A Non-Profit Approach to Local News and Getting Involved with Longmont Startup Week
Tune in as we chat with Sergio of the Longmont Oberver, a non-profit media startup here in Longmont, CO bringing local news to the community. The Longmont Observer is also a strong supporter and sponsor of this year's Longmont Startup Week, which is an annual collaborative gathering for entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and investors, with help from the Techstars community. It's a great time for people in their local area to engage with their local startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
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This month for a bonus episode we're sitting down with Sergio Angelus of the Longmont observer and also part of the media sponsorship for Longmont Startup Week 2018. Thank you very much Sergio for joining us on the Stickers on the Mic podcast, welcome to our studio from one podcast Interviewer to another it's always fun to sit down with folks who like being on the mic.
I want to start today Sergio by talking about the Longmont observer, you're the co-founder and you're the president of that organization, and I want to hear a little bit more about that and then we'll segue into talking about how you're involved in Longmont's Startup Week. Just give me a little bit of the background of the Longmont observer, where does that come from, and what is your role in all of that?
[00:01:36] Sergio Angelus: First I just want to say thank you for having me on the podcast. The Longmont observer is a 501C3 nonprofit, nonpartisan community-driven news entity located here in Longmont Colorado. We started it March of 2017. It's a response to local news slowly withering away and people wanting more local news, so we decided to create a non-profit. My other co-founder Scott Converse and I got connected and we started the Longmont observer, digital-only newspaper and we just cover Longmont.
[00:02:13] Andrew: For those folks who are or are not based in Colorado our news environment has had quite a lot of turmoil and upheaval in the last few years and locally here actually our newspaper, The Daily Times Call was centralized a little bit and we don't quite have the same reporting on the ground although we do have folks who are running around quite a bit between the Boulder Daily Camera and Longmont Times Call but now the Times Call building has the Co-Solve.
[00:02:39] Sergio: They moved out of Longmont and into Boulder.
[00:02:42] Andrew: Right. There's lots of activity still in the space around media here and there's a lot of companies trying to intermediate that and yours is one of them, what is the URL our folks could find that?
[00:02:53] Sergio: It's at longmontobserver.org.
[00:02:55] Andrew: If you were giving us the elevator pitch or I'm someone who's like "I'm one of those naysayers like journalism is dead, why would you go into journalism?" What would you say to them?
[00:03:05] Sergio: I think we're just trying to democratize journalism and make it for the people and give them the ability to provide input and let us know what they want us to report on and have that connection to the community.
[00:03:19] Andrew: What has the response been here locally?
[00:03:22] Sergio: For the most part it's been pretty positive. I think we're pretty limited in resources since we're all volunteers and we are trying to figure out the revenue models still but people have enjoyed it, they like reading about local businesses opening, hearing about events going on, hearing about city council even school board stuff which I know parent’s care about.
[00:03:46] Andrew: I went to a meeting recently and I remember seeing a write up in The Observer about it and I'm pretty involved in that kind of stuff myself, so I think that's really valuable for people locally and of course high school sports and stuff, those are the things that drive communities. I personally grew up reading four newspapers and two of them were the local community ones where I grew up outside Chicago, so I think that's a really big benefit and of course, you've got to go digital only.
The revenue model especially for those of the folks who listen to our podcast, we're talking about growth, that's a really tough thing to wrap your head around. You've got the marketing component down business marketing and growth. Talking the revenue model what are you thinking related to that?
[00:04:27] Sergio: Right now we're working on just increasing membership, so it's free to read, no one ever is free to read for anybody even if you don't live in Longmont. We're working on just building up a membership, if people like what we're doing, want to support us, they can get access to events that we're putting on, special newsletters that kind of thing, recognition on our donor wall. We're also working on sponsorships and what that looks like from a local business perspective and then also some side revenue streams such as a job board, one of our only job board that can generate revenue for that.
[00:05:08] Interviewer: There's no doubt that you need to plug people in and give them a place to advertise. Everyone likes to say Craigslist killed the classifieds which killed the newspaper and then ironically Craig Newmark is sponsoring I think the journalism school at Columbia or one of those schools in NYC, I forget which one of those schools in New York City, but that's what it takes these days. Look at Jeff Bezos with Amazon, and they own the Washington Post.
The observer is working hard, a lot of volunteers. Again, that's sort of the same model with the startup weekends which is our other topic for today and how Longmont has embraced the startup community, it's an offshoot of a program that started in Boulder Colorado and it's now again a global organization run by techstars.com and they have different kinds of programs from accelerators and then these concentrated weeklong and weekend events. This starts, it's coming up.
Can you tell our listeners especially those who are around town, what is Longmont startup weekend all about?
[00:06:08] Sergio: Longmont Startup Week is all about entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, people who are looking to invest in startups, looking to get funding or people who are just interested in starting a business. They provide sessions all throughout the week free. It's all free to attend and there's really just different sessions about different topics, funding, starting up, tech. This year the theme is smarter together and I think they've done-- Longmont’s Startup Week has done a really good job of bringing in all aspects of the community here in Longmont. This year there's a bigger emphasis on just the Hispanic community and the Latino community.
