Antenna Founders 2014

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If you notice something different on ExitEvent’s story pages today, it’s because we’re trying out a new reader engagement tool developed by the Durham startup Antenna
 
As you read through our stories, you’ll see (hopefully unobtrusive) buttons at the end of each paragraph with a popup of the phrase “What do you think?” Click on any of the pre-set responses, or add your own. Near the top of each story, below the photo, a Reactions button will tell you how others have responded. (Here’s a good example in last week’s story about The Startup Factory.) 
 
Antenna co-founder Porter Bayne moved to Durham from New York City earlier this year, with a mission to finally launch the product he’d spent years building. Three months at The Startup Factory this Fall helped him fine-tune the technology and user experience, and craft the right messaging to get the attention of publishers, bloggers and e-commerce sites. The goal is to help these audiences better engage with readers and shoppers, while also understanding how time is spent on a website and what sorts of content readers like best and least. Below, check out Bayne's pitch to investors at The Startup Factory’s Fall Showcase. 
 
So far, 55 publishers are using the free Antenna platform. They include high-profile sites like Fast Company, Dlisted and Okay Player. Those sites have collected 110,000 reactions from visitors (way more than comments, Bayne says) and 3.5 million reaction views (when people click to see what others think). They're averaging 25 percent more page views, more time on site and return visits. 
 
Bayne had the idea for Antenna (formerly called ReadrBoard) more than five years ago, but it wasn’t until he worked as a lead engineer at the now defunct lifestyle media site DailyCandy that it was validated. Media companies want to know what readers care about and why. Media love engagement but don’t know how to handle it. And comments just don't cut it. They're difficult and time-consuming to monitor, and often lack constructive feedback.   

It was there that he worked alongside now co-founder Mike Shaw, and got serious about a solution.

Bayne had experience with startups, working at Travelocity, eFamily.com and BridalGuide.com. In 2007, he founded Nearlyweds!, a wedding website platform. He's helped to build it into the seventh largest wedding media property online, now as a board member. And in 2008, he built an early version of Antenna called Ameritocracy. His clout in the industry helped attracted Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian and the executive editor of the Washington Post as advisors.

But Chris Heivly and Dave Neal of the The Startup Factory became early advisors after Bayne moved to the Triangle (his wife is an ophthalmology resident at Duke). Heivly connected Bayne to one of his largest publishers and then convinced him to apply for the Startup Factory to spend more time thinking through customer acquisition. 

“They’re both engineers and so we’ve really pushed them to get out and talk to customers,” Heivly says. The accelerator’s financial commitment—up to $150K per company—gave Antenna time and money to build relationships with the business development agencies that work with its biggest targets. 
 
So how will Antenna make money if the tool is free? 
 
A subscription-based news widget that publishers can embed on their sites to deliver more relevant content to their readers from around the web, Bayne says. They can also pay Antenna to be included in the content mix on other news sites. One company is already leading the charge in the industry. Outbrain’s content discovery widgets on many of the 500 million media websites has helped it earn a $1 billion valuation. But the Antenna founders believe they can do recommendation better—based on engagement and feedback versus page views and clicks.
 
“We have a simple kickass way for online publishers and advertisers to know what people care about and why they care about it,” Bayne told the crowd at last week's event. For an example of what that widget will look like, watch the video.

We're trying out Antenna not just because it's a company based in the Triangle, but because it offers insight into the brains of the people consuming our content. We hope our stories and commentary help entrepreneurs in this region feel more connected to each other. Our goal is also to help them obtain the knowledge and tools to build better companies. But it's hard to know how we're doing. Perhaps Antenna will help us figure it out.


Credit: Ryan Timms