Sometimes, You Just Need the Good News

A Conversation with Robert Neely, Jr., Founder and CEO of InspireMore

The media you consume can shape your perceptions of the world.  Robert Neely, Jr. founded InspireMore with that premise in mind, aiming to be an oasis focused exclusively on bringing good news, hope, and inspiration.

The home page of InspireMore

InspireMore is a company dedicated to sharing good news and inspirational stories with audiences around the world. Its mission is simple: "Brighten the world and spread hope." Based in Dallas, InspireMore’s Founder and CEO Robert Neely, Jr. had a passion to start his company in 2014 that stemmed from core values and a keen eye for what is most needed today.

Now more than ever, their resources are bringing positivity to millions of people via their website, social media, and email newsletters every day, sharing stories of what America looks like at its best. Michael Bailey, a manager for the Bush Institute’s Leadership Programs team, sat down recently to interview Robert via Zoom and learn more about what drives the company and better understand the importance of positive, good information in our daily news diet.

Tell us a bit about what InspireMore is and what led you to start this company.

The quickest and quippiest way I like to say it is, if CNN was all positive, that's what we do. It’s all good news, uplifting media, and we report on the best, most inspiring things in the world. That can be stories of parents, of heroes, of health, of art, of innovation, really, just the most inspiring things and the good news happening all over the world. We report on that.

And how it started was a very crazy, long journey. I was a strategy consultant previously and in the process was really challenged on the idea of purpose and leadership, and even faith. I did a program called the Kanakuk Institute and then that rolled into a master's degree in leadership and ethics from John Brown University.

We studied a lot about what drives people and why people do what they do. We studied it from a philosophical, historical [perspective], cross-cultural leadership, sports teams, everything — we really dove in. I began to see this golden thread that no matter who you are, where you're from, what you've been through, who you want to be, where you want to go, we're all human and we all have this very innate and deep desire to be loved and to love others.

A different flavor of that is to be inspired and to inspire others. I was very moved by this concept and I was also, at the same time, moved by the power of media. That when you see media, it can affect you in a lot of different ways, in good ways or in bad ways. That was really the genesis for InspireMore saying, “media is powerful and we're all wired to want to be loved and be inspired. So, how do we combine those two?”

[Media] can affect you in a lot of different ways, in good ways or in bad ways. That was really the genesis for InspireMore saying, “media is powerful and we're all wired to want to be loved and be inspired. So, how do we combine those two?”

Since you started the company, you've seen tremendous growth. You were mentioned recently by actor John Krasinski on his YouTube show “Some Good News” with millions of views. At one point you were the 15th-most visited site via mobile devices in the country. To what do you attribute that success?

We launched in March of 2014. We raised $150,000 in funding, and that's what we started with. It was three people, and one of us was getting paid out of the three, and we were just bootstrapping our way. We really just tried a lot of things, and we were pretty ruthless about, “let's try something and then if it works, run with it. If it doesn't work, then let's cut it.” We should have failed, I think, a hundred times over. But we didn't, we kept growing.

To date, we've reached about 500 million people, and I think the key to success, I think it's one, that we have optimism. We believe that there is good, and people are good, and people desire good. And then two, we've gotten really, really good at finding the inspiring things in the world. We use a variety of methods, technology, people, a human network receiving and calling for submissions to really lead to what we believe is the best mix in the world of good news and inspiring media, to highlight it from all over the world, from the past and the present.

To date, we've reached about 500 million people, and I think the key to success, I think it's one, that we have optimism. We believe that there is good, and people are good, and people desire good.
Robert Neely, Jr. (top) talks with the Bush Institute's Michael Bailey via Zoom

We also just try to hold future plans lightly. I read a C.S. Lewis quote recently that said, "Operate moment by moment and hold the future very lightly." And I think with [the COVID pandemic] it's taught us anything can happen. You plan for the future, but then you operate moment by moment as well and effectively as you can.

On a personal level, what's inspiring you right now, and what's giving you hope in these times?

Probably my favorite resource of ours is a daily email called, “The Morning Smile.” It’s a digest of the best-of-the-best good news and inspiring things from around the world. Truly excellent. It makes it very easy to get that little boost of good that we all need.

One of my favorite pieces of content, there are two, that we've done recently. One is people in their backyard living their best lockdown life, and they're having a blast. The other is people recreating their favorite travel pictures, and they're doing it at home. And it just shows you, you can live with such creativity and fun in a lockdown.

