For those of you that would like to start off with a more concise and conventionally-structured outline of the business, we suggest that you begin by looking at the document "10 Slides of Swidjit". The material below represents an elaboration on the points made in those pitch slides. We are happy to answer any questions you may have if you still find yourself unclear about anything.
Swidjit is a virtual community center for your city, dorm or neighborhood embedded with tools to help you buy, sell, share, trade, promote, discuss, curate, discover, and organize with the people around you. It is a local, public network designed to provide you with unprecedented access to the goods, services, experiences, people, information, and conversations in your community. First and foremost, it is a hub for the local economy (P2P commerce, collaborative consumption, small business), but as a community center, Swidjit will also serve as a nexus for local events, discussion, information, and networking. It is a tool to to help you easily connect to everything you want or need in the place where you live. Essentially, Swidjit will serve as a community operating system that will transform the way we connect to the resources and opportunities around us.
A More Concrete Description
To get a better understanding of Swidjit, start by thinking about Craigslist; they are both community hubs for connecting with other resources/opportunities around you. Now add in aspects of Facebook (social tools, groups, and events) to make it a more friendly and more functional place. Next, throw in Twitter’s tools for connecting to entities (@Swidjit) and ideas (#gardening). Mix in a dose of Etsy or eBay to facilitate small business and entrepreneurship, finish things off with mechanisms for customizing, organizing and co-creating all this information, and you have Swidjit. It is a local, scalable hub for public commerce, communication, and collaboration; perhaps what Craigslist could have become had they been more inclined to innovate.
Founder Alex Colket has been working full-time on this venture for 20 months. Along the way, he has raised money from friends and family to support operations.
Swidjit is a social enterprise. We are currently incorporated as an S-corp in NY state, but we will be refiling to become a benefit corporation in the near future. We are looking to work with impact investors and other changemakers that want to make the world better through innovation.
We have a public prototype of the site that has been online for close to 6 months. Before that, we had an even more basic version available for a while, so we've already acquired a lot of feedback from early users, data from surveys of local residents/college students, and a great deal of ideas (via discussion) about how to best design the technology to serve this role as a community OS.
At present, we are finalizing our branding and undergoing major improvements to the messaging and user experience of the site (which are admittedly poor at the moment). Once we have completed this process (January), we are really excited to launch a big marketing campaign as we attempt to establish critical mass here in Ithaca.
If you visit the site, please forgive the poor branding and UX, it's temporary. Also, keep in mind that you are experiencing it as a guest, and the experience is quite more feature-rich and powerful when logged in (imagine, for instance, what facebook is like when you are not logged in - not much). Check out the images of some sample feeds (links provided above) to get a better sense of how a member might interact with the site.
What We're Pitching For
We are principally looking for an amazing, experienced, and connected business co-founder. We need someone with experience raising capital, building a team, and otherwise handling the business needs of a fast-growing web startup.
With respect to investment, we would be interested in receiving a little more seed money ($25-$50k) if we can find the right partner. We are also looking to develop relationships with individuals/firms who might want to come in when we do a larger raise.
Founder & CEO Alex Colket (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/alex-colket/44/b12/209) is a social entrepreneur with a background in neuroscience, game design, community organization, software development, permaculture, and climate change activism. Alex has been working 75 hrs/wk on Swidjit for the past 20 months.
Lead Developer Andrew Imm will be graduating Cornell this year with a major in CS and a minor in Applied Mathematics. Andrew has been an active web developer for at least a decade, and is a full-stack guy who works with anything from databases and server-side programming to HTML design and CSS. Andrew joined Swidjit in September.
Additionally, we have 6 committed interns, a dozen other student volunteers, and numerous local businesses/organizations that have pledged their support. Truly, we have been working to build a community coalition around this product so that we can prove the concept here in Ithaca.
Recently, we have begun developing relationships with other innovators in the collaborative consumption / social media space as we look to find other amazing people to bring on board.
What problem(s) does it solve?
We're going to provide two responses to this question, one answer as a social venture and another as a business:
Swidjit will solve this problem by cultivating a community resource ecosystem that will act as a switchboard to connect us in all the ways that can make our lives easier or better. In this new local-collaborative paradigm, Swidjit users will be able to achieve new revenue streams by leveraging existing assets (vehicles, spaces, skills), save money by trading/sharing/renting/buying used, and in general have better access to what’s around. We are building a product to ensure that users never miss out on any local opportunities that could help meet their wants or needs. Best of all, Swidjit will provide all of this in one central, organized place so that platform-fatigued internet users need not worry about using dozens of different apps, websites, listservs, media outlets, bulletin boards and other channels they would otherwise need to connect with local.
Proving the concept
Swidjit is an innovative, revolutionary product, which makes it difficult to explain. Give us a half hour to lay out our vision and answer questions, and we can get you bouncing off the walls in excitement, but in an elevator ride it is very challenging to explain both what the product can do and how it will work. So the very first thing we need is a demonstration of the network in action so people can just see how awesome it is instead of leaving us to explain it to them.
