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Exclusive: New media venture in India helping readers discern signal from noise – TalkOfNews.com

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New media venture in India helping readers discern signal from noise

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An Indian upstart, co-founded by a group of journalists, that seeks to disrupt how people follow news and what they consume has raised funds as it prepares to accelerate its growth and broaden its offering.

The Signal is aiming to serve a need for the modern pace of life where everybody is busy, said Dinesh Narayanan, its co-founder and editor in an interview. “People still want to keep up with what’s happening in the world. They can read newspapers or multiple news outlets, but obviously they don’t have time to do it,” he said.

The Noida-headquartered startup has been attempting to solve this with an eponymous newsletter and podcast where it curates, produces and discusses what they argue are the most important developments from the world of business, technology, economy and policy.

The newsletter email, which goes out six times a week, features nearly a dozen stories in each edition and deep dives into two or three major items, offering additional context and commentary from a team of journalists who have previously worked at newsrooms including The Economic Times, The Quint, YourStory, The Morning Context and Reuters.

Signal says it is aiming to serve savvy audiences in India and beyond. It has amassed over 38,000 subscribers, a base that includes several unicorn founders, lawmakers and policy executives. Its newsletter goes out at 8 AM and asks just five to seven minutes of reader time, said Narayanan.

The startup, which plans to expand its coverage into more areas including sports and launch newer products, isn’t currently charging its readers and listeners. Instead, most newsletter editions are currently backed by big name sponsors. Narayanan argued that a sponsor-backed model is the more sustainable way to monetize a news product in the country.

“Everybody talks about this total addressable market, right? Nobody really knows what exactly it is today because you have a population of probably about 150-200 million people who can afford to pay. There are so many avenues available to people which is giving them free news. It is a very small sliver of the audience which would actually pay,” he said.

“So some of them would be paying because it’s good journalism, some of them would be paying because they give exactly the amount of news which they want, some of them would be paying for the depth of content. I think the existing players are already competing for this rather small pie.”

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Each Saturday, Signal publishes original stories in a newsletter called The Intersection.

The Signal, whose most other founding members including Venkat Ananth and Patanjali Pahwa are also journalists, is the latest independent media venture in the South Asian nation, which is the one of the world’s largest news markets. The founding team also includes former Google India public policy executive Rajneil Kamath and Chinmay Bhogle, who previously worked at Times Internet, Star Sports and Tata Motors.

Several journalists in the country have left their influential jobs at top media houses in recent years to build something of their own as they grow frustrated at attempting to bring systemic changes to the way legacy outlets work – or have taken inspiration from a similar flow in the U.S., where journalists have traditionally shown more entrepreneurial instincts.

But unlike the U.S. and the UK, where several media venture founders have made successful exits, India is yet to demonstrate any.

At the end of the day, the future of the Signal depends on the purchasing power per capita of the nation, Narayanan said. As the “purchasing power increases and the consumption patterns change, purely on that basis … exits and the size of exits are a function of that. It’s a business. Yeah, so it is definitely tied to the fortunes of the country as a whole,” he added.

For now, that’s not something The Signal needs to worry about.

The startup said Monday it has raised a new funding round, but did not disclose the size. The Signal’s angel investors include CRED’s Miten Sampat, Zomato co-founder Deepinder Goyal, Unacademy co-founder Gaurav Munjal, Haptik co-founder Aakrit Vaish, media entrepreneur Parry Ravindranathan, Vue.ai founder Ashwini Asokan and DealStreetAsia founder and CEO Joji Philip Thomas. Investment fund LetsVenture led the round, while venture capital fund Capital A also participated in it, Narayanan said.

Fintech-focused fund Rainmatter also invested in the round, according to a regulatory filing. (Narayanan and Rainmatter didn’t comment on the fund’s participation.)

“Venkat, Patanjali, Dinesh & Roshni P Nair have authored some of the most important stories in India tech over the past 5 years, and I am very excited to see them build The Signal as a way to enable readers make sense of it all,” said Sampat. “India, and eventually the world, needs an outlet that goes beyond newsflashes and gets deep into nuanced reportage through a mix of curation, original writing and new formats of sense-making.”


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Exclusive: A profile of Duolingo, which has almost 15M DAUs, up 51% YoY, and 3.7M paying subscribers, as it expects its 2022 revenue to surpass $365M, up 45% from 2021 (Bill Gifford/Bloomberg) – TalkOfNews.com

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A profile of Duolingo, which has almost 15M DAUs, up 51% YoY, and 3.7M paying subscribers, as it expects its 2022 revenue to surpass $365M, up 45% from 2021 (Bill Gifford/Bloomberg)

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A profile of Duolingo, which has almost 15M DAUs, up 51% YoY, and 3.7M paying subscribers, as it expects its 2022 revenue to surpass $365M, up 45% from 2021  —  After dinner on Aug. 23—a date he will never forget—Tobi Fondse pulled out his phone to do his daily Duolingo.


