Interview with Matthieu Dubois, Dana Nastase and Danny Lein originally published in Dutch in the Belgian Business Magazine Trends, edition of 22nd April 2021. Translated and republished with approval from the author Melanie De Vrieze. Photo from Debby Termonia.
The Leuven technology company Twipe, which distributes digital newspapers on a shared platform, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this autumn. In the meantime, it is gradually making its way into the United States. “That takes a lot of evangelism and conviction, but we are hopeful.”
This autumn Twipe blows out ten candles. Founder Danny Lein initiated the platform development a year after the introduction of the iPad. “I saw the potential of a platform where publishers work together to distribute their newspapers on digital devices,” he says.
In the early years, the Leuven company mainly worked together with De Standaard. Foreign countries, including the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, soon beckoned. “In those countries, the needs of publishers and readers are largely the same,” explains Matthieu Dubois, Head of Product at Twipe. The ball started rolling when Ouest-France launched a digital evening edition.
“It took time but Ouest-France turned out to be our gateway to the rest of the French market, including Le Monde and Le Parisien“Matthieu Dubois, Head of Product at Twipe
Readers download 15 million digital editions of the platform every month. As a result, newspapers such as Ouest-France, Le Monde and The Telegraph increased their income, subscription earnings and their readership numbers.
Twipe also offers publishers’ analyses, with which they wanted to gain a better insight in the way their readers use their product. Twipe‘s technology makes it clear how they can personalise content most efficiently.
“The publishers pay for the platform through a software-as-a-service model (SaaS). We were one of the first to do this, too,” says Danny Lein.
Ten times better
For Twipe, the shift in its focus from the local to the international market was a turning point. “We learned how to position ourselves as a technology provider,” says Dana Nastase, who heads the Business Development department.
“While the needs are similar, the markets are completely different. Germany, for example, has a strong culture of subscriptions, while in the UK that is not the case at all – just consider the popularity of the free evening newspapers. The challenge was the differences between the countries, the players and the competitors. Internationalisation is an incredible rollercoaster.”
“Habits and recurring behaviour are important for publishers to build a sustainable subscriber business”Dana Nastase, Head of Business Development at Twipe
Twipe sees most competition coming from the publishers’ internal development teams. “We have to be ten times better to convince the publishers,” explains Danny Lein. “We have two great assets. The first is our agility. With our 35 employees, we are relatively small and we are used to flexible working. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, always says that today is Day One. We also believe in this. After ten years, there is still so much to do and we still have so much to invent. That has a stimulating effect. The proximity of KU Leuven, with which we have already done various research programs, is our second. This is an asset. This innovative strength is successful, because thanks to our shared platform, like-minded people benefit from each other’s insights. ”
“America is a completely different market. Digital editions do not receive much attention, because they are seen as a niche”Danny Lein, CEO and Founder of Twipe
The Digital Butler
Google also recognises the innovation capacity of Twipe. The tech giant has already awarded Twipe funding three times from its Digital News Initiative fund. The Leuven company actively invests in machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand readers’ preferences and to optimise their reading experience. One of the projects is JAMES, the Digital Butler. “It’s hard to identify which articles are most relevant to which reader,” explains Dana Nastase. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence can help. For The Times of London, we developed a series of algorithms and experimented with the best time to send the newsletters and with best content for the readers. We increased the distribution of the content and increased reader engagement.”
Internationalisation is an incredible rollercoasterDana Nastase, Head of Business Development at Twipe
In the meantime, other publishers, such as NRC Handelsblad and The Daily Mail, also use these algorithms to personalise newsletters for their readers. “Habits and recurring behaviour are important for the publishers to build a sustainable subscription business,” adds Nastase.
To the United States
In the meantime, Twipe has also traveled to the United States.” Half of the visitors to our blog came from America”, says Danny Lein. “Because we saw interest in our activities, we started conducting interviews three years ago to see if our product was suitable for that market.” After a year, Twipe left for a roadshow. “We presented our solutions to twelve publishers. It was not easy, because America is a completely different market, “says Lein. “Digital editions don’t get much attention because they are seen as niche. We had to show them with successful examples from Europe that the platform has a future.”
For once, Europe is ahead of the United StatesDanny Lein, CEO and Founder of Twipe
Advance Local took the plunge. The parent house of the publishing group with 24 newspaper titles is the owner of Reddit. “With innovative products, Advance Local wants to attract new readers. It takes a lot of evangelism and conviction, but we are hopeful. For once, Europe is ahead of the United States”. 9 of the 24 newspapers are now on the platform. “A newspaper is added every two weeks. That’s a tough pace.
The Truth Still Exists
Dana Nastase, Head of the Business Development department at Twipe, is one of the speakers at the and& Innovation festival in Leuven, which gives the floor to thinkers, entrepreneurs and creatives looking for innovation. She will mainly talk about the truth in journalism and how much trust journalism still enjoys. “A lot of science and craftsmanship has been lost in the last ten years, partly due to fake news. We must regain trust. During my speech, I will demonstrate why the truth still exists and what role the publishers play in it. Digital editions are important for this, because their content has been validated”.
In her work, Dana likes to be inspired by Kristin Skogen Lund, who has been running the Scandinavian media group Schibsted for two years: “I appreciate the humble way in which she runs the company.” She is looking for leadership inspiration particularly in the sports world. “As a company, we can learn a lot from the good collaboration between leadership and collective goals in sports teams. Everyone fights for the same goal. I am fascinated by what drives teams to do the hard work and stay motivated.
In the six years that Dana Nastase has worked for Twipe, she has especially appreciated the dynamic environment. “Many of our employees are engineers. They like to solve complicated problems. The media is a sector in transition and it is nice to make a difference as a small part of it. In addition, there is something you have to deliver every day. Before working at Twipe, I worked in large companies were the pace was often much slower. There is a lot of innovation in our team. Every year there is a new innovation idea we discuss. That makes me very happy.”