Executive Insights Featuring Jenny Romano, Co-Founder, The Newsroom

Let’s start with how you became an entrepreneur.  What was the moment when you said, I need to build a company, I want to call it The Newsroom.

I think it was a series of micro-moments along the course of my career and my growth not just as a professional, but as a human being. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My mom and dad had small companies. So when I started, I went to business school and I started approaching the professional world and among the nice-to-haves, many companies had this entrepreneurial spirit or entrepreneurial mindset. I didn’t really realize that I had it in my house all along my journey, growing up.

I first worked in two start-up incubators and absolutely loved it. Then I went to work in two large companies, first working exclusively with start-ups on digital transformation, and then working with very large clients but trying to have the time to mentor start-ups or to work with start-ups somehow, even though that was not related to my core job. Every time I had interactions with start-ups, I was like, oh, this is so cool. I have this energy going on. I was really happy about it. And so I think it’s the compound effect of all of this that then led me one day to say, okay, this is enough.

What specifically motivated you to found The Newsroom?

The Newsroom was born with the mission of fighting online misinformation and promoting the plurality of thought. We want to build information ecosystems that are inclusive, and that allow people to cut through the noise and have the tools to assess the news. We started very much with the problem in mind around misinformation. People don’t talk to each other anymore and when they do, they either agree a hundred percent or shout very quickly, very loudly, and that’s not okay because in a democracy you need debate, you need to speak and interact with people you don’t agree with.

How do you articulate your vision? 

The vision that we have written after long debate is that we want to build information ecosystems that are inclusive by design, and they’re built on the values of trust and healthy debate. If we manage to get two people from very different points of view to understand each other and to have a conversation without insulting each other, that’s exactly what we want.

The Newsroom is still very early stage. It’s just you and your co-founder. What are some of the challenges you meet approaching investors?

We’re not only working with investors, we’re looking at a mix. There are very large opportunities now both from the European Union, as well as from private companies and private individuals opening up for grants. Then of course there is the part around equity investments. So angels and VCs.

The European Union has this program that is called the European Innovation Council which basically gives startups both financial support, but also mentoring, networking opportunities, etc. In terms of financing, on the equity investment side, we’re approaching both angels and impact VCs. 

What are some of your learnings as you engage with investors?

There are a lot of things that you learn exclusively with experience. The conversations that I have with investors today compared to my first conversation are completely different.

Building that narrative around where we want to go – that is something that you need to constantly learn how to convey. That constant little bit of adjustment and making mistakes and going back, that is definitely my biggest learning. 

Practice, practice, practice is key.

What do you do with all the feedback?

We have an Excel sheet where we put together all the feedback we receive and we organize it by topics. This spreadsheet is called “the parking lot” and it’s basically all the ideas that could be embedded in what we’re doing. Weekly, we go back to the parking lot and we say, okay, this is what we’re doing now. Does it make sense to embed something from the parking lot? And we keep moving the “cars” to prioritize and to see if it makes sense with where we are. I wouldn’t say that some feedback weighs more than others. We really take it all into account. It definitely shapes the way we think about what we’re doing.

What are one or two of the topics in the parking lot?

For example, you say you’re an impact startup, but how do you measure it? How do you communicate your impact? You have a lot around functionalities. Many people and not just investors see what we’re doing and they give us ideas. Maybe people are interested in a challenge around the mis-information to show that they are more unbiased than others. So people reading this, please let me know what you think about what we do at The Newsroom.

Since you mentioned social impact, that’s a great segue to the topic of Yunus and Youth. 

Their objective is basically empowering us as entrepreneurs with the tools to be effective social entrepreneurs and to build enterprises that are good companies, but that work for the social good. Over the course of the fellowship, we as fellows go through a lot of content around social businesses from building the structure behind the business, to how you think about your business and how you think about your impact, but also more concretely around impact measurement.

We have a couple of weeks with professors from Harvard that will tell us all about impact measurement and how we can apply it to our businesses. It’s a very good mix of theory and practice in terms of concepts. The biggest asset is the fellows themselves. The fellowship gives you the opportunity to meet and learn from and be incredibly inspired by entrepreneurs from all over the world. There are people from Nepal working on misinformation, just like us, but in a completely different way. There are people in Brazil working on empowering female refugees through art and photography. We all have very different challenges, but sharing those challenges and exchanging ideas with each other to me is the most precious thing. 

Are there any executives or public figures or world leaders you really admire, for their social impact or their presence on social media or just for being decent human beings?

There are many people that I very much look up to. One of them is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, American judge. I think she was an incredible woman, making space for herself, but also empowering a lot of people after her. I’m currently changing homes, but I have a picture of her that I’m very much waiting to hang up. It’s her in front of a very big bookshelf and, that’s what she represents to me. It’s claiming your space through education and empowerment.

Another person I very much look up to is Trevor Noah, the journalist and comedian. I look up to him for completely different reasons. I read his autobiography, which I very much recommend. He had a very interesting and challenging life growing up and he was always able to interpret setbacks with wit and irony. This ability to reinterpret everything, have a laugh about it because you need to and stand back up and go forward. I think that’s incredible. I very much look up to him for that.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and founders as they build their businesses?

Keep the mission at the core of everything you do. When you start, you start for a reason, and as you grow, you get slaps on the face, then you need to get back up, you get feedback from people and you get a lot of opinions. Some of them resonate with you. Some of them don’t. Build the parking lot, put them all in there and consider them as you go, but never deviate from ‘why did I start this’? Of course, you need to adapt as the business evolves. But it’s very important to always test whatever decision you’re doing with, ‘why did I start this’?

Last question, what do you stand for and what do you want your legacy to be?

I’ll go back to the two people who inspire me. What I stand for is definitely education, curiosity, wit, empowerment, and inclusion. I think about the legacy of my generation. I am a millennial and Gen Z’s are facing a few challenges from climate change to polarization, to social inequality, among others. I think millennials and people from Gen Z need to think about the legacy of all of us together and what we can do to contribute. I think with The Newsroom, I am going in that direction of building my contribution to the legacy of a millennial generation that, I don’t want to say ‘saves the world’ because nobody can, but that contributes to the greater good.

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