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Exclusive: Conferences want to cure the work-from-home blues – TalkOfNews.com

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Web Summit convened in Lisbon, Portugal, in early November, looking much like it had before the pandemic. The tech conference was held, as it usually is, on numerous stages in and around a giant arena. It took me a solid 20 minutes to walk from one end of the conference to the other, trying to wade through myriad company booths and demonstrations. Some 70,000 people milled throughout the space, wearing wristbands and badges, but few masks.

Many of the attendees spend the majority of their time working from home, and they use events like conferences as a way to get the professional interactions they’re missing. For them, work is for home, where people can concentrate. Conferences are for networking, socializing with colleagues or peers in your field, and getting experiences you can’t get working remotely. They see conferences as supplementing their ability to work from home: Hanging out with colleagues and clients in person a few times a year can be enough to carry them through months on end of video calls.

I’m also a remote worker, and I went to Lisbon to moderate a couple of panels and to try to figure out why people like me are leaving the comfort of their homes to travel across the ocean to an in-person conference when there’s still a pandemic going on. (Web Summit paid for my plane ticket and hotel, while Vox was on the hook for incidentals.) A number of people I spoke to at the event told me they were using conferences like this, as well as offsites and regular travel, as occasions to convene teams and even whole companies, since they don’t see each other as often while working from home.

“We took all of the money we saved on offices and we poured it into travel,” said Martin Mao, CEO and founder of software intelligence company Chronosphere, who uses those funds to get its 250 global employees together for conferences and quarterly reviews, as well as socializing. “We try to jam pack that into a few days, then everybody goes and does their work.”

The last time I’d been at Web Summit was in 2019, when it didn’t feel alarming to be around 70,000 other humans in real life. Aside from a smattering of masks, it didn’t look that visibly different.

What had changed was the emphasis. While the speakers (and moderators!) were still important, the summit leaned in to the more social and experiential aspects of the conference. There were updated versions of the familiar Food Summit (essentially a giant food court but held outside with 85 food trucks) and Night Summit (after-hours drinking and networking events held at trendy nightlife spots around the city). This wasn’t the first time they’d had these events, but this year these events were bigger and more prominent.

A similar thing has been happening at other conferences as well — at other giant tech conferences like SXSW, at smaller thought-leader events like Aspen Ideas Festival, and at sales conferences like Outreach Unleash and Seismic Shift. In addition to world-class speakers, conferences are touting their tropical climates, water sports, and wine tastings. They’re also being careful to orchestrate intimate in-person interactions they don’t feel can be replicated online. According to Kitty Boone, vice president of the Aspen Institute’s Public Programs and executive director of its Aspen Ideas Festival, the goal is to make it “something that they don’t feel they can miss.”

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Eventgoers at Aspen Ideas Festival in June head to a nearby river to measure microplastics and view them under a microscope.
Leigh Vogel for Aspen Institute Public Programs

Like many things, the trend of turning conferences into immersive, interactive social events — rather than just ones where people passively receive information — existed before the pandemic. But the pandemic accelerated it, and as companies let workers choose where they work, those qualities are becoming more sought after.

“The main driver to come here was to connect with people and know what was happening in my world,” Jorge Dias, a mobile content manager at telecom Altice, told me while eating a food truck lunch outside at Web Summit.

This is all good news for the trillion-dollar business events industry and for business travel in general, which, unlike restaurants, concerts, and leisure travel, has far from recovered from the pandemic. Global conference attendance is at just half what it was in 2019, according to data provided by demand intelligence company PredictHQ. Business group travel spending, which includes spending on meetings and events like conferences, is at 68 percent of 2019’s level domestically and 50 percent internationally, according to data from the US Travel Association.

“Companies need tentpole moments to gather together in the real world,” its founder Paddy Cosgrave, who also works remotely, told me in Lisbon. Along those lines, Web Summit’s biggest sales growth has been in group bookings — teams or whole companies, rather than individuals, buying tickets.

Conferences, company offsites, and other team travel are helping to fill a void left by the office and meeting people’s need for in-person collaboration and relationship building — all without having to go to the office.

“I actually think that conferences can be a solution to work from home,” Melanie Brucks, business marketing professor at Columbia Business School, told Recode.

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With just under half of Americans expected to continue working from home at least some of the time (that rate is higher for people with bachelor’s degrees), their need for connection could provide the business travel industry some succor and suggest that better days are coming, even if things don’t go back to how they used to be.

As an economic downturn has companies cutting spending, the conference and travel industry faces even more challenges — as well as a chance to make conferences better. And the conferences that have already come back in person are showing the way.

The return of in-person conferences

The return to in-person conferences this year is highlighting some of the shortcomings of virtual ones — and of virtual work in general.

About a quarter of the conferences that Encore, an international event production company, worked on in 2022 were in person, according to Anthony Vade, event experience strategy director. That’s up from very few the past two years. Next year, he says, it looks like more than 80 percent will be in person.

