Evri CEO Will Hunsinger on iPad news apps, CNN’s acquisition of Zite, fly rods (interview)

We discuss the new app and its competitors, the market at large, and the potential for new business models in publishing.

Evri CEO Will Hunsinger
Evri CEO Will Hunsinger
Evri CEO Will Hunsinger

Technology and Silicon Valley news, coverage, storiesTopic-based discovery, aggregation and social continue to be big themes in the new media space, predominantly fueled by the Apple iPad and apps such as Flipboard, Zite, and Pulse. Now Evri is entering the fray with their own topic-based newsreader for iPad. The new app hit iTunes today. Evri CEO (and former Maveron entrepreneur in residence) Will Hunsinger took some time out to talk with Stark Insider about the market, news apps, and Evri’s play. On business models for publishers: that’s a tougher one. Read on to see what he says about that, plus — I couldn’t resist asking him — you might be surprised by one of Will’s favorite (low tech) gadgets.

Also this may mark the first time I’ve heard the expression, “the app for when you crap.”

Evri is based in Seattle and San Francisco, and is funded by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital.

Stark Insider: Thanks for joining us Will. Personalized news is a big deal.

Will Hunsinger: Personalized news IS a big deal and we have been in the business since 2009.

SI: The category seems to be growing day by day. What is happening with news consumption and what trends sparked your decision to release an iPad app?

WH: There were really a number of significant trends that sparked our decision to release an iPad app –

Firstly, a fundamental shift in how consumers interact with content. Increasingly, people were getting their news on mobile devices, and when the iPad came out, the overwhelming response made it a no-brainer – not only were users getting their news via mobile devices, but here was a form factor ideally suited for a lean back, content consumption experience.

Also — secondly — Social filters were not enough. With the content explosion, discovery went from a fun experience to completely unmanageable as social and other filters were overwhelmed – news content exploded both in volume and velocity with Facebook, Twitter and all the other means that news was coming at us. Users needed a better filter just to start the news experience, a way to distill news into manageable streams and make sense of it all. At Evri, we had been working on this problem for some time, bringing our topic based filter and recommendation approach to the iPad just made sense.

Finally Discovery has always been at the heart of what we have been solving for at Evri. The trend of news discovery, whether it be via social graph or by other means seems to consistently capture the users imagination. We felt our superior semantic filtering could create a new, different discovery experience that, coupled with social signals would create an entertaining, intelligent and engaging experience and that the iPad was the idea form factor to deliver it on.

SI: There’s a lot of competitors out there. Most know Flipboard. How’s Evri different?

WH: Evri is very different from Flipboard and other competitors in a number of ways. First and foremost, we are NOT a social magazine and we are NOT a source based RSS reader…

Evri for iPad
Evri for iPad

SI: … hmm, interesting… ok then what should we call you?

WH: Evri is a content discovery platform, we distill content from over 15,000 sources into over 2.5 Million topics (at last count) and enable a “never ending” discovery experience coupled with the ability to personalize based on the topics you are most passionate about. With Evri for iPad, we expose trending topics based on popularity, velocity and social signals, enable users to follow any of the 2.5+MM topics, make related topic recommendations throughout the experience as well as providing background information, and structured data about a topic. We filter by content category to enable users to see what news is trending in Sports, Technology, US&World etc but also allow users to find detailed information about “tail” topics through our topic-based search – something no other news discovery app provides. We are about personalized Discovery, without the limitations of source based or human curated content feeds.

SI: Alright Will. I look forward to getting home hands-on time with the app. Switching gears a bit let’s talk about some of the recent market moves. CNN bought Zite, and so the big media guys are moving in. I’m sure they’re trying to crack the code around business models and monetization of iPad news.  Is that a good thing for Evri, and what’s your take on acquisitions?

WH: I applaud CNN for making the move to acquire Zite, it shows that a big media company recognizes that this is an exploding space and that nimble start-ups are driving innovation. I think CNN got a hell of a deal if the reports of the acquisition price are accurate, this is absolutely not easy….

