How the GNI Startups Lab boot camp is different: Where eight weeks will take you

Phillip Smith
LION Publishers
Published in
6 min readAug 14, 2020


Apply by midnight Monday, Aug 17, 2020

Back in 2019, I shared why I believe that journalists make great entrepreneurs.

My friend Katherine Rowlands, owner of Bay City News and Bay City News Foundation, wrote to me shortly after with some feedback from her entrepreneurial experience. She said while skills from the journalism world can translate to certain aspects of entrepreneurship, she had observed that sometimes they don’t translate perfectly to the day-to-day practices of running a for-profit or non-profit business.

For example, here are a few questions Katherine highlighted that journalists might find challenging to answer:

  • How do you assess market demand?
  • How do you figure out pricing, whether it’s subscription, membership, or donations?
  • How do you make a sales call to a sponsor, advertiser, or potential philanthropic funder?
  • How do you create a compelling marketing pitch?
  • How do you sell yourself as the face of the product, organization, or company? (That’s often a big one, see lesson number four from Anika’s reflections on starting The Evergrey here.)

These skills are at the core of what we focus on in the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp.

In addition to what’s above, this is what you will have to do in the boot camp to get your project on the path to viability:

  • Set a clear financial goal and documenting a realistic plan to achieve it
  • Learn how to iterate from your Plan A, to Plan B, to a Plan that Works
  • Talk to “customers” (readers, listeners, watchers, advertisers, sponsors, funders)
  • Run experiments that rigorously test your assumptions
  • Present and pitching your “offer” to potential customers (with real-time coaching)
  • Launch a minimum-viable version of your offering into the market

I’ll be super upfront with you: This is not a “lean back” experience, or purely academic program for those who are curious about the idea of launching a news, reporting or civic information effort. The boot camp is hard work — let me say that again: the boot camp is hard work — and it will push you outside of your comfort zone. The reason you would join this boot camp is because you want to compress what takes many founders 12 months or more into an intense eight weeks.

Here’s what roughly happens each week. (I say “roughly” because this curriculum is tailored to the people and projects that are participating — this is not a one-size-fits-all program).

  • You’ll be introduced to one — and only one — guiding principle for taking your idea from inception to launch (and if you’ve already launched your project, we’ll use that principle to help grow your project toward viability and sustainability). This happens in a 90-minute seminar on Zoom. We leave 30 minutes each week for Q&A.
  • You’ll meet with me for a 30-minute one-on-one coaching session. In that session, we’ll grapple with anything that you’re stuck on or need support around. I’ll help you get unstuck and point you to resources that will help move you forward.
  • You’ll have a very small selection of readings to complete on that week’s guiding principle. Sometimes these are audio, sometimes video, and often include a short case study.
  • You’ll have assignments to complete that help you put the week’s lesson into action immediately. These are not “fake exercises” for practice only, they are the real thing. You will be required to pick up the phone and talk to real stakeholders about your project.
  • Last, but not least, you will post an “accountability update” that reports back on your work the previous week that you will share with everyone in the boot camp. We’re all in this together. And we’ll all hold each other accountable to our commitments.

In the first two weeks, you’ll be working to define your “minimum success criteria.” You’ll map a route back from that point to today, and you’ll set clear goals that you’ll aim to hit along the way. We’ll talk about money. How much you need. Where it will come from. And what that realistically means in terms of subscribers, members, donors, advertisers, sponsors, or grants. You’ll also undertake some important market and competitive research that will inform your pricing and positioning.

By week three, you’ll be given the task of talking to those potential sources of revenue and audience and gathering as much data as you can from them. You’ll use those conversations to validate that they are experiencing a problem that you and your product can solve, and to further refine how your product delivers value and how that value is described.

By week four, I’ll be pushing you to release a simplified version of your idea into the wild so that you can get feedback from real people. We’ll do this via simple stand-ins for the full idea, for example using a “landing page” website, or a single podcast episode, or even paper mock-ups. Don’t worry: You’ll get help along the way to make this happen because it’s a critical learning opportunity.

Week six and seven will focus on how to leverage the feedback you’re getting into your sales and marketing material that you’ll test on real sales calls. You can do those calls on your own, or I can hop on with you and give you some coaching.

By week eight you will have used that feedback to create a highly-refined version of your project that you’ll present to the rest of the boot camp participants and a few friends of the boot camp from LION Publishers, Google, and beyond. You’ll get candid and constructive feedback, and then take that refined vision out into the world.

To make it possible to move your project forward at startup speed, there’s a lot of information that is not covered in the weekly seminars. That is by design. The boot camp is not a firehose of information pointed at you. The design principle behind it is “right action, right time.” By that, I mean there is typically just one action you must take in a given moment to move your idea toward viability, and that’s what we’ll focus on exclusively. And that action is not predetermined — we’ll decide that action together, both in our group seminar, and in the one-on-one sessions each week.

So what about everything that is not specifically covered? Well, I believe that you’ll have many opportunities after the boot camp to circle back to all those questions, and you’ll be in a much better spot to incorporate that information having completed the boot camp.

In everything shared above, I’ve underscored that this is a big commitment, and a commitment that everyone running the boot camp is taking very seriously. LION Publishers has stepped up to provide the infrastructure and access to their network and resources. Google News Initiative has stepped up to cover all of the costs and provide expertise. And I’ve stepped up because I believe that your ideas need to come to life for so many reasons.

You may be asking yourself, “Wow, that sounds intense, how will I balance that if I’m working a full-time job already?” I want to assure you that it is possible. You can watch the seminars after work. You can find time before or after work to do the readings. You can invest part of your weekend to do the assignments. If you have a will to do this, there is a way, and we will help you to make it work in the time that you can make available.

So, with that said, go forth and apply before 11:59PM Pacific time on Monday, August 17.

Anika and I look forward to reading your application.

Phillip Smith is the director of the Journalism Entrepreneurship Boot Camp.

Anika Anand is the Programming Director for Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers.



Phillip Smith
LION Publishers

👉 My passion is helping: 💰 Newsrooms make more money; 📈 News startups grow their audience; 🔥 Journalists succeed as entrepreneurs. Let’s talk 📩