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Old 12-15-1999, 03:45 AM   #1
Aaron Dragushan
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Lightbulb Feedback Request: new directions for my company

Hiya!

After some encouragement from Questy, ("yes Aaron, this is the place to bring your ideas") I'd like to share my thoughts and ideas about the the direction I'd like to take my business... If you have thoughts, comments and ideas I'd be very grateful to hear them. I'll be sure to answer any questions you have...

Warning: This post is looooong, but really I'm delving into plans for the next year, as opposed to ideas for the next site or two. This requires more than a sentence or two, so I'm jumping in there and typing my little heart out. Hopefully my thinking out loud and our discussion will help us all. ;-)

The name I've come up with is Wondermill Webworks (do you like it?). It is supposed to conjure up images of a bunch of people (maybe in a windmill?) creating wondrous sites and online marvels. Magical stuff...

Here is an outline of my initial 'mission statement'

What we do: Wondermill is in the business of creating exciting, family-friendly websites and mailing lists, using innovative style and custom artwork & content.

What we stand for: Wondermill believes in working to make a difference in important social causes. An enphasis is placed on organizations that work to protect people's human rights. As such, Wondermill will donate a percentage of gross earnings to groups that combat domestic violence, third world hunger and similar causes.

Revenue Generation: Wondermill will generate it's primary revenue stream through running 20-30 very high quality email lists, handled by a full-time editor. Banner advertising and sponsorships will make up the remainder.

Key Points that make Wondermill different:

World View: Wondermill's relationship to the outside world will be one of the *key* ways that the company is differentiated, and will also catch people's imagination.

On a base level, the company will be built very much around interaction with the visitor. Of course everyone online talks about this, but with Wondermill I'd like to take it one step farther than any other company I've ever seen, with my own spin.

A little background: Once when surfing, I came across a picture of Netscape's developer's area. The place where the coding actually happens. Cool, but no biggie... what created a lasting impression on me was that there was an LED scrolling display set up on the wall. People could type in a message which would fly above their heads! That kind of idea makes a location *real* to the visitor. Neat!


Here are several examples of this style of interaction:

Email: Wondermill will respond to email ASAP, ideally within 5-10 minutes. The goal is to respond to the person before they end their email session. The goal here is to create a feeling that "someone is actually on the other end" of the email conversation. There is a connection made when you're email is answered within minutes - all of a sudden you vividly imagine the other person, and you realize that they are online *right now*... "with you."

Wondermill's World HQ: Visitors will be able to interact with wondermill through conventional and unconventional means. Conventionally, they will be able to send us email and vote on ideas and directions through online polls. Unconventionally (the stuff that people *remember*) they will be able to send messages winging across the wall, drive robots & and remote control blimps around, play music selections, stuff like that. There will also be a webcam setup, to let people watch the Wondermill crew at work. This will differentiate the project tremendously.

The key element is that people will come to know Wondermill as a real *physical* place, with real people that they feel they know. They'll know the crew through short, irreverent bios and pictures. It makes a tremendous difference to feel like you know the people behind a site, and with this setup people will really get a sense of that. When you think about it... where is Yahoo? Where is Amazon? Cyberspace only... and that's not as exciting. Am I on-target with this?

Influence and Control: I think people would really like the idea of influencing the direction of the company. They could vote on higher level concepts such as what projects to take on next, or low level things like how we set up the furniture @ World Headquarters or where to point the webcam. Better yet, why not put it on a controllable tripod and let them point it where they want.

With one of my sites (coolsig.com) people have reacted favourably to the idea that they can influence the content that makes it onto the site, and is sent out to the email list. It's a neat setup, which you can check out at:
http://coolsig.com/bin/vote/vote.pl User: siglet Pass: pooh

Helpers: People who want to help out would be able to do so. These people would be contributing to great products, and working with a fantastic company that they could really belive in. They would receive recognition and perks for their work, depending on their contribution. Perks might include things such as: T-shirts, mousepads, free cable internet access, customized business cards, or even paid trips to come visit World Headquarters etc.


What do you think? Is this a revolutionary idea or a waste of resources? Thanks so much for your help and ideas!

- Aaron
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Old 12-15-1999, 06:09 AM   #2
Edwin
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Aaron,

Some of the ideas are laudable, but I am not sure how many of them are *bankable*. If this is not a burning issue, then don't worry. If not, then...

I wonder how much your alternative-style company can influence the most important group of people: your advertisers?

