How Different Political Views Sparked the Idea for an Internet Start-Up | TopMBA.com

How Different Political Views Sparked the Idea for an Internet Start-Up

By Seb Murray

Updated August 6, 2018 Updated August 6, 2018

During a Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business consulting project, Sean Graber and Keal Harter alongside their MBA classmates travelled to Spain and Germany for three weeks to advise a US company on its market-entry-strategy. However, while on the trip, the duo often found themselves discussing heated political issues. 

Graber says, “We loved to talk politics to pass the time”. The former management consultant, who’d worked in Argentina, found his views sometimes opposed those of Harter, a former US Navy intelligence analyst. Graber says, “But what we realized is we learnt from each other and were actually better off from the disagreements”.

Why difference of opinion matters

The discourse was the inspiration for their business, The Skeww, a website which displays news from around 100 publishers and uses artificial intelligence to determine where it falls on the political spectrum. The Skeww hopes to bridge the ideological and political divide in the US, which has arguably become wider since the 2016 presidential election.

Graber says, “With Trump and Brexit in the UK, it’s a really interesting time politically. What we’re doing is important work. We want to get people consuming opposing views.

“The internet tends to be an echo chamber that reinforces ideas you already have, because we consume media shared by our friends on social media who have similar views.

“The Skeww will give you an understanding of different perspectives on different issues.”

Politics at the forefront

The day I interviewed Graber, the headlines across his site were about the Mueller investigation about potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s election campaign. The left-leaning news outlets backed the Mueller probe, whereas those on the right spoke of crushing it.

As well as providing a low-risk environment where Graber and Harter could test their idea, it was also at business school they developed the technology that powers their platform, which combs the internet, assessing and downloading thousands of articles each day. It also uses natural language processing and machine learning to identify trending topics, and select and sort them based on their political affiliations — in addition to the founders’ own human judgment.

Without a tech background, Graber took advantage of a natural language processing class at Tuck that gave him the skills to build the back-end of the website. In addition, undergraduates from the computer science department at Dartmouth worked with him on the project.

Graber says, “The tonne of resources at your disposal makes business school a great place to experiment, to try something new and crazy. We would never have come up with the idea if we weren't at Tuck.”

Juggling time and effort

But there were challenges balancing an intensive MBA course while establishing the startup, which he says the pair worked on for about five months. Graber adds, “Taking an idea like this full-time, you would of course have more energy and time to dedicate to it. There are pros and cons.”

Both Graber and Harter graduated from the MBA this summer and currently work full-time jobs, the former at travel website TripAdvisor in a product management role.

The Skeww was launched in June and Graber says traffic has “surpassed all our expectations” but declined to provide details.

So far, the platform hasn’t been monetized. Graber says he’s focused on “building an audience”, but he envisages an advertising and subscription-based business model, should The Skeww take off — in which case there are ambitious plans for expansion.

For example, he’ll potentially use machine learning to assign bias scores to articles – even stories from other sites. Graber says, “Imagine as you browse the internet, we can automatically suggest other articles from the ‘other side of the [political] aisle’.”

There are also plans to include different forms of original content such as video debates with politicians. He says, “It all comes back to the original idea: get opposing views out there in a way that our audience wants to digest them.”

This article was originally published in August 2018 .

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Written by

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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