EPISODE 022 : 08/05/2021

Shannon Atkinson, CEO of CHNL

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Shannon Atkinson is founder of Portland-based CHNL, a new media brand launching this month. An impressive background at Salesforce, Zapproved, CrowdCompass and Nike led Shannon to launch his new media-focused startup. CHNL gives content creators the ability to reach their audience on any platform and monetize through a new model that chokes off disinformation. Changing the model of how news comes to us, CHNL plans to revolutionize the media landscape.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Shannon Atkinson

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
  • Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
  • Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
  • Opportunities for small business loyalty programs

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:06] Welcome to Sparkplug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by snowshoe making mobile locations smarter.

Ashley Coates [00:00:20] Today, we’re talking to Shannon Atkinson, CEO and founder of the new media startup based in Portland, Oregon. Shannon has an impressive background at global companies like Salesforce and Nike, and also have innovative startups like Tile and Approved. Welcome, Shannon. So happy to have you here. 

Shannon Atkinson [00:00:38] Thank you. Thank you for the invite. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:41] So what led you to take the leap and start your own company now? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:00:47] It’s been pretty interesting during the pandemic provided a lot of opportunity for me to explore different avenues. And one of those avenues was something I was thinking about for a long time. And that is CHNL looking over the landscape when it comes to social media and the way that we interact, interact with individuals online, we’re starting to see a lot of a lot of different ways that social media platforms try keep you locked in to using their platform. And because of the tactics they use to keep you locked in, we’re starting to see now the negative effects of how that happens or what’s happening because of that. So that was kind of the the emphasis for empathy. So to start CHNL and just build something from scratch, that kind of redesigned the model and how we look at social media and how we interact with others online. 

Ned Hayes [00:01:40] So is that a good thumbnail sketch of CHNL that it changes the model of how we interact with media and content? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:01:46] Because social media platforms are powered by advertisers, the longer you stay on those platforms, the more money they make. But instead of, why don’t we just flip the script around going back to a subscription model such as when we used AOL, where you could pay for service and you’re getting the benefit of just using that service as it instead of being using different social engineering models to keep you on that platform, which may have negative effects in using that using the platform in that way. 

Ashley Coates [00:02:15] So you’re starting CHNL in Portland, Oregon. I’m curious to hear your comments on the tech scene in Portland. What’s it like here as a new company founder, do you find it’s a supportive community, not very supportive community? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:02:29] Yeah, it’s been really supportive. Surprisingly, it’s when I connected with PodPDX and going through a couple of the startup incubators in the Portland area. You start to realize there’s a undertrough of resources that no one really knows about until you’re connected with individuals in that space. Rick Pye is phenomenally awesome, phenomenally rich and the resources that he has access to and really help me out as far as connecting with other individuals. That gave me either inspiration from a tech standpoint or from a financial standpoint or what to look for just despite a ton of resources from connecting with and having that connection with Pye and having that connection with other individuals because connecting with those resources carry you past just this particular company at just the startup aspect of whatever your building. You go further than that because you can take that with you for any sort of future endeavors you have. 

Ned Hayes [00:03:32] That’s fantastic. What about fundraising? Is fundraising easier or harder in Portland? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:03:37] I found fundraise a little bit difficult, especially for tech centric companies. The VC scene is a lot older, so some may not catch what you’re trying to communicate with them. As far as the some people not on Facebook, a lot of people on Twitter. So it’s hard to connect with those individuals who have resources but are not familiar with what you’re trying to build. And that’s why I saw a lot of the individuals I connected with through the startup community have looked outside of Portland for funding resources and building on that momentum to gain the traction I need to approach the venture capitalists and say, “Hey, this is what I’m building. This is the experience I’m trying to bring to the to the masses” and connect with those individuals who are like minded that want to join me for that ride in building out a new platform for people to interact on. 

Ashley Coates [00:04:34] So, Shannon, I wonder if you can comment on the state of the media in general right now? And are you interacting with the media as you start this company?

Shannon Atkinson [00:04:44] Our focuses; audio and video, so we’re doing livestreaming audio, livestreaming video, video on demand and audio demand similar to other platforms that are out there. They’ll be able to upload their their news content or any sort of media content. I’ve been reaching out to the NPAA and other copyright industries to make sure that we’re we’re from a from a legal standpoint  we’re compliant with a lot of the rules that are in place when it comes to to our platform. So from that aspect, we’re looking we’re building out those types of relationships. From a newspaper journalistic standpoint, we’re reaching out to other clients that may be interested in using our platform similar to how they would use like a LinkedIn or a Twitter or Facebook to post news articles that would be the conduit for them going to their specific platform to read those articles. 

