Q&A: How Harleen Kaur is adapting to a new normal.
The Co-founder and CEO of Ground News shares her strategy and advice.
Harleen is a former NASA engineer. She worked primarily on satellites and NASA’s New Horizons probe (which is currently on a mission to explore dwarf planets past Pluto). After NASA, Kaur became the first female VP at Rolls-Royce Jet Engines. Harleen approached the news problem as an engineer might: “Having worked with satellite camera technology so powerful it could spot pipes leaking, it is unimaginable to me that we still don’t have access to a set of crystal-clear, undisputed facts about what’s happening on the planet.” She shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her work at Ground News, the most important problem in the news that she is solving, and a reminder to other entrepreneurs.
What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?
Growth! We are at a stage where we have more and more users paying for our product each day. With a product that meets a market need, our main bottleneck is the number of people we can make aware of our product. Our best channel has been putting our product in front of people via social media, our new website, our Blindspot Report newsletter, and letting people see what news they have entirely missed out on.
What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?
Getting consumers to burst their Content Bubbles. Content bubbles are one of the most dangerous things that tech has ever created. While they give us funny videos and captivating articles, they also exacerbate any convictions that we hold. Simply put, being fed content that we disagree with is bad for engagement and consequently, bad for business. A person’s worldview is shaped by their newsfeed, rather than the other way around.
What has been your most successful solution so far?
Ground News Pro has been very successful in providing hundreds of thousands of consumers the most diverse perspectives on a single news story, so a normal person who is not a journalist can understand news without Bias and Geopolitical agenda mixed with it. People are so happy with this solution that we have over 10k paying consumers, while there are thousands of free news products out there that they can use.
How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?
Given that we have hundreds of thousands of customers, we heavily rely on analytics to understand their feedback. We actively communicate with customers through email and video calls. We also ensure that we reply to every single Review so that customers feel like we appreciate their feedback, even if it is negative.
With the team, we have heavily relied on Slack and Google Meet during this testing time. We have started new traditions like remote team lunch, where everyone orders the food delivery and we share lunch on the video call.
“The news industry has gotten a new spotlight in this pandemic and I’m sure other startups can find fresh unaddressed opportunities in the new normal.”
What has surprised you?
Everyone is aware of News Bias on how they cover stories, but the total lack of coverage by left-leaning or right-leaning media on certain topics has totally surprised us. We started making coverage distribution charts and have discovered certain topics get very lop-sided coverage. We recently started doing a weekly newsletter called the Blindspot Report, which has more than 100k subscribers.
How far ahead are you planning?
One thing that we have done well is not to plan the company forward, but to plan the market’s need backward. We took a laundry list of issues in the news industry that were in the path of our mission to create a better informed and more critically thinking public. Issues like misinformation, sensationalism, bias, special interests, echo chambers, corruption, and lack of financial sustainability for news outlets. Now that’s not the nicest list of things, but with thoughtful application of technology; I can say we’ve managed to create solutions that deal with about half of those issues. We have a path forward on the more complex ones, and when we think about company and product line expansion, that’s what we think backward from: what resources do we need to end this issue in the news people read.
What keeps you positive?
Deliver value to our subscribers. Every week I send out the Blindspot Report newsletter, highlighting the 5-6 news stories of the week which have the most lopsided coverage from left-leaning or right-leaning media. Within 10 minutes of sending it out, we have over 10,000 opens and a flurry of activity from positive reply emails, social media mentions, and people opening up their wallets to subscribe to Ground News Pro. It is a very positive feeling to know that so many people look forward to our work.
What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?
If you can weather the Covid storm — which is in no means easy — there is opportunity on the other side. Static circumstances help large companies keep the status quo, turbulent times mean startups like ours can make strides that were not possible before. The news industry has gotten a new spotlight in this pandemic and I’m sure other startups can find fresh unaddressed opportunities in the new normal.