begin to transfer into international languages, and higher tailor the content material for the top person.
TC: How do you prioritize which tales to inform as you are increase this content material library?
WS: The foremost historic markers are a giant inspiration, however we’re in search of these lesser-known gems, too, and we have a look at journey patterns — the best way that individuals transfer once they’re on leisure journeys, which means what interstate highways they’re taking and which scenic routes are hottest.
TC: How does the subscription piece work?
WS: You get 5 free free tales every month; for limitless streaming, it is $35.99 per 12 months.
TC: Kevin, you have to be approached lots with startup concepts and funding alternatives. Why get so concerned with this one?
KC: Clearly I am story-oriented; that does not come as a shock to anyone. However you are proper, lots concepts come to me.
Hearhere got here by means of my spouse, who mentioned that Woody had one thing he needed to speak about, and as she defined it to me, I bought it, you already know? That is the shiny factor for me, storytelling and being able for story to come back out, particularly with regards to our nation.
So we had this assembly and he defined the idea to me, which is type of equal to what I might already been doing my entire life, which is stopping on the bronze plaques all around the nation and studying about their historic significance — these [moments] that type of interrupt all people’s journey besides mine. [Laughs.] You already know, [it’s] getting out and stretching my legs and studying just a little historical past and dreaming whereas the remainder of the individuals within the automotive are type of moaning as a result of we stopped our progress.
That is an extension of that for me, with out getting out of the automotive, and with tales that may evolve and maybe get longer. And I can develop into extra concerned in what I used to be driving previous and the individuals within the automotive can possibly sense what it was that me sufficient to cease.
TC: You like historical past.
KC: Hearhere is much more than historical past, however for me, it was the historical past [that I found so compelling]. And it is how the inspiration was set for me to develop into extra concerned within the firm and perceive it lots higher after which develop into any individual who needed to be part of the founding of it.
TC: AAA and Tenting World are among the many firm’s strategic buyers. How may they promote the app and what different partnerships have you ever struck to get Hearhere in entrance of individuals on the proper time?
WS: Tenting World additionally owns Good Sam Membership, which is the biggest group of RV house owners on this planet, and AAA is a huge with 57 million members within the US, and so they all see this as a option to fulfill one thing they’re aren’t at the moment doing for his or her viewers; it is making that bridge to digital, and we’re actually excited to get this in entrance of their members and prospects.
We even have partnerships with [the RV marketplaces] Outdoorsy and RVshare [and the RV rental and sales company] Cruise America. It is a highly regarded market.
TC: There have been comparable concepts. Caterina Faux’s Findery was an early app that aimed to assist customers uncover way more about areas. Detour, a strolling audio tour startup based by Groupon cofounder Andrew Mason, appeared attention-grabbing however did not take off with customers. What makes you assume this startup will click on with customers?
WS: I cherished Detour. I ate up each of these.
I assume the place I feel [Detour] missed product market match was the variety of eventualities the place you could possibly use it and likewise, it was competing for individuals’s time. We selected to start out with street journeys as a result of you’ve gotten a captive viewers; there’s solely a lot you are able to do while you’re driving within the automotive, not like while you’re in a metropolis [where Detours focused], the place there are all type of choices to discover its historical past, both by means of bodily books or tour guides, and also you needed to carve out two hours of your time, and it is easy to get distracted when you’re strolling round.
We wish to seize the locations which might be alongside the journey and lesser identified and extra untold and the place individuals have the house to interact in it. Beginning as brief kind helps. It is also on-demand, so you do not have to observe a pre-designated route. We’re not taking you on a particular tour, the place you must flip left or flip proper. We’ll floor tales for you it doesn’t matter what route you are taking.