Setting up one’s company is a difficult task. Stephanie Stewart wrote this very honest and straightforward report of her new social media venture entitled WiseOz. I thought that this report would be very beneficial to all our readers who are thinking of creating a new business in that department and wish to know the do’s and don’ts of such an activity.
by Stephanie Stewart, Co-Founder of iThinkWorks LLC and WISEOZ.com
This story starts like any other. Girl reads book. Girl is deeply inspired by book. Girl and boy jump head first into to the super competitive social community space. Well, I’m that girl. Now, fast forward to 10 months from when I first picked up that book and my partner and I are 90 days into the launch of our first social community.
I have for you what I learned in the first 90 days of the social community space that I must be stupid enough to share. These lessons are not intended to represent the lessons of everyone in this space. They are certainly personal to my experience and, in some cases, may be entirely unique. Regardless, these are the lessons I have gained and the observations I have made 90 days into this journey. Where some may consider it stupid to divulge such lessons (and so early on), I am sharing this with anyone and everyone that has the desire to follow their dreams into the social community space or who is already deep in it.
1. Your theme song and mantra will dramatically change
Just like every other team of entrepreneurs, my partner and I had a theme song which represented our mantra. Leading up to the launch (which was exactly 13 days late due to a million other lessons that I could write a book about) and a few weeks post-launch, we rocked to Rage Against The Machine’s “Renegades of Funk” … No matter how hard you try, you can’t stop us now! Well, days go by and the struggle to find one’s audience takes its toll on the psyche. A homemade mantra, “Breakthrough before breakdown”, keeps us going these days.
2. The guy who wrote the book will just try to sell you something
The book I read (which shall remain nameless) preached all about the emerging social community space. It taught, it inspired, it encouraged, and it even invited the reader to contact the author (who happened to be an angel investor himself) with ideas. Well, we did just that and were quickly given an offer (one could easily refuse) which was more like a consulting agreement with ridiculous fees for this and that to bring our idea to investors. This lesson was indeed the most disheartening of all.
3. Operations is the most important thing you will never have time to always be doing
My partner and I happened to pick a high maintenance concept that requires a tedious amount of day to day operational activities to continuously build and manage custom games and contests. If we’re not around, the WISEOZ.com world will fail to revolve and members will get antsy. We found very early on that operations will always come well before strategy and growth. It’s an unfortunate but true reality for a self-funded venture, as we are.
4. MySpace is a viral wasteland of marketing opportunity
Albeit tedious and primitive, MySpace marketing is a strategy or ours and many others. We set up a MySpace (and Facebook and Twitter) page for WISEOZ.com at the suggestion of some of our well-informed members. Little did we know how that trolling through the millions of MySpace pages and groups to find new members is actually a marketing strategy and not such a bad one at that. You can spend hour upon hour weeding through MySpace users based on their interests, demographics, and whatever other personal information they reveal and it will cost you nothing but time. This is a tedious but addicting activity that happens to produce the occasional new member which eventually leads to more and more new members through word of mouth. Not a bad marketing strategy if you’ve got a zero dollar budget and a good stomach for bad web pages.
5. The devil is in the minutia, and by that we mean customer service
Aside from day to day operations, we have managed to distinguish ourselves for our customer service. It was likely born from new entrepreneur syndrome (similar to new mother syndrome in that you just can’t put your new baby down) but has evolved into a sort of customer-driven customer service. Over the past 90 days, we’ve gotten to know several of our members on a personal level, their dogs, their kids, their accomplishments, their struggles, and more. We listen well and respond even better. In fact, it’s not unheard of to see us in the chat room for most of the day responding real-time to member requests for this and that special feature. Keeping our existing members satisfied and engaged comes first and foremost. No matter how cool your gadgets or fancy your widgets, your social community is only as good as your least satisfied member. All in all, it’s one thing to know your demographic, it’s quite another to know your members.
6. When the going gets tough, friends and family are nowhere to be found
My partner and I don’t have a huge network of friends nor do we have large families, but we do have enough to potentially offer a vast amount of support. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in our case. We have members from Seattle to Australia that will talk the WISEOZ talk and walk the WISEOZ walk completely unsolicited but we don’t have a single family or friend that will take the time to join our community and show their support. This might be a more personal experience, and I might be struck by lightning when I walk out the front door this morning, but it is true nonetheless and may be true for others in a similar position. It’s an odd phenomenon that the people closest to you can sometimes be your worst supporters.
7. Signs do occur but you’ll never quite understand what they really mean
My partner and I were ecstatic when FairyGodMom, our first paying member arrived just 2 weeks into launch. She didn’t bring with her dancing mice or a pumpkin coach, but she arrived nonetheless. Then, just over 2 months into launch, lightning struck my home (where else do you put your data center when you’re self-funded) and took out our connection to the world. The site was down for about 20 hours, members were in a panic, and we were trying to read the signs. We are still trying to read the signs.
8. Not every click is created equal
Within the first few weeks of launch, we gave Google AdWords a freshman try. In some cases, we paid upwards of $10 for a single click. On a $10 daily budget, it’s disappointing when one click produces nothing more than a bruise to your bounce rate. Shortly after, we stopped Google AdWords and found that our bounce rate dropped from a whopping 60% down to a respectable 15%. With paid advertising out of the question, we’ve resorted to a heavy dependence on word of mouth and homegrown viral marketing techniques. It’s a slow climb but forward progress is being made every day.
9. This business of social communities is not so social at all
Call us naïve but right out the gate we went looking for a mentor. It seemed the right thing to do at the time. We learned about other sites our members frequented and pursued relationships with them. We saw synergies all around us (maybe those were stars in our eyes) and know the market is big enough and broad enough to allow for such synergies. Unfortunately, we quickly found that those with investors run the furthest and farthest, the fastest. We have yet to find a competitor that is self-confident enough to consider a mutually beneficial or mentoring relationship. This is the part of the social community space that isn’t quite so social at all. In the end, site statistics will tell you you’re small but it’s your competitors that will make you feel that much more tiny and insignificant.
My partner and I carry these lessons forward into our next 90 days in the social community space with heavy hearts, thicker skin, and blood shot eyes. For those that find themselves dealing with similar circumstances, we hope we’ve offered you some insights that may assist you on your venture or maybe in comparison you’re doing much better and my article made you finally realize that.
Stephanie Stewart is the co-founder of iThinkWorks LLC, a start-up that identifies and develops products and services focused in and around online social communities. WISEOZ.com is iThinkWorks’ first social community project. WISEOZ.com is a free contest-based and interest-oriented community where members win prizes, participate, socialize, and connect through play-as-you-please games (“WiseWits”), interest-based social networks (“Circles of Interest”), and establishment of an online identity (“My Ego”). You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.