- Rebecca and Will Hanlon of Our York Media had a vision for presenting local stories differently through The Founder Beat. The Keystone Merge community helped them make their idea viable.
Rebecca Hanlon paced the hallway for an hour before her Keystone Merge presentation. On the other side of the door, entrepreneurs and community leaders mingled, sipping wine, sampling hors d’oeuvres, and discussing their most recent endeavors.
It was February 2022, and this was the first Keystone Merge gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020.
At each Keystone Merge session, entrepreneurs present a problem they are struggling with, then take questions and gather insights from the audience. With a focus on fostering innovation and forward thinking, Keystone Merge provides a unique opportunity for business owners to connect, grow, and thrive.
Rebecca’s nerves were on edge. The notion of speaking about a problem confronting her business made her feel vulnerable. What if the audience response was crickets? What if attendees thought less of her for struggling with business issues?
Soon enough, it was Rebecca’s turn to stand before the Keystone Merge gathering and share her problem.
A renaissance was budding in York as Rebecca and her husband, Will, set out to build their alternative media outlet, Our York Media, in 2016. Restaurants, galleries, and shops were opening on seemingly every street corner. Neighborhoods were awakening to new life.
Coming out of the world of traditional print media, Rebecca wanted not just to cover what was going on, as she had at the newspaper where she started her career. She wanted to be part of it.
As Our York Media grew through selling writing, design, and social media management services, Rebecca began to see a gap in what it was offering. She wanted to come up with a model for telling the stories of business owners and entrepreneurs who might not be able to afford the services of Our York Media.
“We recognized that we were able to build something and be successful because we had people cheering us on,” Rebecca says. “We wanted to create a platform that would do that for other entrepreneurs, that would cheer them on, help them feel less alone during the intimidating parts.”
Out of that dream, The Founder Beat was born in 2021.
The real struggle, Rebecca realized, was generating revenue for the platform. She and Will wanted to think beyond the traditional model of display advertising or paid subscriptions.
“We didn’t feel those served the reader or the audience,” she says.
Rebecca brought her conundrum to Keystone Merge.
When Rebecca finished her Keystone Merge presentation, audience members eagerly offered advice about how The Founder Beat might generate revenue. Despite being nervous about presenting her problem as an entrepreneur, Rebecca found the experience to be energizing and filled with valuable feedback from the attendees.
“When I left, I was buzzing,” she says. “I hadn’t felt that level of excitement for work in a really long time.”
She and Will spent the next day locked in a conference room with a whiteboard, processing all the new ideas they’d received.
One of the biggest takeaways from Keystone Merge was the question of whether York was too small a market for their dream. This led Rebecca and Will to set a goal of expanding their coverage into other regions, including Harrisburg and Lancaster. They began rolling out the expansion in late 2022.
Through Keystone Merge, they also received suggestions for new revenue streams, such as theme-based paid content and in-person events, both of which they have begun to implement.
Rebecca highly recommends Keystone Merge to other business owners, especially those experiencing growth in their companies and the challenges that brings. In exchange for revealing their vulnerabilities at a Keystone Merge gathering, entrepreneurs receive feedback from a diverse group of individuals.
Part of the mission of The Founder Beat is to help entrepreneurs realize that their venture is worth the effort and that they’re not alone in their quest, Rebecca says. That aim is similar to Keystone Merge’s endeavor to show entrepreneurs that support is available to them.
“It’s OK to not have it all figured out,” Rebecca says. “There are people out there who can help you with that.”
Learn more: Wondering if you should attend a Keystone Merge event or how you could present? Visit keystonemerge.com for answers to those questions and more.