Since Google and Twitter revolutionized the tech industry with their own digital empires — the “Googlesphere” and “Twitterverse,” respectively — developers and entrepreneurs around the world have spent innumerable hours attempting to step out of the shadows with the next big thing.
Countless startups have fallen flat in an attempt to replicate those billion-dollar business models, but one Colorado Springs startup, with an app called Narrativ, is aiming for an innovative entry point in the social media market.
“It’s crowdsourced creativity,” said cofounder Connor McCormick. “Collaborative storytelling.”
Narrativ, an app that allows users to collaborate with each other on real-time story creation, won first place in the most recent Colorado Springs Startup Weekend at Epicentral Coworking in downtown Colorado Springs.
During the 54-hour challenge, teams developed and pitched their business ideas to local experts. The eight-person Narrativ team was up against stiff competition: a team developing an app for hedge fund management, a one-stop community app for urban resources and another to ease restaurant ordering.
“This year’s event was amazing for everyone involved,” said Sam Elliott, a Peak Startup board member who helped organize the event. “There were 39 participants who pitched roughly 22 ideas Friday night. The participants voted on their favorite ideas, leaving six ideas to be worked on over the weekend.”
Each pitch was judged Sunday night by a three-person panel that included Epicentral owner Lisa Tessarowicz, Rainmaker Inc. owner and CEO Jonathan Bell and Patrick Bultema, executive director of Colorado College’s Innovation Institute.
“Our core values are humility, enrichment, candidness and great storytelling.”
– Connor McCormick
Of the six teams, the judges named Narrativ the winner.
“I’m really excited about Narrativ,” Tessarowicz said. “The team had and continues to have great energy, and I’m glad to see them moving forward in a more serious way than we’ve ever seen before. … What they were able to come up with in a very short amount of time, I think, really blew everyone away.”
Shortly after their victory, the team’s leaders chose to narrow their staff from the eight that worked through Startup Weekend to just three cofounders: McCormick, a UCCS student pursuing a bachelor of innovation degree in marketing, runs the business side of the startup; Daniel Lemmond, a UCCS student pursuing a bachelor of innovation degree in business administration, runs operations; and Nathan Rice, a tech enthusiast in the Air Force, runs the technical side of the business.
“It was a tough decision,” McCormick said. “But we felt it was necessary for the business.”
From there, the bootstrapped team at Narrativ has continued to work on the conceptualization and development of its app, with plans to release a beta version in two weeks.
How it works
The Narrativ process begins with a post. Other users can then respond to that post, and then others to those responses, to create a web of content that is organized by an algorithm that will choose the most popular content based on criteria such as time posted, number of views, number of collaborators and other metrics. The content found worthy will then be pushed to the left and will fall directly below the original post.
“This allows users to tell whatever story they’re interested in … kind of like choosing your own adventure,” McCormick said. “While Twitter is to share a post and have it go to as many people as possible, Narrativ is for people to intimately collaborate with each other to tell a single story.”
The team is currently discussing a variety of different revenue models, including a few Lemmond said are innovative and disruptive for the publishing industry.
For McCormick, the concept got its beginning a few years ago when Google made its Docs application publicly available. That Christmas, he and his younger siblings decided that rather than buy their parents a gift for Christmas, they’d write them a story using the application’s new collaborative interface (it allows for multiple users to work on the same document at once).
“It was really fun,” he said. “Mom cried, so I guess you could say it was successful. Since then, it has become a tradition.”
As the team explains it, Narrativ offers a similar experience to create a gapless, multi-faceted story with a variety of perspectives — applying the “two heads are better than one” philosophy to documenting events and other life happenings.
Although McCormick’s initial fascination with the idea of such a technology has gone through evolution and refinement since that Christmas morning with his family, he said that ethos still drives him and his team.
“Our core values are humility, enrichment, candidness and great storytelling,” he said. “That’s what matters to us. I think that’s what I’m most excited about — great customer service and telling great stories.”