Ilan Greenberg – Co-founder of Coda

Seeking out advice early and often. The more input at the onset the more productive I can be in implementing ideas.

Ilan Greenberg is the cofounder of Coda, a new crisis-reporting platform that stays for months at a time telling the story of a single unfolding event. Coda’s focus is on narrative and intimate storytelling, providing depth, understanding, and continuity to the coverage of important events after most international press have moved on. Bringing together innovative design and technology to create an immersive journalism experience, Coda won the Best Startups for News competition at the Global Editors Network 2014 summit.

Ilan has written for many publications, and he teaches in the Globalization and International Affairs program at Bard College. A 2015 Tow-Knight Fellow at The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, he has been a writer-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at Duke University and a visiting public policy scholar in the national security program at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington DC.

Where did the idea for Coda come from?

The idea for Coda arose from a series of conversations I had with a group of foreign correspondents, including with my cofounder Natalia Antelava who was posted to Delhi at the time, and Abigail Fielding-Smith, who is now Coda’s chief of content and was working out of Beirut. We were asking questions like how can we better unspool the consequences of a crisis? How can we better navigate the different narratives within a larger story? What does the mainstream media do well and where is there opportunity for new approaches to international journalism?

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t know if I have a typical day. I travel a lot, and I work from different venues, often at really disparate tasks. Focus has been a lifelong challenge. It’s only relatively late in life that I’ve realized there is a direct correlation between quantity of sleep and my productivity during the day, so I try to stay disciplined by forcing myself to turn off my laptop at a decent hour and calibrate my coffee intake.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Once upon a time an idea became real if you could touch it; now it tends to be if you can see or feel it. Tangible, viewable milestones like a URL and a website, or a legal company registration, or even a team meeting that is faithfully attended. These are the things that make ideas real.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The genuinely great and ambitious digital journalism being created.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Seeking out advice early and often. The more input at the onset the more productive I can be in implementing ideas.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

One of my first jobs after college was working as a chimney sweep in Northern California. I’m not crazy about heights. I learned to apply for phobia-free jobs.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would be more diligent about setting up systems – communication, archiving, storage. A lot of creativity fuels information chaos that gets lost unless purposely captured.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I try to make a memorable first impression.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Forging partnerships. Associating Coda with established organizations has built credibility and opportunity.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When Blackberry ruled the world and text messaging was just catching on in the US I tried to get investors interested in a business that would create original text-based lifestyle content from far-flung parts of the world. They called it a labor-intensive service offering questionable value on a platform no one recognized as a legitimate media platform. I never overcame that assessment because it was correct, but in a way I overcame that failure by using it as a catapult to thinking when a platform is ready to support the rigors of original content.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

West African fast-casual restaurant chain. It’s delicious, under-encountered food and perfect for quick eating.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why? (personal or professional)

A tweed jacket. It was actually a bit more than $100. For men, there is no better fabric than tweed to look like you know what you’re talking about.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I’ve recently started using Slack and I’ve been won over. Email is a terrible tool for teams. I love Slack’s transparency, how every thread is archived and retrievable. Large enterprises get the biggest benefit and I can anticipate why – it’s transformative for group collaboration and communication.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Steve LeVine’s The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World. It combines first rate business reporting with a story about geopolitics, the dynamics of innovation, the limits of bureaucracy. It’s at once a guidebook to our energy future and a well-paced history.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

One of the best investigative business journalists working today is Megan Twoley of Reuters. Her investigation into Americans using the Internet to abandon children adopted from overseas was a tour de force:

For media analysis and analysis generally I rely on the acidic Jack Shafer, presently at Politico.
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