Information overload has reached an extreme in the age of Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and 24-hour news cycles. Most of us are constantly checking our smartphones and tablets, glued to screens as waves of information crash over us.
It’s a problem that has only become more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic. And it’s a problem that some are trying to address.
On Thursday, Romanian startup Deepstash, which was founded last year, announced a €3m seed round, led by Connect Ventures, GapMinder VC and Cultivate Capital. While not a massive starter round, it highlights an appetite for platforms that try to effectively curate what we read, while offering a bit of inspiration.
“We started to realise that the way we spend our attention is kind of how we spend our lives, and I think there is a deep need for more meaningful interactions with good information,” Deepstash chief executive and cofounder Vladimir Oane tells Sifted.
The idea behind Deepstash is to create a mobile-first platform where people could connect around ideas-based content, whether articles, videos or podcasts. The app presents information extracted from various curated sources that people can then save and organise independently, and also share with others.
The company claims to already have over a million users, across more than 150 countries.
Deepstash is far from alone in trying to help us manage our information flow, as well as cut out some of the more poisonous aspects of social media.
In November 2019, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales launched a free-to-use rival to Facebook and Twitter that allows users to share links to articles and discuss them in feeds, while trying to stay clear of “clickbait” and misleading headlines.
In July, Blendle, a Dutch online news platform that aggregates and sells articles on a pay-per-article basis, was acquired by French competitor Cafeyn. The micropayments-for-news platform, which pioneered the approach of allowing readers to pay a small fee per article from leading newspapers and magazines, had struggled for profitability since its launch in 2014, despite millions of dollars of investment, and switched from a micropayments to premium subscriptions model last year.
Still, there are plenty who feel there is space for curated content.
“We're not building an app where original content is key, but we’re turning curation into an act of creation,” says Oane.
He adds that the platform aims to be an antidote to the consequences of us spending huge amounts of our time on social media consuming negative content focused on subjects like the pandemic and politics.
“We are all competing for attention, all consumer products and I'm competing against [the likes of] Netflix and TikTok,” Oane says. “[But] I'm not super stressed out by going against the big, big social networks. I think we're on our virtuous fight here, and our early traction gives me hope.”
Where’s the money?
Deepstash’s app is currently ad-free, and free-to-use, meaning that the business model is less than clear.
“We are not at the point where the product is fully baked, there are a lot of things that we are working on, and focusing on early monetisation we think can kill our growth,” says Oane, who describes it as less a European model and more of a Silicon Valley type approach.
Still, the investors seem to be willing to gamble.
Sitar Teli, a general partner of Connect Ventures, which led the round, tells Sifted that the money is a bet on the founding team and need for a solution rather than the current product. (Oane previously cofounded uberVU, a social analytics platform that was sold to HootSuite for a reported $15-20m in 2014.)
“I think we saw a bunch of discrete solutions, none of which really tied the whole experience together,” she says.
“I think in the past in Europe, the VC sector has under-capitalised ambitious projects and companies,” she tells Sifted. “It is very early [for Deepstash], and we know it’s very early. It's not pre-product, but if in a year Deepstash looks like it does now I'd be really shocked.”
“It's a great founder attacking a big problem, and we wanted to make sure he [Oane] had enough runway to figure out the right solution to that problem,” she adds.