[00:06:57] Andrew: Not to interrupt, but I was reading something about like it's one of the first or singular sort of bilingual startup weeks are really a concentrated effort to do that?
[00:07:08] Sergio: Correct. Yes that's true.
[00:07:10] Interviewer: What does that mean exactly? How does that actually work and in every day at the sessions?
[00:07:15] Sergio: Basically the team has tried really hard to bring in translators, so they'll be live of translation happening at the sessions for those that need it. Working with volunteers they're able to just translate what the speakers are saying via an audio device to the people who need it. It's really the first in the world that's been for the most part bilingual which is awesome.
[00:07:48] Andrew: If I'm looking to get into this startup community here in Longmont, where could I go to do that, what are locations-- One of those things that's tough about all this remote distributed work of today's economy is that it's hard to find people even though there's all meetups ups and Internet sites that of course facilitate that whether it's LinkedIn or whatever. Locally here, where are some of the base camps which is again folks who've not had a lot of exposure, there's usually a central place usually called base camp and then there's venues around town. Can give us a little bit of the lay of the land here in Longmont and what the tracks are, the tracks is the content and then there's the venue. What are we looking at for venues and tracks?
[00:08:27] Sergio: For the first three days Longmont Startup Week will be in downtown Longmont, base camp will be at CoSolve which is a co-working space right next to a Longtuckey there on 353 street.
[00:08:39] Andrew: Another customer from StickGiant
[00:08:43] Sergio: Yes, some great stickers [laughter]
[00:08:43] Andrew: Yes, The Time's call building is just a big hub for all those folks. That's one venue, we have a couple folks talking, we have our founder and CEO John Fischer talking about growth and his project here and then Jesse our marketing director will be talking about our proven process which is a big part of what we do. What are you personally, if someone finds you, are you going to be running it around, where are you going to be at?
[00:09:09] Sergio: As you mentioned we're one of the media sponsors and something that we did last year was livestream some of these sessions and this year we're trying to expand on that. We're trying to livestream as many sessions as possible for people that can't attend in person, there's at least a video out there about it. The marketing team Vido9 and others will also be running around trying to get livestream of a session and try to do as many as we can, we have a record of it.
[00:09:42] Andrew: Of course when it comes to these Startup Weekend Events for startup weeks we do stickers, usually stickers there's a pretty classic branding for Techstars, they have this globe it's like a snow globe thing. Can you tell us a little bit about the stickers for this year's Longmont's startup week?
[00:10:00] Sergio: I don't really know who designed it. Maybe it was--
[00:10:02] Andrew: Alan Peters of Jupiter Visual. Our graphic designer, who does all our branding.
[00:10:07] Sergio: Well, I think they’re pretty awesome because they have like the peanut butter and jelly then they have like tacos and like tequila or Margarita and they're just really clever and I just think it shows putting people together and building community and just mixing and matching.
[00:10:27] Andrew: That's the fun part of our stickers sheet, especially for the events. If you are throwing an event that's something sort of a little bit of service to you, listener. Definitely look at those stickers sheets they're a fun option. You can have little peel offs. Like you said Sergio, you can have a lot of fun with it and it really in the crowd for sure. You see people with it on their laptops on their phone, on notebooks are physical reading their books because people do come to the sessions and take notes.
It's fun to see what people create with those little pieces of portable art, we’re excited to support you all with that. I guess my next question who puts on the startup week, what kind of effort goes into doing it? Say you're someone who wants to start a startup week or startup weekend themselves, what does that mean?
[00:11:15] Sergio: I believe the Longmont startup weeks are started by Techstars over Boulder. They kind of provide a little bit of the infrastructure to make this happen and it's really just a community who wants to put it on. Longmont Startup Week -- There's a team that puts it together but it's really the entire community that gets us going and does it.
[00:11:42] Andrew: How does that involve sort of the local business and local city governments. How does that kind of come together?
[00:11:48] Sergio: Pretty well.
[00:11:49] Andrew: It's coming together.
[00:11:50] Sergio: Yes--It's coming. Yes.
[00:11:52] Andrew: Because that's--finding those venues and the sponsorship and making sure you know your chambers of commerce et cetera those folks are on board and really want to support those communities. That's big touchpoint. When it comes to the Observer in Longmont Startup Week, you're a media sponsor, right?
[00:12:11] Sergio: Correct.
[00:12:13] Andrew: After the event. What are you planning what are-- Where does the observer go from there?
[00:12:19] Sergio: Yes, I think again we're just trying to hone in on what a revenue model is and hope to just get more people aware of what we're doing. We've been pretty grassroots and just a lot of sweat equity going into it to get the word out and just producing content.