Think about if we did that with our lives. I've just been really moved and inspired by this idea to be really thankful for what you have, and live moment by moment. Instead of desiring what you don't have and what is in the future, just enjoy the present. It's cheesy, but you know, the present is present because it's a gift, and I think we're learning that.

InspireMore readers shared their travel recreations

What do you hope that people will hold onto, and how are you all providing that through InspireMore?

I hope that people will really assess their media diet. It's something that we've really been thinking about since inception that we've identified recently as a “media diet.” Think about it, if you just eat cheeseburgers and donuts all the time, it might taste good, but it's going to hurt your health. Media is very similar to that. Media can influence how you view yourself, how you view your work, and it can consequently affect your world view.

My hope is that people will assess what they're consuming and not just do it reactively. With a diet, you're proactive. You say, "Okay, I want to eat fruits, vegetables, and then I'll give myself two pizzas a week." Something like that. That's a proactive plan. My hope is that people will be proactive in planning the media they consume. Because I think it's really easy for it to be reactive, like, "Okay, I'm on my phone or I'm on Netflix, or I'm on my computer. Let me just consume what hits me."

Media can influence how you view yourself, how you view your work, and it can consequently affect your world view.

I hope people will stay informed, and they will then allow some just fun reactive time and will also say, "Okay, I need to be filled with good." So, what we call that is the balanced media diet. They'll tune into CNN and Fox News to stay up-to-date with coronavirus updates, and then they'll watch a show, and then they'll also consume something like InspireMore to have hope and perspective and to say, "What are the little things that I can do in my life to take a little bit more advantage of this present moment?"

What other changes are you hoping to see come from this?

One of our favorite quotes as a company is from Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, and she said, "Never doubt that a committed group of citizens can't change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." I think that's very true. People can do a lot more than they think. And the ripple of one action can go much further than we can know.

I'll give you an example. I love this very simple story we covered once. There was a guy who was on the side of the road, having a panic attack or some similar attack, on the side of a highway and hundreds of people passed him. Then a 16-year-old girl stopped and helped him and arguably saved his life. All these people drove by and saw this guy on the ground, and this one young girl, who probably shouldn't have stopped, she stopped. Can you imagine if that happened at scale a little bit more? The hope that would spread throughout the world?

This is where the perspective part of it comes in. I think the bar is very low for loving people and doing extraordinary things. Like you smile at more people throughout the day, hold the door open for someone, do something that's generous. And then you could do that at further extremes. I mean things like that encourage one person, that could encourage two people, four. You do the math there and that can truly sweep the world and change communities. And that's how it starts. You have to be intentional about it though.

I mean things like that encourage one person, that could encourage two people, four. You do the math there and that can truly sweep the world and change communities.

You have such a unique perspective right now where you have all of this positive information that you're able to put out to the world. So, where are you seeing America at its best right now?

We've had an interesting perspective because one of the things we did within a week of everything kind of shutting down around March 12th, we had launched a coronavirus “Good News” dashboard that basically highlights the best good news around COVID-19. So that's encouraging news, inspiring tips, and just things to make you smile. Within that we've definitely seen a lot of America, and the world, at its best.

I'll read a piece of feedback we got that ties to that. We had someone say, "I am a registered nurse in a hospital, inundated with COVID patients. It's terribly emotionally and physically draining. I haven't found too many reasons to smile lately, but your beautiful, funny, inspiring, hopeful stories put a much-needed smile on my face."

That’s awesome. We take such pride in that. But also, you have to remember what we're doing as a company is we're highlighting these things that people are doing. So, this person saying, "These beautiful, funny, inspiring, hopeful stories put a much-needed smile on my face." That's people, those are Americans, who are doing those things that we can then report on.

It's people who recognize that there are others out there, like this registered nurse, who are hurting and struggling, and then they're going to do everything they can to help other people, and also to help themselves, to live a life that is full and has meaning and do creative things. To go live your best life in your backyard, to recreate those travel photos, to give to someone in an unexpected and beautiful way, to use your company resources to bless others.

There have been a lot of stories of companies that have, like 3D printing companies or sports apparel companies, that have decided to create face shields and cotton face masks with their resources. There have been stories of business owners who have not taken a salary and who have made sure their employees are paid. And there have been others who haven't been able to do that.

But as long as we're doing our best to help bless others, that's ultimately humanity at its best. It's putting others before yourself. When you can make it about others, man, amazing things can happen.

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