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Q&A with PressBaby: From Startup Weekend to the ARK, and the Differences Between LR and NWA

6 min read

Little Rock startup PressBaby was hatched this past spring by Emily Reeves of Little Rock and Jody Shackelford of Hardy at Startup Weekend Little Rock. It was incubated over the summer at the ARK Challenge in Fayetteville.

Through its products Newspaper Next, ZineDay and VidLibs, this Innovate Arkansas client firm aims to produce, deliver and monetize multimedia content.

Innovate Arkansas caught up with Reeves, director of digital innovation and insight planning at Stone Ward and PressBaby’s COO, who explains just how PressBaby came to be. She also provides an insider’s look into the ARK Challenge and discusses the differences between central and northwest Arkansas from an entrepreneur’s perspective.

IA: Tell us about Startup Weekend and how the idea for PressBaby was born. You’d never met Jody before, right?

Emily: Little Rock Startup Weekend was held in April 2013. I attended on a whim, more out of curiosity than interest in starting a business. And I thought I would meet some interesting people. I had not met Jody before Startup Weekend. He had driven in from Hardy that afternoon and was one of 30 or so people that gave a 60-second pitch for one of his many business ideas. He pitched the idea for an app called VidLibs, video MadLibs for you and your friends.

After all the participants voted, VidLibs was narrowed down to one of the top 12 ideas for teams to form around. I loved the idea and joined his team. That first night, it was just the two of us and we were not even sure we would pursue it over the weekend since our team was so small. But as the weekend went on and other teams disbanded, our team grew and we ended up winning second place in the competition.

We learned about the ARK Challenge over the weekend and Jody applied for VidLibs with me as his partner. The same week that we learned we had been accepted into the program, Jody received news from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that they were interested in working with him on another business idea he had been pitching: Newspaper Next.

We talked to the ARK Challenge and decided to form a company called PressBaby that would have both the VidLibs product and the Newspaper Next product in its portfolio. We used our time at the ARK Challenge to focus on Newspaper Next since we had an immediate customer request and need for the product.

IA: Were you surprised by your selection to the ARK?

Emily: We learned that weekend that the ARK Challenge was extending its application deadline specifically for projects that came out of Little Rock Startup Weekend. Jody applied on our behalf that next week, but I honestly didn’t think that we would be accepted. Though I didn’t know much about the ARK Challenge at the time, it seemed like it was for more established concepts. 

We were surprised, for several reasons. (1) We applied late in the game and didn’t have the product fully thought out quite yet. (2) Neither Jody nor I are developers and we didn’t have a technology partner. (3) We were notified of our acceptance the week before the program started. Surprise! We talked about it and knew that it was too great an opportunity to pass up, even given the obstacles we were facing going in.

IA: What was it like relocating for three months from 501 to 479?

Emily: The bottom line on relocating: it was both hard and rewarding. I actually split my time between Little Rock and Fayetteville for the three-month period as I was maintaining my full-time employment and all the duties that came with that at Stone Ward. As a result, I spent a lot of time on the road and maintained two residences during that period.

I love Fayetteville and loved spending time up there, but I was worn out most days! I ended up splitting my physical time 50/50 during the three months. It was rewarding because the time spent with mentors and with other teams taught me much that I would have missed if I were only working from a distance.

IA: In what ways could central Arkansas emulate NWA in terms of growing its startup environment?

Emily: The two areas of the state are so different. Northwest Arkansas has a vibrancy that comes from the energy around the university. But central Arkansas has a wealth of established businesses and access to government resources, as the capital.

I don’t think central Arkansas needs to emulate the environment in northwest Arkansas, but should create an environment that is friendly to startups based on the strengths that we have in central Arkansas. Perhaps that is focusing on a program for those already in the workforce and a little more mature in their business experience. I am a little biased in this suggestion, having been one of only a few that kept a full-time job during the program and as the oldest in our cohort!

Things that central Arkansas can learn from northwest Arkansas include having more startup-centric events and networking opportunities. And of course, getting the word out on those events and the outcomes so that others learn about it and will want to participate. Startup Weekend was a great way to kick this effort off and I know there are several other efforts underway like creating co-working spaces for startups. These co-working spaces and surrounding resources (housing, food, drink, entertainment, etc.) are important to bringing bright people together in an environment where they can create together.

IA: For startups, what unique advantages does Little Rock have?

Emily: Being in the central part of the state, I believe that Little Rock offers easier access to mentors from around the state to come in regularly and provide a diversity of input to startup companies. Additionally, the proximity to state government can be a tremendous asset for funding assistance.

IA: So, what do you think of the startup experience so far?

Emily: PressBaby is my first startup, and I don’t think it will be my last. The process has been trying, but the experience rewarding. I think that I learned a lot that I want to apply to another startup in the future.

IA: Is there anything like PressBaby out there now?

Emily: Many publishers are trying to figure out how to turn their written content into multi-media content based on the trends that we are seeing with increases in online video viewing and audio content consumption. But they haven’t figured out the perfect solution to this yet. Some are providing multimedia content as supplementary to the written content.

A few are providing audio versions of their written content. There are a few apps available that provide audio versions of select written articles from major publishers. But we are not seeing anyone partner directly with publishers to provide full-length quality journalism as both audio and video options for consumers with interact with and publishers to monetize. That is where PressBaby is unique.

IA: Where else could you go with this idea?

Emily: At our core, PressBaby is about digital media solutions for content. We believe that we can take this to newspapers, magazines and bloggers. Our vision is have every article on the web “playable” as audio or video content. I dream of the day with there is a PressPlay button powered by PressBaby on websites, next to the Twitter button and Facebook button that users already expect to find next to everything on the web.

The evolution of the concept has many legs. We can provide easy ways for consumers to share portions of the content in any of the formats with their friends. We can encourage crowdsourcing of articles recorded by every day people to share with their friends. We can send written content to televisions as recorded content. How much space do you have for this article? I could go on and on with the ideas we have for taking PressBaby and its products into the future.

IA: What’s the best thing about starting up, and of course, what’s the toughest?

Emily: For me, the best thing about starting up is learning something new everyday. That also happens to be the toughest thing! As I learned, more ideas would bubble to the surface about how to make the product better. But as I learned, I saw mistakes we had already made and wished that I had known it earlier. I can’t even count how many times I said, “and here is something else I wish I had known on June 3rd!”

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