Standing out in a news feed, timeline or any other social media is no small feat, considering the constant stream of videos, posts, memes and comments. It's even more impressive when your content revolves around serious topics like the Venezuelan food crisis, endangered bees and corporate taxes.
But that's exactly ATTN:'s mission. The media company wants to inform today's youth about what it feels are today's most noteworthy subjects. To do so, it's breaking down complex issues in video form and putting it right in front of their faces — directly on their social media feeds.
"Great, compelling storytelling can shape hearts and minds faster than direct action and politically lobbying can," 33-year-old ATTN: co-founder Matt Segal explained.
ATTN:'s efforts seem to be working. The company — which employs 140 people who are mostly between their late 20s and early 30s — averages 2 billion monthly impressions and more than 500 million monthly video views on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It has 14 million fans across its Facebook pages.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger have been featured on its explainers, while the likes of Zooey Deschanel and former Vice President Joe Biden have contributed series. It worked with ABC News' Nightline and Freeform on features on the Parkland shooting and has a development deal with Paramount Television to bring its "America Versus" series to traditional TV.
It's getting investors' attention as well. ATTN: has raised $37.1 million to date, according to Crunchbase, including a $15 million round led by Evolution Media on Sept. 24. It's backed by the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Jimmy Iovine, Bill Maher, Troy Carter and Ross Levinsohn, among other venture capitalists and firms including Paul Wachter, Marc Rowan and Main Street Advisors . This month it made CNBC's 2018 Upstart list of fast-growing start-ups to watch.
"From the beginning (2014), we were impressed with Matthew and his team — especially his curiosity, creativity and vision," Seacrest told CNBC through email.
"They understood that there was white space in the media world to deliver important, often complicated issues and translate them into simple and entertaining videos that resonated with the coveted millennial generation on mobile platforms. They recognized early on how viewing habits were changing, and they remain nimble and ahead of the curve ever since."
Segal and ATTN: co-founder Jarrett Moreno first started OurTime.org, with the goal of getting youth registered to vote. They quickly realized they could get hundreds of thousands of people to sign up, but many didn't understand the issues.
"People didn't understand the reasons why they should vote," Segal said. "We came to the conclusion we would be more impactful if we created compelling media storytelling to make more issues digestible."
In 2014 the two launched ATTN:. With the internet so saturated, they understood the key to getting views would be to find a balance of entertainment and facts.
"You also have to reach young people on the platforms that are consuming news," 32-year-old Moreno said. "They're not consuming media in the places where people used to traditionally, as we all know."
Approaching topics in an unconventional matter with humor and pop culture analogies helps, Seacrest explained. ATTN: uses the first few seconds of every video to grab attention, and mixes in "compelling images and powerful statements," he said.
"They are really excellent at using their content to start conversations, in the literal sense, but also in the social media sense which means getting people to comment and share — the basis for virality," Seacrest pointed out.
Segal realized they could really make a difference when a video about gerrymandering went viral. To date, it has more than 7.6 million views on Facebook alone.
"Holy moly, if we can get 8 million people to watch and care about gerrymandering, imagine how impactful it is rather than building 100,000 followers," Segal said.
Trying to be a civic-minded organization in today's political atmosphere comes with its challenges.
ATTN: has been accused of having a liberal bias by some commenters, but Segal said while the company strives to present the facts in non-partisan, human way, he acknowledges they "obviously have a point of view on certain topics." The company is also facing a discrimination lawsuit alleging an employee was fired because she protested a slur made by one of its investors. ATTN: did not comment on the issue, citing pending litigation.
"We don't even call it news," Segal said. "We call it information news. News sometimes is inherently reactive. Things that are underreported and underexposed, we want to give more weight and light to. We've never called ourselves a news company. We've always called ourselves a media company."
Most importantly, ATTN: gets people to care about important topics.
"Hard news and journalism will always need to exist, but not everyone always pays attention to it, which is why there is a need for other approaches in the marketplace," Seacrest said.