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.
As a fifth-generation member of a Kansas newspaper family with a computer science degree and experience in entrepreneurship, Seaton launched a solution that would streamline a pain point for many journalists — public notices.
“The newspaper is the required distribution channel for really important notices of decisions and events and transactions that are happening in communities all around the world,” said Seaton, the founder and CEO of Column. “By building the technology to underpin that process, we can help with an important revenue stream that supports a lot of local journalism.”
Column is a public benefits company that provides software to streamline the placement of public notices for governments, newspapers, journalists and readers. The company, which launched in 2019, recently closed its Series A round with $30 million, led by Lux Capital.
“Our platform is now used by tens of thousands of government agencies, legal service businesses and private citizens who are required by law to publish notices with their local newspapers,” Seaton said. “We serve everyone from small town clerks, to the Arizona attorney general’s office, to the city of Miami’s planning office to major U.S. media enterprises. They are using this system at scale to manage millions of dollars worth of public notice transactions. We’ve been very focused from a product perspective on optimizing that user experience.”
Click here to read more about Jake Seaton’s family newspaper legacy that started in Manhattan, Kansas.
With the $30 million, the fully remote Column team is looking to accomplish three objectives, he said.
First: scale the company’s core public notice business.
“We are in the early innings of rolling out our platform with a handful of major media enterprises that are beginning to use it at scale,” Seaton noted. “We have to have the resources to do that.”
Second: invest in building features that add value to the transactions that require public notice.
“Everything from building for the foreclosure process performed by local law firms — to the procurement process that governments are embarking on when they notify the public — to the state management process that a private citizen may be placing about after they’ve had a death in the family,” Seaton explained. “We’ve seen an opportunity there, from what we’ve built so far with newspapers, to build our a platform that helps facilitate a larger number of those transactions.”
Third: build the Column application programming interface (API).
“It is the first-ever application programming interface to enable the submission and dissemination of public notices — as well as the consumption of those notices by machines that will be able to talk to each other and subscribe to real-time streams of public interest information,” Seaton said.
The API is planned to extend far beyond public notices, Seaton said, but he hopes that it will serve as the blueprint for a variety of public information systems.
Seaton and his team, which has grown to nearly 50 employees spread across five continents, unveiled Column’s mission statement: make public information systems more valuable — beginning with public notice.
“As a public benefit company, that is actually written into our charter purpose,” Seaton said, noting that Column’s public benefit status shapes the business decisions he and his team make — such as providing free websites for the display of public information or convening advisory boards across their community of users.
Seaton attributed Column’s success thus far to his team of individuals who want to use their talents and technical skills to solve problems for the public benefit.
“It’s all about the people,” he said. “Many of our team members have worked together before and others have come to us inspired by the problem we’re solving and the impact we want to have. Everyone unified around the company’s mission and sees this opportunity to build a really great and scalable business. It has been super motivating and inspirational.”
For Kansas City entrepreneurs who are interested in or building technology in public information, Seaton encouraged connecting with him and his team.
“Tell us what you’re building for this industry because there is probably a way for us to work together because this technology we’re building is going to touch a heck of a lot of processes that happen within the American government and legal system,” Seaton said. “We know that there’s a really great culture of wanting to solve problems like this and knowledge on how to build great companies [within the Kansas City community].”
Click here to connect with Jake Seaton on LinkedIn.
With Column being a global, remote-first team, Seaton continues to talk about Column’s Kansas origins and how it all began with a newspaper in Manhattan, Kansas, he shared.
“I hope that building the software can be the continuation of my family’s multi-generation legacy in the newspaper business, while also being a substantial public benefit technology company — that is something that has never really existed before,” Seaton said. “There are not many venture-backed public benefit companies, and the opportunity to build and scale one of those having started from the family business just feels very unique and special.”
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.