“Take a risk. Go after your idea. Make sure you can walk into a room and tell a story.”
Storyful was founded in Dublin in 2009 by journalist Mark Little – by December 2013, the first news agency of the social media age had been acquired by Rupert Murdochs Newscorp in a high-profile deal worth $25M, retaining Dublin as their base of global operations.
Earlier this year, they generated further headlines when controversial News International CEO Rebekah Brooks was reportedly attached to the company a move since dismissed as unlikely to happen. Late last year, Little stepped down from his CEO role (Rahul Chopra now fills the role) in favour of what he describes as his dream job within the company; these days, he operates from Storyfuls midtown Manhattan headquarters, located next door to the Newscorp building, where he discussed Storyful and Dublin via Skype.
What does your new role with Storyful entail, exactly?
Well, I started on December 15th essentially Im the Director Of Innovation. One of the things we realized early on was that everything in the company that had an editorial element also had a connection to business development, and to product development, so overall were just trying to create a space in the company that allows us to concentrate on longer-term strategic initiatives. Thats my job.
So, this position affords you the luxury of stepping away from the coalface and looking at the bigger picture.
Yes. For me to be able to take four or five special projects at a time, and just focus on the vision as opposed to the strategy every day not to have to worry about the relationships with the parent company, or the operational duties of the CEO thats a great relief. Also, I now get to give my imprimatur to different areas of the company; in the past, I may have been just focussed on the bottom line every day. So its a combination of thinking about the bigger strategic picture, but also looking at the innovation that were creating, and trying to join the dots there, which is hugely exciting. And I get to be the brand ambassador, to get out there and talk about Storyful, the future of journalism and the media business Ive been looking forward to this for quite a while.
How do you intend to expand Storyful, both as a company and a concept?
The first thing is to diversify the business. We started out as a social media newswire, which got us to point A. Now, were focussing on the fact that theres huge value in video on the social web, and building an ethical model for the uploaders of all this very cool and compelling content that youre seeing every day. (NB: Earlier this month, Storyful-managed YouTube content reached two billion views.)
Diversifying the business, scaling it globally, and then maintaining the ethics and culture that have informed us from day one theyre the things Ill judge our success by.
How has the relationship with Newscorp been?
Its been great. From our point of view, the reason we joined Newscorp was because they provided the capacity to scale in a way that we couldnt do on our own. We had interest from venture capitalists, and from other companies that were looking at us, but we just felt that Newscorp has news in its DNA. Its a cultural thing in that sense. The other thing was that I was interested in innovation, and so were they – of treating Storyful as a startup within a startup, as much. And its been true to its word in giving us the resources to go after the really big opportunities. Storyful now has a global footprint way beyond anything we could have dreamed of on our own.
By any metric, it must have been a pretty steep learning curve
Ive learned that your company culture is very important: always making people feel like theyre part of something special that can change, and be agile If you dont have discipline, attention to detail and good management at the same time, youre crashing into a wall. The big Catch 22 of the company that goes from small to big is maintaining the vision, while at the same time being very process driven, well managed, and disciplined. Were balancing that at the moment. Its a constant challenge. How to retain that sense of urgency, agility, impulse while making sure the bills get paid, and that everyones on the same page. Thats been the most fascinating part for me.
And now you’re based in Manhattan. Is New York still the centre of the world when it comes to media and tech?
Even more so, I think. When we started out, I always thought that wed have to have a Silicon Valley presence we dont need to. New York is essentially where media innovation is being driven. Having said that, theres a lot of stuff going on in Europe, so Im always being interested in being in places like London, Stockholm, Berlin and Dublin in particular. Were starting to see really innovative startups coming out of Dublin Ill pick NewsWhip as a great example of an Irish company on the cutting edge.
In 2009 the safest bets were property and banks and how did that work out for us? Now, theres a whole different definition of risk.
What does Dublin bring to the table as a unique tech hub? A reoccurring theme since we began Dublin Globe is to avoid this notion of Dublin aping existing success stories To just be the best Dublin instead.
One of the most important things is not to be copying Silicon Valley thats the quickest way to redundancy and obsolescence. Silicon Valley was the particular heart of a particular phase of the social web, and social media in general, but now its moved on.
Personally, the things that Dublin has, through my experience with Storyful, would be that were in the right place physically halfway between the United States and Europe but more importantly there is a growing sense of risk taking that that wasnt there when I started. Then, in 2009 the safest bets were property and banks and how did that work out for us? Now, theres a whole different definition of risk. And not just young startups, either. This is across the board. I was forty when I launched Storyful you dont have to be a twenty-five year old to do this. Take a risk. Go after your idea. Make sure you can walk into a room and tell a story.
That sense of storytelling is everywhere you go in Dublin…
Which is absolutely key for a young company. If you cant tell your story in a sentence, if you cant walk into a room and inspire people with your vision, then you dont go anywhere. And I think Irish startups probably have an edge there. Also, theres a great mix of finance in Ireland: Enterprise Ireland was an investor in the first stage of Storyful, and at the same time that was consistent with attracting private investment. There was no way we needed to choose between private and public. So that mixture is really effective. And a lot of the international companies, including Newscorp, are seeing the benefit of that.
What, then, do you perceive as the challenges facing Dublin?
I think we still have a huge way to go. Somebody said to me recently that for Dublin to be equal to Tel Aviv as a startup capital, youd need to have twenty Storyful-sized exits a year thats not going to happen today or tomorrow, but there are at least twenty companies in Dublin that I see having the potential to exit at or above the level that we did. The other thing is that while Dublin is a great place to start a company, its not necessarily a great place to scale one we need a better strategy for scale. We have an incredibly vibrant capacity for creating great ideas, but we need mentorship, the right mentality and education to help people turn a good idea into a great company. Encourage people to fail quickly, and to do it again, and again til they get it right.
So what happens next? What are you excited about at the moment?
I cant wait to see what happens in Dublin. There are so many interesting companies – I love CurrencyFair, my old mate Grainne Barron is doing interesting things at Viddyad, and Datahug are great, for starters. Im excited by the innovation going on in venture capital, too, people who arent just investors, but mentors. Im truly fascinated to see whether or not we exploit the opportunities we have right now. For me, the key is not to copy other people, or try to imitate whats out there. Lets try to create something completely new. If we have that attitude, then Dublin is an exciting place all of its own.