Ned Hayes [00:05:47] Got it. So right now, I was stunned to see that the majority of Americans now get their news from social media, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or, you know, one of those platforms. Do you see CHNL as being a leader in media dissemination in the future? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:06:04] Yeah, absolutely. I see CHNL as being a solution for a problem that’s out there where information and media is filtered through a lens so that people get gauged more for things that are not as important as some things that should be important to individuals. That’s what CHNL is looking to do, and that’s where our business model kind of is more change than traditional, like a YouTube or Facebook, where their motive is to keep people engaged regardless of what the information is. CHNL’s idea and model is you pay us a service, we will not engage you in that way, but we will give you the information no moderation, engaging you and monetizing you as a service. 

Ashley Coates [00:06:51] So going off of that, Shannon, can you expand on that on that value proposition? What what difference will CHNL make in the media landscape? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:07:01] Right. The way media is presented to an individual is very customized for that individual. So, for example, I may be specifically into music, so all the news I get may be specifically music, which may not be important on the bigger landscape. And another person may be into video games where their specific their perspective is call into video games. The value proposition in CHNL is that everyone’s interaction is very level and people can understand where everyone else is coming from based on the information that’s being given to everyone versus very customized for each individual, which may in the real world cause conflicts between individuals. 

Ned Hayes [00:07:42] The issue that you’re touching on is that the kind of personalized content in the modern era has led to fake news and systems like Parler that take this fake news and magnify it to the degree that we get a populus that believes falsehoods. So how does Channel’s plan to check information so that you aren’t disseminating fake stuff or false stuff? How do you plan to check the data? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:08:10] So the idea is we’re using a lot of Microsoft services to screen for anomalies with with individuals that come in to our platform. So what we’re doing on the onset, we’re being proactive when it comes to user safety and security. We’re taking we’re using know your customer type credentials to verify users during the onboarding process so that right there screens out 99.99% of fake news that, or fake individuals that produce fake news that would then populate the CHNL. We’re using trusted and verified sources when it comes to obtaining information, and we’re using those in combination to again use the ounce of prevention to bring a pound of cure. So we’re seeing a lot of organizations like Facebook and Twitter where they would, there’s no verification, you just create a, create accounts and you can create an ad that would disseminate to whatever your window is, you want to disseminate information to them. But if we prevent it from getting on the platform, we can protect the ecosystem so that it’s not as the the issues with fake news propagating fake information is severely squashed because people know that CHNL knows who these individuals that are disseminating those, that fake information. 

Ned Hayes [00:09:34] So you only have verified content producers? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:09:37] Yeah. So not only verified verify publishers, but also verify individuals as well who use the platform. So we use phone number verification and also like to know your customer I.D. check. So you basically use your driver’s license that would scan that would verify you as an individual. So if anything were to go wrong, then we would be able to say, OK, we can trace it back to this individual who caused the issue. 

Ashley Coates [00:10:03] That’s pretty huge. So regarding content creators, Apple did note an intriguing note on your beta site. How are you getting these creators excited about posting content on this new platform? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:10:17] Yeah, absolutely. So we’re looking at, again, we’re looking at our advertising model and using content creators as a source for onboarding customers to the platform. If they’re a paid customer, we’re incentivizing content creators through a referral model. So the first month that they would refer someone to the platform, they get the entire amount. So it’s $5 for four traditional users and $15 for content creators. The first month, they would get the entire $5 versus going into a pool and giving it up from there. Also, subsequent months, we’re looking at basing the payout based on the watch time of the users who subscribe to the particular individuals versus again going into a poll, they get it up from there. So it provides for a more equitable evaluation and distribution of funds. 

Ned Hayes [00:11:11] So content consumers are the other the other part of this two sided market? Correct? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:11:18] Correct. 

Ned Hayes [00:11:19] So so what are you doing right now to think about content consumers and getting people excited about about your new CHNL platform? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:11:27] Yeah, absolutely. So one of the issues that in market research we found is that consumers have a hard time when they’ve invested a lot of time and resources into one platform and moving to another. One of the features that we’re introducing is basically it’s an airlift. So we would be able to connect to your platform of choice. Download all of your social media activity, all of your posts, all your images or your videos and import them into CHNL and post them, repopulate them in CHNL as if you knew you were you were migrating to a new platform. So we’re using what you’ve produced before going, you know, populating your CHNL with your content. 

