When Mark DiPaola enjoyed a five-minute commute to his past job helping run tech-advertising firm Vantage Media in L.A., he was all smiles. But when those smiles turned to extra miles due to an office relocation, his commute suddenly stretched to 45 minutes each way.
"I wanted to recapture that time," DiPaola, the company's founder and CEO, recalled in an interview. "But rather than listening to radio or chatting on the phone, I wanted to stay on top of news I cared about."
Out of that need came his new startup Meep, a freemium mobile app that reads news article aloud. This hands-free eyes-free experience lets you swipe an article at any point, like a Tinder swipe, and DiPaola said they're working on voice-activation controls to make the experience even fingers-free.
Meep is bolstered by the ability to select topics of interest, whether broad subjects such as Politics or Sports, or drilling down to custom topics.
Imagine you want to stay on top of all news related to Tesla, DiPaola said. Setting up a custom channel for "Tesla" will pull breaking news content from more than 50 publishers, such as BBC News, ESPN, Time and Mashable.
A tool designed to study user behaviour baked into the app will recognize the articles you listen to and share (or don't listen to fully or don't share), and will curate your channel on the fly as you interact more with articles.
"Meep fills the gap that radio and podcasts created," DiPaola noted. "There really isn't anything like this out there."
DiPaola is spot-on, although the news space used to have a strong audio-news app in Umano, but in 2015 it was acquired by Dropbox and subsequently shut down.
The "Audible of news" launched two weeks ago, and while DiPaola didn't offer specific download or user figures, he said the app's popularity has soared after Apple featured it on the App Store home page under "Best of What's New." Currently, it's ranked #143 for U.S. News apps.
Based in Santa Monica, DiPaola invested $1 million of his money into the five-staffer startup. Meep hired freelance voice artists to read news articles.
Hearing the news on Meep isn't a static experience; rather, DiPaola says users are interacting with each other within the app. Users can follow their Facebook Friends who also use the app, or other app members. Also, users can send each other voice-messages within the app, which might be fun for those who want to instigate friends before they read an article ("Hey man, your OKC star just signed with the Golden State Warriors…Ouch!").
The app's business model works on a freemium basis. Users opting for the free experience get 100 stories a month. Subscription options include 500 stories for $6.99 per month, or unlimited stories for $9.99 monthly The subscription tiers are ad-free, while audio-friendly ad messages will soon run between articles for those opting for the free option.
DiPaola is already planning for Meep's next iteration: The company will soon launch a feature to let publishers purchase software to turn articles into audio files, with each article offering a "Listen" button for readers to hear the news reports.
"No one's doing this at scale, and publishers don't have to do anything but just add some code to their site," DiPaola added.
In the golden era of podcast love, Meep could be another tool available to news junkies, and may complement the many articles and videos flying over our eyes daily.