Sunday 22 September 2019

NOA raises funds for audio news service

With new funding and a new product, it's a big summer for NOA

Gareth Hickey and Shane Ennis of NOA
Gareth Hickey and Shane Ennis of NOA

Fearghal O'Connor

Dublin startup News Over Audio (NOA) is set to take a few more steps towards its goal of becoming the "Spotify of journalism".

The startup, which counts among its growing list of clients such global publishing giants as the Financial Times, Bloomberg and Business Insider, has just completed the first stage of a new funding round and is now preparing to release a new version of its audio news app later this summer, with the promise of a host of new features.

NOA's subscription-based service provides daily audio versions of opinion and feature articles - read by professional narrators - from a range of international publishers. Using personalised recommendations, audio articles are distributed to NOA's subscribers based on their subject knowledge, topic interests and goals across mobile and smart speaker systems such as Amazon's Alexa. NOA is planning to release web and in-car versions soon.

In recent weeks, NOA, which is based in DIT's Hothouse Centre at its new Grangegorman campus, raised the money from a group of Irish-based high-net-worth individuals as part of a staged fundraising process that will continue over the coming months.

"We're seeking to raise €700,000 over three tranches as part of NOA's seed funding round," said CEO Gareth Hickey, who previously worked as an equity analyst with Susquehanna International Group in Dublin.

"The first €200,000 tranche successfully closed within the last two weeks and we will be seeking to close the second tranche by the end of July. The appetite for what we're doing appears to be strong. The final tranche will be some time in November. While there are advantages to raising funding in as short a timeframe as possible, the reason we're raising funds over three separate tranches is because we believe that at each stage the business becomes slightly more de-risked and, as a result, attracts a slightly higher valuation," he said.

Investors in the company are mainly Irish high-net-worth individuals. Founding shareholder Philomena McGinley brings more than 25 years of advertising sales experience to the team, while Keith Ryan, managing director of Julius Baer Ireland, is also a lead investor in the startup.

"To date, we have not pursued Enterprise Ireland (EI) funding, although EI have been very supportive of NOA where possible. It's a big help having access to their New York office when we travel to the States to meet with some of our partners, for example. None of NOA's funding to date has come from angel investors or VCs either, which comes as a bit of a surprise to many. This is largely because we've been fortunate enough to have access to a strong network of high-net-worth individuals who want to be party to NOA's success as we grow the business," he said.

Chief product officer and co-founder Shane Ennis, said NOA's new product launch in mid-July will be a big step forward from the mobile and smart speaker offerings released in 2017 in order to gain initial user feedback and build publisher relationships.

"By all measures this has been an invaluable learning curve. We quickly went back to the drawing board to begin designing and developing version two of the NOA iOS and Android mobile apps, which we'll be releasing in the second or third week of July. The user experience will be completely different. Far more personalised, easier to navigate, and better suited to NOA's users' core use cases. Our recent seed investment allows us to spend more heavily on product, and we will be significantly expanding our development team to accommodate this in the months ahead. It's the most exciting space in media at the moment. A Spotify of journalism is needed, and we believe that we're going to take that experience one step further."

According to Hickey, while the July product launch will be an exciting leap forward for NOA, September will be a particularly big month for the company. "We will be announcing the additions of two major publishers before the end of the month. One UK-based and the other US-based," he said.

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