An Interview With Trevor Sumner, Co-Founder and Head of Products & Marketing of NearSay

Trevor Sumner is the co-founder of NearSay, a personalized neighborhood news site. Pick your neighborhoods, pick your topics and get the best newsletter you’ve ever seen. It covers the best of NY media and brings deep local insight from their 150+ N-Siders including the Manhattan Borough President, city council, art & restaurant critics, etc. NearSay is looking for a talented engineering lead (Drupal), partners for distribution and revenue and contributors who want a column syndicated to our 35,000 readers. He will be presenting at the upcoming NY Tech Mixer Demo & Drinks event on January 18th.

Tell me how it all started, where did your vision/inspiration come from?

NearSay started when my partner David and I were talking about how amazed we were with all this new information we were getting. He was showing off his Tweetdeck with 10 different columns sorted by different lists and how plugged in he was. At the same time, we began to realize that despite all this information, we still had no idea what was going on in our neighborhood.

Everyone always asks me my recommendations on restaurants since I am a gourmand. I can tell you not only where to go, but what to order. But at the same time, even with Eater, Tasting Table, Grub Street and more, I couldn’t keep up with the restaurant openings in the East Village where I live.

And this is the fundamental problem of the Internet. Too much data, and not enough information. It’s a signal to noise issue. And everyone is optimizing to reach the broadest audience as New York news, but in doing so, they have ignored the most important news of all – what’s happening in my neighborhood and the topics I care about.

And so NearSay was born. We started brainstorming about why previous models had failed because of the high cost of editorial content, how crowdsourcing like Yelp created too much noise and how there was a lack of trust and we created this notion of a local expert portal with reputation and scoring. We thought about how reputation here would be more meaningful than Foursquare while leveraging the same gaming dynamics. We thought it would be much cooler to be the mayor of the Chelsea Arts Scene than the Starbucks.

But we also needed to make sure we brought you all the other stuff people were covering. The best of the top of the news from major NY Media and newsletters like Thrillist, Urban Daddy and Daily Candy. And so we applied some aggregation and semantic analysis technologies to make sure we covered all the sources you might be scanning.

So now we had broad information from NY Media, deep information from local experts, now it was a matter of personalizing the experience to you, the reader. You pick YOUR neighborhoods. You pick YOUR topics. You follow the voices YOU love. And so that’s NearSay!

What keeps you motivated?

I really love what I do. To have some product or service that you molded from scratch is a beautiful thing. And it’s also about as frustrating as can be. I want to change the registration process. I want to update the settings page. I want to offer targeted coupons.

At any one time, there are a literally 20 things that are nagging at me and I think it’s a fascinating process to think about what’s important, knowing that you can tweak only so much. I constantly remind myself of the Reid Hoffman quote, “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you launched, you launched too late.” Frankly, it’s the only reason I can keep my head up high.

So that quest to make NearSay something truly excellent is part of it. And as a native New Yorker, to think that I have a shot of creating a New York media property that is considered in the same light as some of the most notable news organizations in the world is thrilling.

But in the end, what motivates me most is my team. If you are getting into a startup, you better like the people. You better love the people! It’s the people you are in the trenches with that keeps you going through the tough times. The knowledge that you cannot quit, it’s just not a choice.

What keeps you up at night?

Not fast enough. We need more. We need better. We need faster. Did I mention more? It’s a cloud over you as you race ahead. As an entrepreneur, you are constantly looking 6 months ahead. What’s the business model going to look like in 6 months? What’s the roadmap? I literally have 6 months of ideas on what I want to build. Most of them of course won’t be built because there will always be something higher priority. There will always be new insights. New foci.

But that mentality is sometimes difficult when you contrast it with where you are. You have to be careful not to get ahead of yourself and focus on the path from now until then recognizing that there are some big holes in what you do now. And then I go back to Reid Hoffman to make sure I am not driving myself nuts.

What would you consider to be a successful result for your company?

On a daily basis, I get a successful result when people tell me how much they love the newsletter or that interesting event they got to see because of NearSay. Or we have a spike in Google Analytics that tells us what we did was smart. That keeps me going, seeing that you can mold the metrics with your strategy and tactics.

Longer term, we are trying to build a profitable media company that is a powerhouse in NYC. That would make me incredibly happy. I would also love to find an organization that wants to help take us to new cities and new markets. We’ve been able to out-position a lot of big players in this space and I would love to work with them to mix our technology and methodology with their distribution. We’ve built something really cool here, combining the breadth of aggregation and curation with deep expert content. I think there are a lot of interesting applications.

And of course, if we end up with a successful acquisition by a company, that would be nice. I am a scuba diver at heart and if I can find a way to a yacht with a compressor and do some diving, that would be pretty nice too.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

To me, starting my own business seemed like a real wall to hurdle. It turns out that creating a business is easy. Finding the right people for it is REALLY HARD. Chemistry matters. Skillsets matter. Determination, passion and smarts matter. And you have to have the right mix. I think the most important thing you can do in entrepreneurship (and in your career in general) is network. Find a mentor you love. Find people you respect and admire and plug in to their interests. Go to meetups. Take meetings with VCs if they offer. Get around town. If you start discussing ideas with great people, startups have a natural way of happening. It’s a lot easier to have two or three people that both say, “We should do this,” than trying to pull everyone in from scratch. And if you are not ready, find a small startup to join. Being an early employee at WePlay really made me realize that I could build my own company from scratch.

This upcoming gathering, being a Demos and Drinks event, we have to ask: what’s your favorite drink?

Vodka tonics in the summer, Bourbon in the winter and wine with dinner.

Trevor Sumner will be providing a demo at NY Tech Mixer’s January 18th event at Crimson. Visit NYTechMixer.com to RSVP.

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