I imagine that setting up, staffing (5-10 minute response to email 24hrs a day is pretty tough, even with *very* clever filtering software!) and "interactive office features" (for want of a better expression!) would all cost significant amounts of money to do properly, and to scale to support the kind of traffic you'd need. Again, this depends on advertiser support being A) available and B) ongoing.

So I think the idea itself is good, but I don't think it sells itself to an advertiser as opposed to an end-user. Not that this means "give up", quite the contrary, simply that you need to hone your USP (unique sales proposition) so that it encompasses the *needs* and *wants* of your advertisers as well as those of your community.

Am I allowed to say I didn't think much of the name?

Hope you take this in the spirit this was meant: helpful criticism.

Edwin

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Old 12-15-1999, 01:16 PM   #3
Aaron Dragushan
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Edwin,

Oh the newsletter angle I've got covered. That's how I earn my living right now, and I think I've got it down pat. Finding advertisers, the cost of mailings (I'm with dundee.net) is no problem. Right now I'm running lists totalling over 100k subs so I've got a feel for what is involved if I can get it over the million sub mark. Hiring someone to help me handle the volume of lists I want to offer will also help greatly...

I'd sure like to know from other folks if they care much about who is behind a site that they visit. Do you guys think that it would make a difference to your average Joe Surfer if they could get to know the company?

- Aaron
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Old 12-16-1999, 12:00 AM   #4
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Edwin,

Thanks! I really appreciate the constructive criticism. I need someone to try to shred my ideas, so that if they can hold up under scrutiny I'll know that I'm onto something.

In terms of *scale*, they can become much more bankable with large numbers of visitors. When I put together my mailing lists, it makes almost no difference if 100 people receive it or 2,000,000 (I wish!). The work that goes into it is the same.

So if the audience is large enough, it's worth the effort to go that extra mile or 10. Just like when they make a movie, they will spend whatever they need to get the right props etc, because their audience is large enough to warrant it. They simply wouldn't do it if 400 people were going to see the show.

I'm not really worried about advertisers, since they just care about audience size. What I'm trying to create through this extra effort is:

- industry buzz, being featured in papers and the like.

- people buzz, where visitors tell their friends about this incredible group of people doing great things.

About the email answering timing... that is something that would happen when I would have an actual "staff" (ooooh!) and someone would be 'on call' for that all the time. Just like you do, I get lots of email, of which I only answer the ones that actually _say somethign_. If someone writes me back after a mailout and say, "Hi, thanks" I don't write them back...

and about the name, I'm getting mixed reactions, but I certainly appreciate the feedback. I appreciate your candor!

;-)

Anyone else have comments?

I have a question for everyone:

Do you often click on the "about us" button? (Does it matter to you who put the site together...?)

thanks in advance,

- Aaron
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Old 12-16-1999, 12:46 AM   #5
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(I will let others answer, honest ;-) )

To build your newsletters, I assume you'll set up some kind of affiliate program? At 2,000,000 subscribers, that could be a reasonable $250,000 or so (reasonable in the context of having 2,000,000 subscribers, of course)

Still, you also need to find mailing s/w that reliably handles that kind of volume. But Revnet has gone up substantially, and Lyris prices per 1,000 mailings, as do most of the others. So at 2,000,000 readers you will probably be paying $2,000 per letter (i.e. $1 per 1,000 delivered emails). At that point (if not long before) you are going to need advertisers FAST!

Edwin
P.S. I only usually click About Us when I am looking for advertising and/or affiliate information that the site has tucked away out of easy reach (web designers, that's a BIG hint!)

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Old 12-17-1999, 01:22 PM   #6
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Aaron,

I admire your vision, as well as the determination to make it work.

The reason I didn't respond sooner to this as a post, is it's hard as its written here to see the big picture from the details.


RE: I do my best work between 12:00 and 6:00 AM

Me too, unfortunately it gets me worn down for my day job. If I'd become a full time webmaster I'd probably work 10:00 pm - 6:00 am, definately more peaceful for the soul.


Just curious, as it vaguely reminds me of what your talking about, (I did say vaguely), have you ever cruised about.com (aka the miningco)?

Their theme was to have real people make the web a personal thing, but their site to me is so, UGLY!