SI: …I read it was about a $25 million deal…

WH: Yes, if you think about the landscape, you have Flipboard raising capital at a reported $200+ million valuation, Zite selling out for $25 million, Pulse raising a big round at allegedly $100+ million valuation, and these are all just iPad based RSS readers with great user interfaces. With the exception of maybe Zite, its not like the underlying technology is particularly innovative or defensible. Compare that with the big media guys – Yahoo! announces LiveStand 6 months ago and we have yet to see a product…

SI: …ha! Right, though I think their priorities might be shifting just a wee bit right now…

I think the business model needs to evolve (or better yet revolve!) with the times. There is no reason for publishers to look at aggregators as thieves or the enemy, but rather as allies.

WH: True! Then there’s Editions “the app for when you crap” is marketed as a daily, finite newspaper – AOL would like you to think that’s intentional, but in reality its because it’s damn hard to deliver a constant stream of topic based content that can satisfy a broad user base. News Corp’s Daily took 10s of millions to build and can only live by a massive, expensive editorial staff, behind a pay wall – dead man walking? From my perspective, the big valuations of guys in our category only help us and the big media folks have to be thinking about acquisitions if they want to have a play in the space – no way CNN recreates Zite for less than 25MM, who knows the price tag on Editions, the meter is still running on Live Stand and there are still a number of big media dogs on the sidelines still deciding there play. I think Zite is just the beginning, and given the capabilities of our platform, I like where we sit.

SI: Speaking of big dogs. What about Google… is Android, especially Honeycomb, on your radar… or is the opportunity just not there relative to the iPad?

WH: Android is definitely on the radar, and we currently have apps on over 100,000 android phones and growing, however, I would like to see broader adoption, a credible competitive force for android on the tablet form factor. If I were a betting man, not to be too obvious (and full disclosure, we have a distribution deal with Samsung), I would bet on the Galaxy Tab at this point. We have architected our product such that porting to an android tab is relatively straightforward (HTML5, CSS, JS) and that gives us the flexibility to move quickly when we see sufficient consumer adoption to make distribution compelling on android tablets.

SI: Here’s something near and dear to my own heart. With all this content aggregation, what’s the business model for publishers?

WH: Oh Boy! Thats the multi billion dollar question, isnt it?!? In my mind, there is no one answer, I think the business model needs to evolve (or better yet revolve!) with the times. There is no reason for publishers to look at aggregators as thieves or the enemy, but rather as allies. If we create experiences that engage users and facilitate the discovery of their content AND provides a way to drive consumers to that content within publisher branded experience, with their advertisers getting mind share, dont we both win? Evri can be a distribution channel for publisher content, drive traffic to publishers while creating a value add for the consumer – a deep, rich, multi source topic based experience that delivers much more than a single publication could do editorially. If the content is great, users will tap-through to it, and publishers can continue to compete on the quality of their editorial. Certainly, there are other hybrid models in which publishers and aggregators can coexist and thrive – freemium, contextual advertising, categorical sponsorship revenue sharing, etc. I think this all needs to play out in the market.

SI: And finally, the bonus round! Are you nervous?

WH: Not yet.

SI. Ok lightning quick. Favorite adult beverage… beer or wine or…

WH: Milagro Reposado Tequila or Racer 5 IPA

SI: Nice – you’re serious! Favorite film…?

Will Hunsinger - CEO EvriWH: When We Were Kings, the documentary – it’s amazing, the story of the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire, the Rumble in the Jungle.

SI: And, we love all things tech and gadget around here so I must ask … favorite gadget?

WH: Low tech – Orvis Helios Zero Gravity 8WT Fly Rod – lethal for redfish, snook, baby tarpon, even bay stripers.
High tech – iPad 2.

SI: How original! Congratulations you’re the first to answer that with a fly rod, and here I thought I was king of low tech with my hockey stick. Thanks for taking the time out Will.

WH: My pleasure.

Download: Evri for iPad.

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