While plenty of events were held virtually over the past couple of years, many felt they just weren’t the same. It was tempting to try and multitask and do something else when sitting in front of a computer. And even when conferences broke people into smaller groups online, it was difficult to create the intimacy and candor of talking with people you bump into at conferences. Also, after being on video calls all day, people craved a change of pace.

Guests and filmmakers mingle at Breakfast Bites and Beats at the WarnerMedia House during SXSW in Austin, Texas, on March 12.
Mat Hayward/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

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The rapid shift back is in some ways a pretty obvious indicator of human nature, says Hugh Forrest, co-president and chief programming officer of SXSW.

“So much of our event celebrates technology, celebrates new advancements or innovations in social media, and yet we always find that the most impactful connection is the same connection we’ve had for thousands of years: It’s the face-to-face connection,” Forrest explained.

The thirst for in-person events also demonstrates that people are missing something when they work from home.

“What we find is that people are less creative and generative when they’re interacting virtually,” Brucks, the Columbia professor, said, noting that simple instruction and, frankly, most day-to-day office tasks work just fine online.

Meanwhile, however, people aren’t growing their professional networks as much when working remotely. That means fewer weak ties — the relationships you have with acquaintances outside of your work or social group that have proved incredibly important for things like finding a new job or even just new ideas.

Conferences that encourage people to come up with new ideas, collaborate, and socialize could be effective ways to address remote work’s shortcomings without having people go to the office regularly. And a little goes a long way, according to Brucks, who said things like conferences and “innovation weeks” could scratch some of remote work’s itches.

“This is about really leveraging the things we need to do in person,” she added. “That allows us to not be in person for a lot of the rest of the time because we’re getting these tasks done in these really efficient one-week opportunities.”

Still, people treat their time as more precious than they did pre-pandemic, so conferences and companies will have to go the extra mile to get them out of the house. It’s one of the reasons you’re seeing so much push-back from rank-and-file employees on returning to the office: Bosses haven’t really figured out a good reason for people to be there. Workers are returning to offices only to find themselves spending their whole day at their computers, only now with the added drawback of a commute.

So if conferences are going to recover, they’re going to have to make their events something you can’t get online.

How conferences are trying to be more than conferences

The basic premise of most conferences, it seems, has remained the same: People sit in seats and listen to speakers talk onstage. But now conference organizers are leaning into aspects of the event that aren’t as easily broadcast online. Namely, they’re focusing on socialization and experiences.

The Aspen Institute’s flagship Ideas Festival is focusing on more breakout sessions, workshops, and hands-on field trips where people can connect over shared experiences. Last summer, they brought eventgoers to take samples of microplastics in a nearby river and to see regeneration happening after wildfires, as part of the conference’s larger discussion about climate. The idea was to show them how even a pristine-seeming environment wasn’t immune to pollution and climate change.

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People at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival take a field trip to see wildfire burn scars and regeneration.
Leigh Vogel/Aspen Institue Public Programs

Seismic Shift, a small conference held in San Diego for users of its sales software, divided conferencegoers’ time between speakers and activities, like standup paddleboarding, yoga, and hanging out at a bar serving green juice. Lawn games and picnic tables were set up outside the conference as a way to get people to mingle over meals.

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Attendees of the Seismic Shift conference participate in an outdoor yoga class in San Diego, California, in October.
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Outreach, a sales platform, has been holding smaller community-oriented conferences while its big user conference, Unleash, was on hold (it’s scheduled to return next fall). At these, the company has been experimenting with ways to keep the audience engaged and connecting with each other so that conferencegoers internalize the content in their “mind and body,” Outreach CMO Melton Littlepage said. The company kicked off a women-in-sales event in a wine cave that “was echoey and boomy so everybody had to get really close together at tables,” he said. The wine helped the conversation, too. At another mini-event, they used QR codes so that conferencegoers could vote on a survey while the emcee discussed the live results onstage. Seating at small round tables was intended to get people talking to their neighbors.

“We’re planning these moments when something happens and gives you something to talk about with the next person,” Littlepage said.

Members of the Outreach Revenue Innovators Women in Sales Summit enjoy an event in a wine cave in Napa, California, in September.
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Conferences are also capitalizing on an unfortunately named trend called “bleisure,” in which people are tacking vacations onto work trips. That’s why many conferences are locating themselves in so-called destination cities, if they hadn’t already. It helps if those places are warm and sunny. So it’s very possible that Web Summit’s continued massive attendance has to do with it being held in Lisbon, which is known for great cuisine and T-shirt weather while the rest of Europe and North America don puffy jackets.

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SXSW’s Forrest says that Austin’s warm weather in March is one of the reasons the event has thrived.

“If you’re coming from upstate New York or Chicago or whatever, and you’re still in the throes of winter, and you come and it’s 80 degrees, that’s a huge part of the experience,” he said. “That’s one more asset of why people want to go.”

Columbia’s Brucks, who had just returned from a conference in Denver, said the attendees were abuzz about the next conference, by the Society for Consumer Psychology, which is being held in Puerto Rico this spring.

“You’re more likely to remember the experience if it’s something that was fun,” she said.

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