Fortunately, we have put ourselves in a very good position to succeed in this first step, thanks to our perfect location, our strong product, and all the work we have already done in garnering community-support, pre-marketing the product, and conducting surveys/tests. Once we begin advertising the product, we believe we will be able to quickly grow our user base through a combination of community partnerships, conventional advertising (social media, radio), and a style of grassroots marketing campaign that is only possible thanks to the size & culture of our community and the fact that what we are aiming to do is so exciting and impactful (that may sound crazy, but we already have dozens of people displaying yard signs in support of [our product which hardly yet exists], and more broadly, we have hundred if not thousands of local supporters aware of what we are doing and excited to make it happen).
Phasing in features
The network we are describing represents a very ambitious enterprise. Obviously, we can’t start out offering all the things that we hope to one day provide, so we will be suggesting new ways to use Swidjit piece by piece. Our initial focus will be in two areas a) community events and b) facilitating community groups. We have found these to be particular pain points and have designed a product that will make it significantly easier to keep track of all the things happening around you and communicate/organize within the groups that you are part of. Once we have enough people using it for those purposes, we will begin encouraging the economic piece more: first basic peer-to-peer commerce/trade, then local businesses, and lastly more advanced tools for facilitating the collaborative economy. When enough people are actively participating, the local government will come on board and use it as a place to broadcast news and solicit input from residents (we have had several conversations with local goverment officials about their inability to reach people easily). Later, we can add tools to help people find housing, jobs, local business information, and anything else they need within their community,
Spreading to new markets
Admittedly this is the least clear part of our plan, but we have a strong hunch that a successful Swidjit network will essentially market itself - that others will be clamoring for it once it becomes clear how useful and powerful it is. But if it doesn't quite work out like that, we will still have learned a lot about how to rally a community around the product, and we still have the larger cultural movement on our side, along with a really creative and diverse marketing strategy to get out the message about our product. We do know that we want to first expand laterally (to prototype overlapping regional networks) as well as to a few other particularly receptive markets similar to Ithaca. Then we would be ready to try it in a large city (presumably SF or NY).
With respect to revenue, Swidjit will have several natural and large opportunities to monetize our product that we will introduce over time. As a hub for community commerce and information, it will be a great place for hyperlocal, targeted, contextual ads. Later, Swidjit will be able to charge transaction fees as people buy, sell, and rent from each another and local businesses (Swidjit as a platform for collaborative consumption and the local economy). Lastly, as a community gathering place, Swidjit will have opportunities to offer various freemium services (issue digital coupons, manage a sports league, etc) to businesses and individuals.
Swidjit has a number of ways in which it will initially separate itself from the competition.
Swidjit is building the right product at the right time in the right place. And we have the foundations of the right team to make it happen.
-- Swidjit Q&A --
How is it different than facebook?
Facebook is a valuable starting point for understanding Swidjit, but ultimately they are very different products, namely in these four main ways:
How is it different than Craigslist?
In a sense, Craigslist is our main competitor, so it’s important to understand how we are different:
Countless companies have tried to disrupt Craigslist and have failed--why is this different?
Aren’t you trying to do way too much?
We don't think so, but yes, it would definitely be too much if we were trying to do it all at once. In the long term, we plan to build a tool that can facilitate nearly all aspects of community life, but we will be introducing these features bit by bit. It may seem like a lot to tackle, but all the services we hope to provde are logically related and would really thrive together in the same space with so many people regularly interacting with them. Also, keep in mind that many of the services eventually available on Swidjit would be provided by third parties through our API.
Are you trying to compete with Facebook? Because that would be crazy...
Only in the smallest of ways. For the most part, the ways you use the two platforms are totally different. We are really only looking to provide users with an alternative with respect to events and groups, which we think often make much more sense on a public, local level. We also think we can provided a much more effective alternative for local businesses than Facebook's pages. But in general Facebook is a private social network and Swidjit is a public collaborative network.
Your plan seems way too big; are you delusional?
Possibly, although what you see as delusional, we see as visionary. We strongly believe that our future is headed towards this concept of a community operating system and we think we know just what that's going to look like. Right now the local-social-mobile landscape is moving towards a fractured future where our needs are served by hundreds of different tools . We want to instead cultivate an environment where these tools can thrive together in one place, to build a true community platform instead of a bunch of fragmented websites fighting to achieve critical mass. More than anything else, our society needs to find a different way of engaging with our resources and each other, and we are building a technology that can make that happen. Only time will tell whether we are brilliant or crazy...
Some Closing Thoughts...
1) Moving forward, as climate change, resource depletion, social injustice, and economic inequality intersect with technologies like 3D printing, social networks, collaborative consumption and mobile technology, we are headed towards a more connected, collaborative, and localized future. Swidjit is looking ahead and building a product that will serve as a mobile, social foundation for this next phase of society where we will increasingly need to rely on the resources around us.
2) Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple - arguably the 4 biggest tech giants of our time - were founded by people with no business experience. Don't underestimate the value of a passionate, dedicated, visionary, and resourceful founder in overcoming obstacles and recruiting other talented people to help out. Please keep that in mind when evaluating our team.