Curiosity’s Rover: 5 Questions With Founder and CEO Gabe Vehovsky


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Curiosity on SnapchatAs digital media fragments and evolves, reaching an audience—let alone engaging consumers, whether online or on television—is increasingly a challenge in this era of ad-skipping, trust-challenged news and short attention spans.

Chicago-based Curiosity has built a media platform, focused around its website and app, that’s packed with bite-sized nuggets of content designed to make information and knowledge as entertaining and engaging as possible, with extensive promotion across social media channels to reach consumers.

It’s now available on on Snapchat and just launched as a skill on Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, letting users throw out quirky facts on demand through its app.

Its mission: “To make learning easier and more fun than it has ever been. Our goal is to ignite curiosity and inspire people to learn. Each day, we create and curate engaging topics for millions of lifelong learners worldwide. We designed Curiosity with your busy life in mind. Our editors find interesting and important topics that you’ll want to know more about and introduce you to the best ways to keep learning.”

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Incubated and launched in 2011 by Discovery Communications and spun off as an independent entity in 2014 when it raised $6 million in funding, Curiosity’s focus continues to be to aggregate the best content from the web developed to exchange knowledge.

Founder and CEO Gabe Vehovsky, former EVP of strategy and emerging businesses for Discovery Commmunications Inc. after selling HowStuffWorks to (with his cofounders) in 2007, learned at DCI how to develop customized brand integration opportunities that allowed advertisers to meaningfully engage with Discovery’s brands and audiences across all platforms. Moving into a role assessing possible acquisitions led to a lightbulb moment, as he wrote in a blog post:

After spending more than a year meeting with VCs and their portfolio companies evaluating investment opportunities, I was blown away by how much new, learning-centric content is being developed. We spoke with dozens of super talented young companies investing in the creation of digital experiences that collectively have the power to  truly democratize access to a world-class education. There are all sorts of amazing experiences being developed – free access to college courses, short-form videos, talks from renowned experts, long-form videos, technical instruction, music lessons, user-generated content, digital tutorials, hobbyist content, professionally produced content, free content, paid content, etc. Despite the broad range of content available, it’s all very fragmented, making it difficult for consumers to realize the access they have to learn from experts who have packaged their knowledge into digital experiences specifically designed for sharing.

Vehovsky also says Curiosity was inspired by his three kids. As Idea Forge notes, “He admired how constantly curious they were, and wondered when adults stopped feeling that way.”

Also active in the Chicago startup community, Vehovsky is an adjunct lecturer at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University. He has been a mentor with Excelerate Labs/Tech Starts for the past several years and also sits on the Advisory Board for Chicago TechWeek.

He has kept Curiosity free through native advertising and brand partners such as Quaker, which contribute branded nuggets of information and the desire for more than just clicks. By contributing to the content, they want what Curiosity calls a CPU, cost per understanding, instead of a CPM (cost per thousand impressions, or display to a user).

Here’s how it works: Athletes slap on a digital sweat patch that works with a Smart Cap and a mobile app to calculate their individual sweat loss, sodium loss, and ideal hydration level. The app uses that information to create an individualized “sweat profile” that helps dictate which of 12 Gatorade Fuel Pods—basically, concentrated, customized sports-drink formulas—they need. The Fuel Pod snaps into a special squeeze bottle, where it breaks open and mixes with water to create a personalized sports drink. The spout contains a microchip and a small turbine that measure how much the athlete drinks and light up LEDs on the cap to show whether he’s ahead of or behind his hydration goal. Meanwhile, a check-in station in the locker room uses a digital scale and special software to analyze each athlete’s fluid balance. To learn more, click the link in our bio! #gatorade #hydrate #water #hydration #wellness #thirst #hydrating #drinkwater #personalized #smart #product #tech #innovation #technology

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Brand integration is predicated on the quality of engagements rather than the quantity of impressions. We spoke to Vehovsky for more insights on the business model and opportunities for brand partners.

bc: How have digital and social media changed people’s curiosity?

Gabe Vehovsky - Curiosity founderVehovsky (right): There’s a good argument to be made that contemporary digital media trends have diminished curiosity via the echo chamber phenomena. With insular social networks and media outlets catering to specific topics and points of view, many people spend most of their digital consumption largely reinforcing ideals and covering topics they’re familiar with.

The notion of curiosity creates an opportunity for brands that hasn’t been seen since the introduction of search. Search offered brands the ability reach a consumer at a moment of discovery. And Curiosity offers brands the opportunity through intent-based advertising to reach a curious consumer.

Getting introduced to new ideas and beliefs, including those you’ve never thought of before, is often what ignites a genuine sense of curiosity. Making that process easier, more accessible and more enjoyable is what we’re aiming to do with the Curiosity platform.

brandchannel: Can you elaborate on what you call your CPU metric?

Vehovsky (right): Our commitment is that audiences engaging with brand experiences on Curiosity will come away with an understanding of the subject matter, topic or perspective that brand is looking to communicate.

Given the ways we hand-tailor content experiences across Curiosity—which results in average user sessions that exceed 3 minutes on an aggregate and multiplatform basis—we feel strongly that not all impressions are created equal.

