One thing that I like about talking with entrepreneurs is when you realize that a lot of what you know and take for granted is completely new to someone else. Two of the conversations I had yesterday were with entrepreneurs who are very early in the creation of their new busineses. Both are focusing on completely different different customers and attempting to solve different problems. However, they did have something in common. They are creating service business using the Internet as the place where they will conduct business.
I believe that anyone using a website as the primary communication tool between them and their customers should be either creating or re-designing their sites using software and tools that are designed to easily build communities, manage content easily, and support a wide range of media. This is not based on some “Aha” moment of insight recently but from working with these types of tools for the past three years.
With so much press about MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, and other tools, I just assume that most people, especially in the age demographic of the entrepreneurs I was talking with, already know all about the capabilities these tools provide.
Entrepreneur one is about six month into development. The business is focused on providing information about an industry and the people and companies in that industry. Clearly this fits nicely into to social media/marketing space. I ask, “Are you going to provide your customers the ability to talk about their experiences, good and bad, with people and companies?”. “Not in the first phase, we are thinking about it as in Phase 2.
We talk about how the site is being created. The old way is to use standard web development tools including some combination of XML, CSS and PHPmaybe with something like Dreamweaver. Certainly a solution, but unless you become functional with these tools, you have to rely on a web developer for all changes to the site , which can be time consuming, frustrating and expensive (I realize that there are some supposedly higher level tools to help with changes like Contribute, but learning Contribute and managing content on a blog are miles apart).
Being so early into the development, I ask if they had considered using a Content Management System(CMS) based solution like Joomla or Drupal? More importantly they are open source (think Free Software), and have all the basic community tools built in. They hadn’t heard of this but were dealing with slowness of getting content on and off their current site.
Entrepreneur two is just beginning and has not selected a platform as yet. In fact, getting some insight on what to consider was among the list of things she wanted to find out during the Schmooze if possible. We had the Open Source conversation. She asked if I know of any developer resources that I would recommend, and I tell her about the San Diego Drupal Users Group that meets monthly (currently at the Hall of Champions at Balboa Park). I also mention that, if she wants to learn more about Drupal, meet more people and talk with some great resources from both San Diego and LA, there is a LA Drupal Camp scheduled for August 8th and 9th at UC Irvine. It is free, all you have to do is sign up.
Someone else mentions looking at similar, complementary or competitive sites. She says she is having difficulty finding out who is talking. I ask if she knows about Technorati? “Doesn’t that have something to do with blogs?” I explain what Technorati is all about, and she writes down the web address.
Whenwe have been working in an area for a couple of years, especially one that is still pretty nascent to smalland medium business, we tend to forget who much we really know. So, it is great to talk with people who are just starting out and all this is new to them. You get to share some information, hopefully help them move forward and feel good about the conversation as time well spent.