We do have other Observer names domain names that we would like to utilize. We're in the process too of looking for people that want to help us start an Eerie Observer, a Loveland Observer, Frederick, Firestone, surrounding counties and grow that way. Especially towns that don't have a newspaper anymore.
[00:12:58] Andrew: Right, because again like I was saying you've got to cover city council you've got a school board and prep sports. What brought you to journalism what--again like I asked you a question but what personally drives you to want to do this.
[00:13:12] Sergio: Yes, I just not to get political, I think just after this election. I just saw a need. I'm not a journalism major, international business. I just saw a need to just inform and educate people about what's going on. Prior to starting the Observer I'd never been to a city council meeting before when I started going when we started the observer and I've honestly learned a lot about city government what goes on, school board stuff as well. I just find it extremely beneficial for people to just know what's going on, in the most unbiased neutral way without injecting any of my personal biases or other reporters biases in their articles.
[00:14:04] Andrew: How are you finding reporters and folks who want to contribute to this. What's that process like?
[00:14:09] Sergio: Since we're all volunteers we have open editorial meetings to the public. We just ask--
[00:14:16] Andrew: When and where those?
[00:14:17] Sergio: Those are every morning Monday to Friday at TinkerMill 10:00 AM.
[00:14:21] Andrew: Can you tell us a little bit about TinkerMill? Just so people can understand what that means.
[00:14:27] Sergio: Yes, TinkerMill was started by my co-founder Scott Converse. It's a makerspace. He likes to describe as a capitalist friendly socialist co-op where there's a bunch of machine equipment. For example, wood chop, machine chop, sewing, blacksmithing, you pay a membership fee, you go in and build stuff, and it's created a lot of startups and just a wealth of sharing knowledge within the space. It's kind of TinkerMill in a nutshell.
We have the editorial meetings there every morning Monday through Friday. Really, it's just putting it out to the public and saying, "Hey, we're looking for people who are interested in city government, school or maybe crime." Then we go and teach them and give them resources and we work with them to write or produce video. We also work with high school students and give them the opportunity to report and learn about journalism and also put their voice out into the public and get their voice heard.
[00:15:40] Andrew: Folks want to join you. It's every day Monday through Friday at TinkerMill just to reinforce that, and then when it comes to what we're doing here in Longmont for Longmont Startup Week, you've talked a little bit about how that's all going to come together. When is the start date--What are the dates again?
[00:15:58] Sergio: July 23rd through the 27th.
[00:16:00] Andrew: Right. That's a lot of days of meetings and content.
[00:16:03] Sergio: Five days.
[00:16:06] Andrew: Isn't there like a weekend hackathon or something like that?
[00:16:07] Sergio: Yes, that's the weekend before.
[00:16:08] Andrew: Then hackathon is again if you're not exposed to them, this intensive 48, 54 hour sort of blocks of time where people are coding and trying to create software products usually or some hardware solution that requires software and doing the technology side of that. There are really cool events and we've been supporting them like I said for it for a long time. It's just really great to see these folks come together. Outside of the Longmont Observer, what do you enjoy?
[00:16:39] Sergio: I like hiking, I just love hiking, cycling, conquering fourteeners, trying to do Longs Peak this summer, drinking beer, hanging out.
[00:16:51] Andrew: That many Longmont spots. Well thank you very much. We do appreciate you all coming on and all the work that you've put in to get this event off the ground. These things do not happen without people who're motivated. You're doing it from a different perspective. The nonprofit aspect is not easy. How do you plan to evolve like you said. We've talked about a few times already about the revenue model, where does the nonprofit for the Longmont Observer go from here. What's sort of close it out a little bit. What do you are looking for from a Longmont Observer as we go forward?
[00:17:28] Sergio: I think really just to make it a sustainable non-profit business--it still a business after all. Just make it sustainable and so we can start paying people and hire reporters and get more people involved to help us with video production, live streaming, podcasting and provide a hub for journalists for those wanting to be journalists in the area.
[00:17:52] Andrew: Where online can people find you all the social places. Give us all those handles.
[00:17:56] Sergio: Facebook.com/longmontobserver. Twitter, twitter.com/--that was a little funky. It's like Lngnt observer or something like that did not fit.
[00:18:08] Andrew: If you’re in Twitter, just search for Longmont Observer and it'll show up stuff.
[00:18:13] Sergio: Instagram, Longmontobserver too. Reddit. We're on Reddit, we're on there. What else? www.longmontobserver.org
[00:18:22] Andrew: There you go .org, that's the key folks. Thank you very much Sergio. Best of luck with Longmont Startup Week of course a lot of balls in the air and I think the community will benefit from it quite a bit. If you liked what you've heard here folks from Sergio, you can check out all those places that he just mentioned. Longmontobserver.org. If you want to get in touch with us here about the podcast and have any questions for us you can find us at stickergiant.com/podcast. We're also available by e-mail, live chat or on the phone. Get in touch with any questions if you have any questions and we would love to help you out.
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