To support that notion, we’ve developed a Cost Per Understanding metric that is essentially a qualified impression. This helps us objectify the ways our impressions bring understanding to consumers, add more value for our advertisers and establish a level of quality experiences as a shared north star.

The device debuted at CES in 2015, and by April 2015 Quell exceeded its Indiegogo fundraising goal by 388%. Quell looks like a black band wrapped around your upper calf. Once you snap the electrode into the band, it stimulates the nerves in your calf to send messages up to your brain to trigger your body’s pain relief system (hello, endogenous opioid system!). Basically, it’s a form of TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)—a method doctors or physical therapists may use to deliver a low-voltage electrical current to your pain points. What’s different with Quell, according to Engadget, is that it’s “able to provide up to 40 hours of relief, while Bluetooth connectivity allows it to pair with an iOS device and to track your therapy as well as sleep quality.” To learn more, click the link in our bio! #quell #wearable #tech #technology #device #drugfree #painfree #painkiller #future #tracker #health #wellness

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bc: What distinguishes Curiosity from others in the e-learning or edutainment space?

Vehovsky: As a media company, we don’t think of ourselves simply in the business of learning. We are making people more knowledgeable and smarter by offering them snack-sized nuggets of knowledge that they can use in their everyday lives. We don’t want Curiosity to be a chore or a box to tick, but an ongoing relationship with our audience.

Early in our business evolution, we changed our tagline from “Never Stop Learning” to “Curiosity Makes You Smarter.” This allowed us to focus on outcomes, not just the process of learning. While there are many digital learning options that offer consumers classes, courses, talks, etc., most require a significant commitment of time and are typically focused on skills development.

We’re focused on enabling informative and entertaining experiences that are deliberately designed to be mobile and short-form. We’re making learning something people can do impulsively and in short bursts throughout their day. By making lifelong learning a part of someone’s day, we are truly making them smarter.

Traditional e-learning has never been brand-friendly. However, with Curiosity, millions of learning moments occur every day, offering brands turnkey opportunities to engage consumers at time of impact.

Self-driving cars are coming soon to a street near you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Already, automakers are looking at how to take this concept further. Enter Robocar, the world’s first self-driving electric racecar, which the company Roborace debuted at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February 2017. The car reaches speeds of 199 mph (320kph), but that shouldn’t make anyone nervous, right? Denis Sverdlov, CEO of Roborace and Charge, said that autonomous racing vehicles help create "an emotional connection to driverless cars and bring humans and robots closer together to define our future." It would also make for a really good future Terminator movie, but we digress. To learn more, click the link in our bio! #car #cars #racecar #NASCAR #racecars #AI #selfdriving #artificialintelligence #smart #robocar #robot #racing #racetrack #driving #future #tech #technology

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bc: Curiosity promises brand integration based on the quality of engagements, rather than on the quantity of impressions. How do you deliver on this promise?

Vehovsky: We have three main criteria that we look at when it comes to qualifying impressions, which defines the CPU are as follows:

1) Opt-in audience. While most brand messages are presented to users as a speed bump that is sitting between them and the content they really want, we work hard to create branded experiences that consumers want to opt into and engage with.
2) Contextual relevance. We’re big believers in the power that environment has an impact on consumer perception. We often talk about “digital ambiance” as a media analog to the feeling you get when you walk into a physical environment that simply feels good to be in. We work hard to create digital surroundings for our brand partners that feel good to be in and create an ideal setting for branded messaging to be thoughtfully presented.
3) Consumer Perception. For marketing to be effective, it has to impact consumer perception on a measurable basis. We look closely at the time a user spends with the experiences we create and work to ensure average times are sufficient to assume knowledge transfer is taking place. We closely track consumer actions that include likes, comments, shares and recommends to understand how consumers are reacting to the experiences they’re engaging with. We also run customized polls to gain valuable insights to understand answers to detailed consumer perception questions. Lastly, we’re able to run standard brand lift studies for appropriately sized campaigns if our partners are interested in them.

On a practical level, Curiosity supports purchasing metrics that fit the brand’s needs, CPM, CPV, etc. But to measure impact, we are excited to introduce the CPU.

bc: Can you give us some examples of how brands are working with Curiosity as knowledge partners?

Vehovsky: As the consumer market has trended toward new grains such as quinoa, Quaker wanted to inspire consumers to embrace the many merits of the original super grain, the oat. To enable this, we created a handful of branded editorial features that created a setting where learning more about the oat was a natural extension of the experience. In one of the articles, we ran a survey asking people if they were going to purchase oatmeal in the next 30 days. 93% of the respondents answered “Yes”. Considering the content ran organically across Curiosity, and was shared heavily on Facebook, this gave us confidence that the content was attracting the right audience.

Curiosity Motorola branded sponsored content native advertising

We also ran a campaign with Motorola that was focused on illuminating the unique ways in which they were using magnets to adhere various attachments to their new Moto-Z mobile device.

Curiosity Motorola sponsored content

In that example, we created content that featured interviews with Motorola engineers and worked to create contextually relevant opportunities to integrate branded video and earned media that did a good job of speaking to the various merits and benefits of MotoMods. The program reached tech enthusiasts by highlighting innovations in magnets, while authentically introducing the Moto-Z mobile device.

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