When Your Startup Stops

Matt Hackett
Jan 25, 2018 · 4 min read

We announced earlier today that Beme, the company I founded 3 ½ years ago with Casey Neistat that CNN acquired in late 2016, is no longer going to exist as a standalone company. Casey and I will be moving on, but the team and technology will be pulled into CNN. Casey explains it here:

This is not the story of the aging conglomerate that couldn’t innovate and rejected the young startup blood. CNN left us genuinely independent post-acquisition, with a financial, editorial, and technological leash as long as we could wish for. Andrew, Chris, Jeff and everyone else we encountered at CNN was supportive in a way that defies the typical acquisition narrative.

Over the past year, we’ve experimented wildly in technology-enabled news, an area where the world needs experimentation. We built two products and a YouTube channel I’m very proud of.

Ultimately, while we have built some valuable things, we didn’t hit the escape velocity the business needed to exist independently.

Beme Office 1.0, one year pre-CNN

I don’t regret a moment of working on Beme.

A startup is a shared, constructive delusion. Off in a well-guarded cave, you and your team believe, against dismal odds, that some piece of reality is on the cusp of massive change. You’re the only ones who can make that better reality possible, and you can do it in just a matter of years.

In moments like this, leaving your distorted-reality cave for the harsh light of the world, it’s hard not to be a little sad. Not for myself — to an entrepreneur one end just reveals a wide open set of new opportunities — but for a version of the world you dreamed up that just won’t quite come to pass.

Not that we haven’t accomplished anything since we joined CNN. Far from it:

  • We made 40 videos as Beme News that showed how the participatory ethos of YouTube and the mission of journalism can meet. That channel will keep growing within CNN Digital Studios.
  • We built Panels, an app for honest, constructive dialogue between real people about the news. This technology will be pulled into CNN’s core experience.
  • We quietly (the product is still under wraps) built Wire, a machine-learning-powered platform for journalists to cover live news in a world where your smartphone is always closer than your TV remote. This technology will become a key part of what CNN is building for mobile.

Most of the team — including everyone working on these critical tech products — will be asked to stay on and bring our unique approach to CNN.

A few people won’t be offered jobs. They will get generous severance, but it still hurts to see those who believed in you in that position. For the few on our team who won’t be joining or choose not to join CNN, my network and time is entirely at their disposal until everyone lands on their feet.

An early mock-up of the Beme app, circa 2014. Luckily, we soon hired some real designers like Jacob and Adam

As this chapter comes to an end, I’ve been taking a nostalgic trip through our old Beme files, looking at our earliest prototypes. Back then, the entirety of the “company” was me, Casey (sub-1M subscribers) and Jack in a closet of an office next to his studio. I marvel at how much has happened in these few years.

When we started this company, if you had told me I’d be working with world-class journalists to try a new approach to news, let alone be successfully acquired (making real money for our investors and team), let alone have a million users download our app in a matter of weeks, let alone have a front row seat to the rise of a once-in-a-generation creative talent, let alone build multiple products at the cutting edge of video with whip-smart people who believe in me … I would have laughed.

I’m so grateful to the millions of people who gave our products a shot. Whether you downloaded the original Beme app or encountered us as Beme News and Panels: thank you.

Some of our ideas might not have hit their mark. The team we built, however, is unimpeachable. The engineers, designers, creators and journalists I’ve had the pleasure of working with are brilliant human beings who have applied themselves without reservation. I’ll really miss showing up to our office every day.

Personally, I’m ready for a new chapter. It may be time for me to move on from making [social] media products and to play in a different field. Not that there aren’t opportunities to build more tools for connecting and informing humans — there are plenty! I’d just like to test my mettle elsewhere. Suggestions?

And before any of that, I’ll be heading somewhere warmer than New York in February and digging into a tall stack of neglected books. 2018 is going to be a year of renewal, travel, research and exploration for me.

Farewell, Beme.

I’m not quite sure what the future holds, but I’ll definitely be writing about the process of finding out. Sign up for my newsletter to follow along, or for more chaotic updates follow me on Twitter.

Thanks to Hannes Johnson

Matt Hackett

Written by

Technologist on a purposeful wander. (Previously: Cofounder, Beme · VP Engineering @tumblr · HIR @betaworks)

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