Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
MANHATTAN, Kansas — Hailing from a prominent regional newspaper dynasty, Jake Seaton always knew he wanted to spend his career solving challenges in the ever-changing industry, he shared.
Column is the first collaborative public notice platform helping journalists, governments and legal services work together to inform their communities.
“My family has owned the local newspaper in Manhattan since 1915 and has gradually expanded the business to about 10 other Midwestern communities over the course of five generations. I grew up around the struggling newspaper business which has been dealing with all of the challenges in the age of the internet,” said Seaton, who founded Column in 2019.
Column is a software platform that facilitates and simplifies the public notice process for governments, newspapers, journalists and readers. The tech company aims to help make the information from public notices both accessible to citizens and proactively distributed to their communities.
“We are used by media businesses that have to work back and forth with local government officials. [Column] is a suite of tools that helps the media business administer the public notice process with all their customers,” Seaton explained, noting that when he spoke to those who worked with his family’s newspapers — notably including the Manhattan Mercury — they shared their pain points around the process and requirement of public notice.
Click here to learn more about Column and how the platform works.
View this post on Instagram
What is a public notice?
Public notices are information postings notifying the public of government-related activities that might cause a citizen to take action. Traditionally, public notices have been published in newspapers. Examples of a public notices include: government contracts, foreclosures and unclaimed property.
In early 2020, Seaton recalled, he was driving around rural communities in Kansas, begging newspaper publishers for meetings amid their busy days. A year later, Column signed an official partnership with U.S. publishing company McClatchy, which has an operation encompassing such regional publications as the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle.
“Through our partnership with [McClatchy], we’ll be rolling out the platform to help them administer the public notice business in a subset of those major U.S. cities,” Seaton said, noting Column also is going live in Miami, Sacramento, California, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
So far, user testimonials have been overwhelmingly positive, Seaton said.
“When folks start using our platform, we get to watch months and years melt off their faces because they no longer have to do [public notices] the old fashioned way,” he stated. “Both for the local businesses and the large enterprises, the response has been really great.”
One of the best decisions Seaton has made for his company: bringing the Column team to Kansas during its founding days, he shared.
“Getting started in Manhattan gave us the opportunity to have so much first-hand experience with the people who were going to be using our platform,” Seaton said. “We were able to develop empathy, understanding and an intimate knowledge of the problem we were solving and the people who were interacting with it.”
Click here to read more about why Jake Seaton started a tech company in Manhattan, KS.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Seaton made the decision to be a remote-first company, he noted. Although he spent a majority of 2020 in Manhattan, his team of 12 is located across the globe.
“Most of our work now is very asynchronous; we use a lot of recorded videos and written memos,” Seaton noted. “We try to reserve synchronous video time for team building, socializing and education because we think people are Zoomed-out at this point. It has forced us to really adapt and innovate in the ways we work together.”
For the rest of 2021, Seaton expects to grow the Column team, with current openings in engineering and customer support.
“Other than that, we plan to focus on continuing to support our users and identifying opportunities to build new products that are of value to them,” he added.
Seaton dropped out of Harvard in 2015 to help start Quorum Analytics, he said. He’s since returned to Harvard to finish his bachelor’s degree in computer science, and has also worked as an engineer on the Google Cloud Platform. Column has been the perfect opportunity to combine his acquired skills and lifelong passions, Seaton said.
“The opportunity to work on something that my family has been involved with for so many generations — that uses the skills I’ve built through an education in computer science, working at a large technology company like Google, starting a software platform with the folks at Quorum — is really invigorating,” he shared. “It’s what yanks me out of bed in the morning.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.