Dallas startup InspireMore wants a ‘righteous disruption’ of mainstream media that’ll make you smile
Earlier this year, the team at Dallas-based media startup InspireMore learned about a troubling case of elementary school bullying from nonprofit Behind Every Door.
McKenzie Steward, who was born with albinism, had been bullied by other students because of her skin condition. So the InspireMore team put out a request to readers to submit kind letters to the fifth-grader.
“It was truly one of the most cool moments because we got over 500 letters,” InspireMore co-founder and chief marketing officer Hunter Stensrud said.
Partnering with Behind Every Door, InspireMore ended up compiling the crowdsourced letters and artwork into a book and giving it to Steward and her mother. A video recording and article about this became content shared with the site’s followers, thanking them for their participation.
“Each person is made uniquely beautiful, which means there is no one else like you,” Behind Every Door operations director Darrion Lewis read aloud from the book of letters given to Steward earlier this year as she sat in a folding chair beside him, fidgeting with her hands and smiling coyly.
The update on Steward’s saga published to InspireMore’s website joined headlines like “Woman Flies Abused Dog 2,500 Miles To Shower Her With Love And Healing” and “Disney Princesses Help 6-Yr-Old With Autism Find His Confidence.”
InspireMore, now in its fifth year, was launched out of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center in March 2014. It was driven by a singular mission: inspire overwhelmed media consumers to realize how much good there is in the world.
Some stories are aggregated by InspireMore’s staff from mainstream media outlets where they may be buried by news with greater public implications. Others are dug up by the site’s crew of half a dozen writers who scour social media for tales of heroism and empathy.
Stensrud and InspireMore founder Robert Neely didn’t study journalism and they’ve never worked in news. They don’t consider themselves or their team to be journalists.
“Our team really cares about others, really loves media and wants to find things that are interesting,” Neely said.
Neely is a former strategy and operations consultant for Deloitte who went on to study the human condition at the faith-based Kanakuk Institute. Stensrud was a marketing strategist for Reap Marketing.
To them, InspireMore is a platform for connecting people as well as a supplement to readers’ existing media diets.
“We don’t want to replace the news,” Neely said.
He refers to it as “righteous disruption.”
“You know, a lot of things that are reported on can be depressing,” he said.
InspireMore’s early mission, which was based on bringing as much attention as possible to positive and inspiring stories, has evolved in the years since. It’s started to become more focused and purposeful, Neely said.
“When you have attention, and eyeballs, and you have people’s passion — how do you leverage that?” Stensrud noted.
Since launching, the company has reached up to 3 million readers monthly and donated $125,000 to charity. InspireMore even rose to become the 15th-most visited mobile website in the U.S. in June 2017, according to Quantcast data.
The startup moved into new offices in Dallas’ West End in 2018 and is in a fundraising round now to bring in more than $2.7 million. Neely said he hopes the company will see profitability by mid-2020.
The company makes money primarily by selling advertising on its site and with sponsored posts across its social media profiles and newsletters.
But it wasn’t always this way.
In its first year of operation, Neely said InspireMore barely made money and hardly anybody took home a salary as the company worked to find its footing in the media landscape.
Social media algorithms have changed over the past several years, with Facebook’s deprioritization of publishers being among the most notable, forcing media outlets to find new avenues to reach audiences.
“We were getting a lot of social traffic,” Neely said. “But people weren’t as attached to the brand as we wanted and it’s because of how we were reaching them, how they were visiting our site, how we were engaging them.”
The company wants to build a “tribe” around the InspireMore brand, a group of people who are driven not just by a cynicism toward negative news media and social media platforms but by a desire to see more good in their lives.
In this vein, Neely and Stensrud hope to develop an app and build more strategic partnerships like they did recently with the Mister Rogers film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The partnership with film distributor Sony Pictures and Dallas-based Vomo encouraged people around the country to partake in community service in November, as well as promoted the film through email sponsorships, sponsored articles and social promotion.
The company is also exploring hyperlocal email newsletters — including one specifically for Dallas residents.