Ned Hayes [00:12:15] Right. So that’s kind of the seed of growing your presence on CHNL that you can take what you already had and continue to grow on it. You don’t have to start from scratch. 

Shannon Atkinson [00:12:26] Correct. 

Ashley Coates [00:12:27] So Shannon, SnowShoe works a lot with retailers, and we’ve noticed a big change in the retail landscape from last year. Have you noticed a change in the way that consumers are consuming content from this past year? And how does that play into your plans for CHNL? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:12:46] We’ve known about an increase in video content where people want to consume media in the format they want to see it. Either they want to see it on their phones, their tablets, their TVs. We’re adjusting our platforms so we can meet those, meet those requirements and reach the consumers in a way that they want to be reached. So with that, we want to make sure that, you know, for us, we’re meeting the customers where they want to be seen and we’re delivering the content they want to ingest. 

Ned Hayes [00:13:17] One of the things that’s popped up over the last year is the Facebook Apple battle over privacy, right? Apple is really going on the warpath of protecting consumer privacy, and Facebook feels that this is a mortal threat to their business model. So where does CHNL fall on that continuum? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:13:36] So we fall on the side of Apple. We do believe that user privacy and security, the issues that have come up with Facebook, I think I remember story five or six years ago where Mark Zuckerberg met with Tim Cook discussing the invasive procedures and invasive tools that Facebook uses to garner as much information as they can about their users for advertisers. And that’s what kind of goes into the security breach with the 2016 elections. There’s there’s all sorts of things that you collect that much data. We want to get away from that and again, change the model where you’re the customer and not the product. We can provide the exact same services, the exact same features and even go beyond that for paying customers. We’ve seen that model before with other companies such as NBC Peacock, where they’re providing anywhere from ad free service all the way down to ad supported services. Getting away from advertisers as the main crux of of your business model helps diversify your portfolio in the way that you receive revenue and also enhances the user experience. If people are going to go back to iOS or Apple or Facebook iOS experience, I think that’s 97% of the users opt out of cross app tracking. So users want to get away, they don’t want to be tracked. And I think Channel provides an opportunity to give them a again, an oasis that they can go to to connect with people authentically without being tracked all over the internet. 

Ned Hayes [00:15:14] Right? So if I can ask you to jump ahead five or 10 years in your mind, imagine the future. Where is CHNL going to be in five years? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:15:25] The vision for CHNL is to be that all encompassing service for consumers who want to engage with individuals. So whether it’s video on demand, audio on demand, connect, creating groups, watching movies, watching music videos, listening to music, you know being able to take all of it on the go with you inside of an app. And that’s I think that’s where a CHNL is looking to go. 

Ashley Coates [00:15:51] That’s so exciting. And can you tell our listeners how they can sign up for CHNL what they should be looking out for? What’s what’s the call to action? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:16:00] Yeah, absolutely. So CHNL chnl.com is the website so its chnl.com you can hop on the waiting list, right now, we’re about 14,000 individuals who are on the waiting list. Once once we open up our beta, you’ll be able to get access to all the features during our beta period. If you want to skip the waiting list, you can use the same website to invite your friends and invite other people to push you higher in the waiting list so you’ll get first dibs into the platform. 

Ashley Coates [00:16:31] Fantastic. Well congratulations on such a huge waiting list already.

Shannon Atkinson [00:16:35] Thank you. 

Ned Hayes [00:16:36] And what’s your what’s your launch date Shannon? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:16:39] So we’re shooting for late July, early August so that the last week of July, 1st week of August is what we’re shooting for. 

Ashley Coates [00:16:46] So Shannon, we do have one last question for you, which is what is your personal mission and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Shannon Atkinson [00:16:53] Oh, man, that’s a deep question. I think just being able to give people an authentic view of the world, are they being able to connect and be able to empathize with other people and being able to connect with other people uniquely is kind of the mission behind CHNL? 

Ashley Coates [00:17:10] Thank you so much for chatting with us chat. And this is really wonderful, great to learn about CHNL.

Shannon Atkinson [00:17:15] Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Ashley. 

Ashley Coates [00:17:18] Thank you. 

Shannon Atkinson [00:17:18] Take care

Ned Hayes [00:17:27] Thanks for listening today to the Sparkplug podcast hosted by me, Ned Hayes, and brought to you by SnowShoe Snow.sh for smarter mobile location, Smart Plug is a wholly owned property of snowshoe all content. Copyright 2021 Sparkplug Media.