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Social network building and the bootstrap business model

Yes, I realize the title is a bit on the abstruse side. Please bear with me :-).

Picture this. You own a web property that is occupied by a thriving system of online communities.  They are focused on very specific areas, share some synergies, and combine serious support and professional practice with a more leisurely, social side. Affiliation (the identification of people with the communities) is strong enough to be notable.

You manage those communities hands-on, with a bootstrap budget and a policy of zero debt… plus a network of excedingly qualified volunteers. Financially, it’s a lightweight; you don’t seek to monetise it beyond the needs of keeping it healthily running. So it’s amply solvent for its needs, which is not saying much (say a couple of years’ full operating budget held in cash).

Now, shake it a bit. Say you are quite familiar with social (and professional) networks outside your community. And you see some evident value-adding potential in reworking some of the current community features into network features. Like the contact-handling, job board (resumés and references), in-house market for goods and services, and artist portfolios. You’ve been looking into the issue for some months. Indeed, you’ve been tinkering and looking up partners for some of the services since summer, but closed nothing.

Then, some of the volunteers come for a chat. They’re sensible people who know their way around the net. And they ask you to seriously consider going the whole network hog.

You say you don’t have time, and neither do they. They answer that we should flesh out the collaborator team anyhow.

You say that you don’t have the infrastructure, and absolutely refuse to build it on outside resources (except as a customer). They answer that we could easily tap into open source, and even drive our own initiative in that terrain (that was playing dirty, they know I like the idea). You can farm out most of the hosting weight to free services. And you need new servers in any case.

You say it would compromise focus on learning and productivity. They say that well-chosen and built services would do nothing of the sort, and agree on your shopping list (although adding some more social knick-knacks to the mix).

You say that would require a different outlook and leaving the bootstrap model to go corporate in a more consistent way. They remind you that you’ve been telling them that for over a year.

All in all, you know it can’t be done without a lot of trouble, work, change, uncertainty, trial and error. In would require a lot of management innovation to do it in our usual, bare-bones, volunteer-driven way… which is a requirement. It would take (and gobble up) a lot of time. You also know your system of communities is a sure-fire starter for any network – indeed, the network is already there, even if it’s not efficiently channeled, around the people who collaborate in the forums. And you would learn a lot.

Add some background scenery. You have just finished a paper that was keeping you busy. You just dropped your job for a more exacting one. You can’t travel in the short term. You have so many stress-generating elements in your hands that they cancel each other out.

So, in that situation… what would you be experimenting with this Easter vacation ?

Got it in one. By the way… any practical ideas would be appreciated :-).


2 comentarios en “Social network building and the bootstrap business model

  1. very exciting. do you have a choice, really :-) ?
    not having tried is like not having lived. how, exactly, is the more difficult question. I will be following closely.

    Publicado por josien kapma | marzo 24, 2008, 12:29 pm
  2. Hi Josien,

    thanks :-). We do have a choice with the «what» (the contents of the service, and whether to do it at all), we don’t have much about the «how»: the other shareholder, who happens to be my wife, is absolutely against outside capital and debt… and I’m against turning it into something so complex it inteferes with my daytime job. This is just an oversize, professionally relevant hobby project :-).

    Right now we’re caught between adapting Red Hat’s Mugshot and charging into a more complex, and more specific, custom development.

    Best regards,


    Publicado por Miguel | marzo 25, 2008, 9:23 am

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