I noticed on your website color is used to its fullest. (I'm a purple and green guy myself http://www.very-cool-stuff.com/ubb/smile.gif) I hope to evolve into the music schemes over the next year, hoping by the time I get it going maybe badwidth will start to open up. Colors, images, and even sounds, will all fit into your total theme.

So do you see yourself as a web theme park?
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Old 12-17-1999, 01:43 PM   #7
Aaron Dragushan
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Yeah, I know what you mean about the big picture being lost in the details.

If I had to summarize it all, it's that I want to fire people's imaginations with this.
People don't get excited about another jokes site. Who cares? I think they would tell their friends about this site they found created by these crazy cats in a windmill though.

People love stories like that, and franky from my end I think it would be a wonderful tale to weave and be a part of.

Sites are simply so dry and corporate these days, without the human touch showing through. The E-commerce field has realized this (in it's own bland way) and lately I've seen several services with button you can click to "talk to a REAL live person!"

This is a significant change, and one we'd all do well to note. Those sites sell more products, and are seen by customers as being much friendlier, with good reason...

I also would like to develop sites and content based on people's submissions. I think people would much rather get behind and support (with their real time and effort) a group of people that they *know*.

So that's a bit more of my motivation behind the direction. That said, I do know that it will be somewhat expensive, and might make as much money as if I took a different route.

I think it just might get some media buzz though, and it's not all about money anyways, is it? ;-)

- Aaron
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Old 12-18-1999, 12:32 AM   #8
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Hi Aaron,

Thanks for taking the time to present your idea here. When I first read this post, I said, whew, that's a lot to think about.

First question: Wondermill Webworks

Doesn't give me any real picture, however, with the proper graphic representation that could change.

The point that Edwin commented on: "Wondermill will respond to email ASAP,
ideally within 5-10 minutes."

I think the benefit would out weigh the cost. If you just answer me with a real e-mail from a real person within 24 hours, I'd be happy. I'd say less than half of those feedback forms I fill out ever returns a "real" message, somthing other than a form letter. Maybe 1 in 10 actually get's me a real response from a real person. I sent a question via the feedback form on iwon.com the other day. I got what appeared to be a real e-mail, written and "signed" by a real person. I was impressed. The fact that a real person is reading and answering the mail, if I get a answer back in a day, I'd be impressed. The five minute deal might be too ambitious.

I like the real people doing real things spin. The social causes stuff, I'm kind of neutral on. When it really get down to it, if people like your site, and have fun on it, the social causes "theme" will be secondary at best.

"About us" ... yes that's important to me.

Being a technology guru, I worry about the human touch getting lost on the web. I read the about us stuff. I like seeing the names, or even the pictures, of the real people doing the real stuff on the web.

Overall I think "About.com" is ugly and klunky, but I like the photos of the guides and knowing a little about them definitely makes the place a little friendlier.

If I were advising you as a business planner, my basic suggestions are pretty simple. Outline your vision on a single sheet of paper. Then write a single paragraph vision statement that summarizes the total picture.

Some of your ideas are bullet points on that outline, you need to start the outline so you can group them, and see how they all fit into the total scheme of things.

Your project sounds very ambitious. But then again, 40 years ago Walt Disney's visions were pretty ambitious too, and now there's a family friendly empire based on his ambitious visions.

Best of luck...

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Old 12-18-1999, 12:58 AM   #9
Aaron Dragushan
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Thanks for the feedback Questy, I was wondering if you would jump in or not! ;-) I'll respond to your points/questions one by one.

re: Wondermill Webworks ambiguity

Yes, I agree that the term isn't as clear as crystal, but what I was looking for was something very similar in feel to the film company, Dreamworks. That kind of ring... The logo will be very visually branded, the name secondary. It's more the concept that I'm chasing here - that somewhere in Canada there are a bunch of people in a Windmill, working away like dervishes only to make great sites for YOU!

;-)

The email response time thing wouldn't really be that hard to do, I don't think. We think it is, since most of us work alone, but my idea would require an actual staff (scary & exciting as that is!). So basically one person would be 'on' in terms of email at all times. I can handle the night shift since I do my best work between 12:00 and 6:00 AM

The reason for the major push to make it all *real* to people is that there is that:

1) I think it's neat as heck.

2) Nobody else is doing ANYTHING remotely similar online... or seems to want to.

About the "about us" thing, I think we're on the same page with that one. I love to find out about the people behind sites I like, it's the best part! ;-)

Thanks again for your feedback. Anyone else have any comments? C'mon you guys!

- Aaron
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