Kevin Costner knows a good story when he hears one.
That’s why he said he was intrigued when he heard about an app designed to alert travelers to places of interest, which often go unnoticed, during their travels.
“I’m the guy who drives all over America,” he said. “When you see those bronze signs along the road, I want to stop. I want to read what was there.” “It’s a bit of history, and I remember being really excited about that. Otherwise, you’re just watching the miles go by.”
He said that an app that sent compelling and timely stories to him was appealing, because “a good story has always been something that makes me happy.”
Sears said Costner was loosely related to the app’s designer, entrepreneur Woody Sears, through their children. While the app was in the initial stages, Costner agreed to tell several stories before eventually joining the company as a co-founder.
The app – called HearHere – launched in August 2020, coinciding with one of the biggest travel trends in the Covid era: the road trip revival.
Road Trip Story Guide
Similar to the past two years, road trips are expected to dominate this summer, according to a survey by travel website The Vacationer. Nearly 80% of American adults — or about 206 million Americans — plan to take one, according to a survey of nearly 1,100 Americans in March.
However, Sears said HearHere – which has been described as a “road trip story guide” – was in development before the pandemic.
“The idea of travel has changed for a lot of people,” said Sears. “We just happened to open our doors at the same time as the shift.”
A key part of the HearHere app is telling the stories of the people who first inhabited North America, said Kevin Costner, a theme at the heart of his Academy Award-winning movie “Dances With Wolves.”
Teague Productions | Photo archive | Moviepix | Getty Images
Costner said he’s been involved in several startups, but this project “was in the wheelhouse of what I’m really doing in terms of storytelling, and my kind of love of history,” Costner said.
From “Untouchables” to “John F. Kennedy” and “White Earp,” many of Costner’s most famous films touched upon pivotal figures in American history. One of the main reasons for his involvement with HearHere was his desire to tell the stories of the first inhabitant of North America. He explored this topic in the Academy Award-winning 1990 film Dances With Wolves, in which he starred, directed, and produced Costner.
“That was the basis for me … who were the first people? – because there is no here without knowing who was there before,” he said.
HearHere has more than 9,000 stories to date, with topics ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Janis Joplin, and from the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky to the Nashville music scene.
But for Costner, telling the hardest truths about US history is also crucial.
He said, “Our story isn’t always a great story. There was a lot of violence in America. We’re watching violence now all over the world… to think that it didn’t happen here – it did.”
Stories about America’s Founding Fathers and its Civil War battlefields permeate the history of Mississippi cities where slaves and blacks were disenfranchised.
“We shouldn’t be ashamed of that,” Costner said. “We can get a little embarrassed, but it’s even more embarrassing not to know.”
High in audio content
Sears said HearHere has been downloaded more than 400,000 times and has subscribers in every US state. The company announced in February that it had raised $3.2 million in seed funding, led by US recreational vehicle company Camping World.
Although he’s at the forefront of a new mobile app company, Costner noted that he doesn’t care much about technology. Most of the mobile apps are “hovering over my head,” he said, and from the HearHere Twitter page: “I don’t even know how to get into them.”
HearHere founders: Woody Sears, Kevin Costner and Bill Werlin. “I’m not a figurehead,” Costner said. “That’s my interest.”
“I grew up with wolves,” he said. “If I need to expand my life… I have to open my ears, I have to open my eyes. When I travel across the country my nose need not be in a computer – attention should be paid.”
Sears said that so-called “screen fatigue” is one of the reasons that audio content will overtake video content in 2021. Audio entertainment is also easier to integrate into everyday life because it can be consumed while “walking, driving and doing housework, versus video that he primarily watched.” The first is fixed.
Demand for voice services has soared during the pandemic, as companies like Amazon, Twitter and Facebook have announced the expansion of voice platforms over the past several years.
Launching in other countries?
While US-based Stories continue to be added to HearHere, Costner said the company has a model that lends itself well to international expansion.
He said the company is still working on improving its business and listening to its customers, but “I love jumping off the page quite frankly…trying something new,” he said.
Costner said he applies a similar approach to his films.
He said, “It’s easy to follow a trend – it’s much more difficult to try to be original. Trends, or repeating something popular, is a way to make a lot of money.” “Doing something classic – no one has ever felt like they’ve seen it before – can live forever.”