Media as the watchdog of the tech industry?

As a ‘location independent entrepreneur’, as I call myself nowadays, I try to manage my time efficiently. So I’m typing this blog in the plane on my way to Bali. Going to Bali for work feels like a privilege. Speaking to Kaidi Ruusalepp when I get there, is absolutely great. She’s the woman who wrote Estonia’s digital signature regulation. Partly because of her, the country is known for it’s progressive attitude towards digital economy. Think of the e-Residency which allows non-residents to become digital citizens, used by many start-ups and working nomads. She founded Funderbeam, a global platform for investors, and wants to make the techworld more diverse. She finds it important for more women to start a business or being involved in the start-up scene on the side of the venture capitalists.

For my work at Tribe Theory, building a content platform focusing on start-ups and entrepreneurs, I look at how I can bring the ideas of Ruusalepp to the attention of our target group. Using social media ofcourse , but there has to be added value in the approach of the subject as well. Her talk is going to be about ’scaling a tech venture from scratch’. Young entrepreneurs and start-ups want to know how they can grow quickly. Scalability is what distinguishes a start-up from an ordinary company. Yet 80% of the entrepreneurs don’t survive the first year of their business. Lack of knowledge in the field of sales and marketing, mental adversity due to high expectations of themselves and others, amongst other things that keeps them from having success. Ruusalepp will undoubtedly go into these topics. But it’s even more interesting to hear from her how to give meaning to a company, once it becomes successful. With Funderbeam Ruusalepp wants to change the world of tech, in that way she inspires other entrepreneurs to become game-changers with their start-ups.

How to add value with your company or organization is perhaps the most important question when it comes to digital content strategy. Ultimately, you want your audience to appreciate you, whether it’s to keep buying your products or to keep reading, listening and watching your content. You’re not going to achieve that goal with activity on social media alone. A physical place to get in touch with your followers and a direct communication channel like a newsletter are, in my opinion, the things you need to really build a close relationship with your audience.

While working in public broadcasting in The Netherlands, I’ve notices the increasingly use of the word ‘impact’. A television or radio program is no longer the most important thing. What matters is a comprehensive strategy around a program, including the (exclusive) online content that is created and the debates or meet-ups that are organized afterwards. My former colleagues at Omroep Human created great impact before, unfortunately finding themselves in a situation right now where they need support to survive.
I’m thinking in the opposite direction right now: how to get the people who’ve we had genuine contact with and who are positive about what we’re doing, remain interested once they return home. Furthermore, operating in different countries means dealing with different strategies: in countries like Vietnam and Myanmar for example, I’ve learned that Facebook Messenger (or other apps like Viber) has much more influence than an email newsletter. Yet for the target group of traveling entrepreneurs, the value of a newsletter is high again. So it’s all about experimenting with different tools for different locations and audiences.

I’ve been following The Splice Newsroom for a while, an initiative of Alan Soon and Rishad Patel. You could say they’re the ‘Niemanlab of Asia’, focusing on developments in the field of digital media. Splice curates the most important topics in it’s newsletter and supports new media initiatives in the region with great enthusiasm. I feel – as probably one of the very many followers – always personally addressed. They establish dialogue with their followers in a variety of creative ways. And the cool thing is: they share their knowledge generously. This year they’ll organize their first festival: Splice Beta (1-3 May in Chiang Mai). Alan Soon says about the initiative: “We are tired of the narrative around media. The past 10 years has been about losing our influence, losing our revenue streams, losing utility with our audience, and worse, losing their trust. Honestly, I do not know any other industry that talks itself as much as we do. If we do not celebrate media, why would we assume that advertisers and audiences will? If we do not believe in our ability to thrive, why would anyone put money behind us?”. Couldn’t agree more. I’ll travel to Thailand for this, hope to see you there.

People like Kaidi Ruusalepp, with initiatives such as Funderbeam, are making it easier to invest in start-ups. Whether that means more people will invest in media start-ups or donation and crowdfunding will be the future models, I’m sure the topic of business models will be discussed at the conference. Media can strengthen their grip on the tech world in this way, by being part of it as a media start-up of their own. This way you’ll understand how it works to set up your company in a different way than by government funding or with commercial money. It reminds me of an interview that I read in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant with Anand Giridharadas. He puts it like this: “The tech industry is the Roman Empire of our time. I think there is no one in the Netherlands whose life is not affected by the decisions taken in Silicon Valley. We now have the weird situation that the most powerful people of our time have set themselves an air of powerlessness. That whole atmosphere of rebellion in Silicon Valley is a kind of diversion to avoid responsibility for the consequences that companies like Facebook, Airbnb and Uber have on our lives.“ Good enough reason to expand the role of media as a watchdog for democracy, to the world of technology and thus remain meaningful.