Like all other student entrepreneurs at Georgetown, Gillis Baxter and Evan Bloomberg (COL ’13) have high hopes for their startup, Vizo News. A news aggregator app that delivers three brief headlines every day, Vizo launched this Tuesday on both iOS and Android platforms. The two founders first met at Georgetown, where Bloomberg is currently pursuing a graduate degree in computer science and where Baxter studied business prior to dropping out last December in order to focus on Vizo.
The Hoya spoke with Baxter and Bloomberg earlier this week about the process of developing the app, the challenges they encountered and the startup culture at Georgetown.
What was the impetus behind Vizo News?
At Georgetown we were surrounded by extremely smart people; however, I was shocked at how few of my friends read the news. When I dug more into the problem, I found two issues. First, the presentation of the news has not changed and is not optimized for our generation. Second, people do not have time to read the news, especially not millennials.
Vizo makes sure no one’s too busy to see the news. Visually stunning and quick to read, Vizo is a news app that gives you just the facts from top sources like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal three times daily. On Vizo, stories are called Glances. Glances replace misleading headlines and lengthy anecdotes by showing you the heart of the story. The app allows you to personalize your feed to see the news sections that most interest you. You can also click through to fuller versions of any story from multiple sources when you have the want to know more than just what’s at a Glance.
Take us through a timeline of the app’s development and funding stages.
Vizo was dreamt up last July, then we wrote a business plan and enlisted my roommate to make a Photoshop mockup, and Vizo was born. We closed our first round of funding last August and began development in the middle of fall semester. We just closed our largest round to date, bringing our total funding since inception to over $1 million.
What were the main challenges you encountered?
We encountered the usual development challenges and startup challenges but also faced additional issues because we launched on both iOS and Android in both English and Hebrew. It was a big challenge to develop an app from scratch in tandem. I couldn’t be more proud of Evan and the [development] team!
What makes Vizo different from other news apps?
In most forms — print, radio, television and now even mobile — your experience starts with a headline. A series of words that are meant to explain the circumstances of the news, to inform. Now, more often than not, these headlines are engineered to jar you enough to want to hear more. They’re misleading and really only created for the benefit of getting the reader to click through to the content for advertising dollars.
We want to change that. Vizo is built to pull you in emotionally with a picture instead of feeding you misleading headlines. By showing you who or what the news is about, we want to spark genuine interest into the content. Giving the reader what they need to know and only what they need to know, which is why you’ll never see a Vizo story bigger than the text that can fit on your screen.
Did you learn anything from your time at Georgetown that helped you with running your own startup?
We definitely did. Our Georgetown educations have been instrumental in getting Vizo to this point. There are two Georgetown professors on our advisory board, and we have had a great response from everyone we have spoken to at Georgetown about Vizo.
Do you think that the culture at Georgetown fosters entrepreneurship?
I think that this is a hard question to answer. At Georgetown, everyone is incredibly driven and competitive, which makes it a great environment to start a company. However, that same environment also makes straying from the beaten path — whether it be investment banking, consulting or being a developer at Google — something that is viewed with skepticism. We hope to see more student entrepreneurs coming from Georgetown in the future!
What do you have to say to other students who are interested in starting their own business ventures?
Follow your dream, but be realistic. Startup life is heavy on the stress and light on the sleep. The decision to leave Georgetown to pursue your dream full time is one that Evan and I are incredibly lucky to have been able to make and is not for everyone.
If you have an idea for a startup, tell as many people as possible about it. See what they say, write a business plan, sketch out a concept. Then, if you still believe in the idea, convince other people to believe in it and raise money from investors. We made sure that our first investor was someone who didn’t know us and was investing on the basis of the idea, not just due to a personal relationship. Definitely reach out to friends and family for your first round, though.