A Q&A with Guide founder and CEO Freddie Laker. The Miami-based company was founded in the summer of 2012 and closed a $1 million Seed funding round in early February of this year. Investors include Sapient and The Knight Foundation.
SUB: Please describe Guide and your value proposition.
Laker: Guide is an app that turns your favorite online news, social streams and blogs into video. We’re using cutting edge avatar technology and the latest generation in text-to-speech tech to read and present this content back to you so you can watch your favorite content instead of having to read it. Looking and listening to Guide feels a bit like you’re watching a science fiction show except that, finally, it’s real.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Laker: Guide has the potential to be a mass product that services the 500 million people that read blogs and online news each day. Our early focus will be on tech-savvy professionals on-the-go and early adopters who are seeking a ‘taste of the future.’
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Laker: Our competitive landscape cuts across three segments: Text-Based Newsreaders—Flipboard, Pulse, Zite, Paper.li, Currents, Newsify, and Feedler provide intuitive, magazine-style user experiences across smartphones, tablet and in Pulse’s case, web; Video News Aggregators—Frequency, Redux, Newsy and MyStevie provide strong feed-based video experiences across web, tablets, and smartphones; Audio Newsreaders—Umano, SoundGecko, Winston and SpokenLayer provide industry-leading audio reading experiences across smartphones and tablets.
SUB: What differentiates Guide from the competition?
Laker: At this time, Guide is the only reader to provide text based content back to the user
in an audio and video based format.
We love to read and Guide isn’t a replacement for all the newsreaders we’ve grown to know and love. It’s something different. Guide allows you to consume more of your favorite content because you can now watch your favorite online news while you go through your daily rituals like cooking, exercising, eating, or even working.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Laker: I founded the company in August 2012. Initially, I worked with trusted friends and industry experts to vet, challenge and evolve the idea. I also started voraciously consuming content in this new field to establish myself as an expert in the space. From there, I set up the legal and corporate structure and began recruiting engineers to lead iOS, Android, API, and algorithm development, respectively.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Guide? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Laker: Guide was inspired by my attendance at CES 2012 where I recognized that there was a huge potential opportunity to create experiences for the rapidly growing Smart TV market. As someone who is very passionate about online news, I quickly recognized how broken the news reading experience was on these devices. During that process our news anchor insight for user experience was born: “people want TV experiences on their smart TV.” Everything else grew from here.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Laker: The brand name ‘Guide’ is incredibly versatile, serving as part noun—the programming guide interface is inspired by the familiar TV programming guide—and part verb—the news anchors are literally guiding you through your content. We love all of the connotations that it has in relation to user experience and the equity it has in relation to a TV experience.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Laker: We are aggressively developing across multiple operating systems—iOS and Android—and multiple devices—iPad, Android tablets, web, and Smart TV. This is extremely ambitious for a company in its first year, let alone first few months. It has been challenging, but we’ve got a great team and workflow to attack it head on.
SUB: You just raised $1 million in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Laker: A majority of the funds are going to building our proprietary Guide Engine, investing in the right technologies and protecting our IP.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Laker: We found the fundraising environment to be hungry for new innovations, which is exactly what Guide is. While other products might be iterative or inspired by current trends—social, mobile, geo and local—Guide breaks ground in an entirely different direction. Not only are we providing a solution to optimizing static content for video and TV-based consumption, Guide is in fact defining the next generation of user interaction models.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Laker: Guide operates on a freemium-based model. We provide users with three free news anchors and then allow them to further personalize their experience by purchasing additional avatars and news backgrounds through the app. In the future, we will offer additional anchors and newsrooms to the user via publisher partnerships and advertising sponsorships. During our alpha stage, all anchors will be free as we learn and test which anchors are most loved by our users.
SUB: What are your goals for Guide over the next year or so?
Laker: We are focused on launching the app across both Android and iOS tablets, the web, and Smart TVs—specifically, Google TV. In the coming months, we will also roll out our publisher and advertising partnership programs.
Guide – www.gui.de