Woody Sears has lengthy been desirous about storytelling. 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. But Sears, who relies in Santa Barbara, California, isn’t accomplished with tales but. Instead, 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 information to them as they’re driving, giving them informational tidbits in three- to five-minute segments about their environment, together with factors of curiosity they may not have been conscious of in any respect.
The concept is to floor the unknown or forgotten historical past of areas, which is sensible in a world the place more people have returned to road journeys and oldsters have grown determined to pull their youngsters’ consideration away from TikTok. In reality, Sears’s neighbor, Kevin Costner, appreciated the concept a lot that he just lately joined its five-person staff as a co-founder and narrator and investor, alongside with Snap Inc., the regulation agency Cooley, Camping World CEO and reality TV star Marcus Lemonis, AAA and quite a few different particular person buyers, together with from NextGen Venture Partners.
Because we, too, like historical past and road journeys (and okay, wonderful, Kevin Costner), we talked with Sears and Costner earlier at this time to be taught why they suppose they’ll succeed with HearHere when different content-rich geo-location primarily based apps have fallen short of significant adoption.
Excerpts from that chat observe, edited evenly for size.
TC: You’re creating an audio map of the U.S., so what number of tales do you have banked as we converse?
WS: We’re up to 5,500 tales throughout 22 states, and we’ll be nationwide by summer season. The mission is to join folks to the locations that they’re touring via, lending folks tales concerning 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’s a lot of content material to collect up, edit down, then file. What does the method seem like?
WS: At the top of the day, the content material is king, and we take nice care with these tales, producing them with a staff of twenty-two researchers, writers, editors and narrators, most whom come from a journey journalism background. We actually really feel like we get the most effective finish outcome via that staff method.
Eventually, we’ll open up to third-party content material contributors, the place we’re internet hosting each skilled content material and in addition user-generated content material.
TC: Is there an AI element or will there be?
WS: We extra see this as augmented actuality in that these tales actually do overlay the panorama and provides you a totally different perspective whereas touring. But AI and machine studying are issues that we’ll incorporate as we begin to transfer into international languages and higher tailor the content material for the top consumer.
TC: How do you prioritize which tales to inform as you’re build up this content material library?
WS: The main historic markers are a large inspiration, however we’re in search of these lesser-known gems, too, and we take a look at journey patterns — the best way that folks 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’s $35.99 per yr.
TC: Kevin, you have to be approached a lot with startup concepts and funding alternatives. Why get so concerned with this one?
KC: Obviously I’m story-oriented; that doesn’t come as a shock to anyone. But you’re proper, a lot of concepts come to me.
HearHere got here via my spouse, who stated that Woody had one thing he needed to discuss, and as she defined it to me, I received it, you know? That’s the shiny factor for me, storytelling and being able for a good story to come out, particularly when it comes to our nation.
So we had this assembly and he defined the idea to me, which is type of equal to what I’d already been doing my entire life, which is stopping on the bronze plaques everywhere in the nation and studying about their historic significance — these [moments] that type of interrupt everyone’s trip besides mine. [Laughs.] You know, [it’s] getting out and stretching my legs and studying a little historical past and dreaming whereas the remainder of the folks within the automotive are type of moaning as a result of we stopped our progress.
This [product] 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 turn out to be extra concerned in what I used to be driving previous and the folks within the automotive can possibly sense what it was that me sufficient to cease.
TC: You love historical past.
KC: HearHere is a lot greater than historical past, however for me, it was the historical past [that I found so compelling]. And it’s how the muse was set for me to turn out to be extra concerned within the firm and perceive it a lot higher after which turn out to be any person who needed to be a a part of the founding of it.
TC: AAA and Camping World are among the many firm’s strategic buyers. How may they promote the app and what different partnerships have you struck to get HearHere in entrance of individuals on the proper time?
WS: Camping World additionally owns Good Sam Club, which is the most important group of RV house owners on the planet, and AAA is a big with 57 million members within the U.S., and so they all see this as a approach to fulfill one thing they’re aren’t presently doing for his or her viewers; it’s making that bridge to digital, and we’re actually excited to get this in entrance of their members and clients.
We even have partnerships with [the RV marketplaces] Outdoorsy and RVshare [and the RV rental and sales company] Cruise America. It’s a highly regarded market.
TC: There have been related concepts. Caterina Fake’s Findery was an early app that aimed to assist customers uncover far more about places. Detour, a startup that supplied strolling audio excursions of cities that was based by Groupon co-founder Andrew Mason, appeared attention-grabbing however failed to take off with customers. What makes you suppose this startup will click on?
WS: I beloved Detour. I ate up each of these.
I suppose the place I feel [Detour] missed product-market match was the variety of eventualities the place you may use it and in addition, it was competing for folks’s time. We selected to begin with road journeys as a result of you have a captive viewers; there’s solely a lot you can do when you’re driving within the automotive, in contrast to when you’re in a metropolis, the place there are every kind of choices to discover its historical past, together with bodily books and tour guides. You additionally had to carve out two hours of your time, and it’s straightforward to get distracted whereas you’re strolling round.
We need to seize the locations that are alongside the journey and lesser identified and extra untold and the place folks have the house to have interaction in it. Starting as quick type helps. It’s additionally on-demand, so you don’t have to observe a pre-designated route. We’re not taking you on a particular tour, the place you have to flip left or flip proper. We’re going to floor tales for you it doesn’t matter what route you take.