Meet HuffPost Tech Chief's New Incubator for Brand-Friendly Startups: Soho Tech Lab

Will Build Opportunities for Brands 'Into the Core'

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Paul Berry
Paul Berry
The startup incubator being launched by the Huffington Post's outgoing chief technology officer will support social products and apps that show promise for brand integration from the start. "We're very excited about that part," said the executive, Paul Berry, in a conversation with Ad Age today.

The incubator, to be called Soho Tech Lab, actually counts five key Huffington Post figures as founders: Mr. Berry; Eric Hippeau, the former CEO of Huffington Post; Greg Coleman, the site's former president; and Ken Lerer and Jonah Peretti, two of Huffington Post's founders.

"What media companies tend to do is either throw an ad onto a feature later or try to do something that 's slightly more immersive," Mr. Berry said. "But one of the things that 's exciting about having Greg Coleman involved from the start is that we are building those relationships and revenue opportunities into the core. We definitely plan to find ways to do things with brands early so they aren't disparate projects at all but play together. CMOs of major brands are dying to be creative."

Forbes reported Tuesday that Mr. Berry was leaving Huffington Post in February to establish a startup. He later told Betabeat that the startup, called Rebel Mouse, would build a social platform, while he also planned an incubator with fellow HuffPost alumni.

Though Mr. Berry remains mum on many specifics, he told Ad Age that both Rebel Mouse and Soho Tech Lab will target the social web. "I do believe there's a lot of room for innovation and change there," he said.

Unlike standard practice at many incubators, many ideas that Soho Tech Lab supports will come from Mr. Berry and the rest of the former HuffPost crew instead of outside entrepreneurs.

"It's not meant to be TechStars or 500 Startups, where you're meeting a ton of people who have smart ideas and good backgrounds and giving them office space, and hope that out of 500 you get a few great companies," Mr. Berry said. "Instead, it's going to be much more focused on companies that can leverage the same technology stack and code base in different verticals."

A few of the incubator's ideas are already "very, very quietly under way," Mr. Berry said. The plan right now is on building several prototypes -- or "minimal viable products" in startup parlance -- at once. The incubator will then release those products into the marketplace, tweak them until they gain traction, and only then invest the resources necessary to build them into real businesses.

Mr. Berry said he has been building a global team of designers and developers who can together work around the clock so speed to market is limited, as was the case at Huffington Post.

"That was one of the things that was overwhelming for media companies trying to keep up with us," Mr. Berry said. "Everyone hopes their tech teams can pull all-nighters, but that 's just not sustainable."

Mr. Berry will serve as the CEO of both Rebel Mouse and Soho Tech Lab. Mr. Hippeau will be the chairman of Rebel Mouse and Mr. Lerer will serve on the board. Mr. Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed, is an investor in Rebel Mouse, as is Lerer Ventures, which will also help fund the incubator, Mr. Berry said.

As for leaving AOL, which bought Huffington Post for $315 million last March, Mr. Berry said it was more or less a foregone conclusion from the time of the deal.

"Pretty much since the acquisition I knew that a huge company like AOL was probably not the place for me," he said. "And in the summer I knew for sure that the startup bug was too deep for me. But it was super-important to me to leave with the Huffington Post at scale and with a team at scale."

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