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RocaNews grows app for non-partisan news

Nov 29, 2023

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

RocaNews is building out its gamified news app as the non-partisan news brand explores raising more funding, executives tell Axios.

Why it matters: The plan aligns with other news startups' efforts to grow engaged audiences and diversify revenue while staying lean.

Catch up quick: Three co-founders — CEO Max Towey, president Max Frost and chairman Billy Carney — launched RocaNews in August 2020.

  • In its first year, RocaNews hit 1 million Instagram followers. It has more than 200,000 newsletter subscribers. The co-founders say its 5-month-old app has about 100,000 downloads and 40,000 monthly active users.

Details: Speaking from RocaNews' office in New York's SoHo neighborhood, the co-founders and executive director Jennifer Flanagan repeatedly mentioned the language learning app Duolingo as inspiration.

  • Duolingo "has taken one of the driest things in the world — learning a language — and made it something that tens of millions of people do every single day ... [and] pay to do," Frost says.
  • The RocaNews app rewards users for engagement like usage streaks, reading news stories — organized as vertical cards with bullets of text — or playing trivia.

The intrigue: Last month, it launched subscriptions. The app has three tiers that cost $2.99-$7.99 per month for additional content and gamification. It also offers a separate paid subscription for its newsletter.

  • The co-founders declined to share numbers.

Yes, but: Other news brands experimented with apps only to end them. Quartz shut down its app in 2019. BuzzFeed News closed its app in 2022, ahead of the news operation shutting down the following year.

By the numbers: RocaNews' audience of about 5 million followers across social media, its newsletter and app has a median age of 26 and is 57% male, 43% female.

  • RocaNews has raised $5.3 million, most recently a $4.4 million seed round led by Allon Ventures in January 2022.
  • It projects $350,000 in 2023 revenue and is not profitable.
  • It has 11 full-time employees, the majority based in New York.

What's next: Towey says the focus is business maturity. Vivienne Bially, a six-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal, recently joined as executive vice president of sales.

  • The co-founders say they have spoken to some funds but do not have a timeline for a future round, which could be a bridge or a Series A.
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