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:
The inefficiency of society precipitated by the erosion of communities [and the climate change, environmental depletion, and social injustice that have followed]
We all suffer so many missed chances, lost time, and wasted money due to our poor awareness of the resources & opportunities in our neighborhoods/apartments/dorms. Every day, hundreds of connections that might make life more convenient, affordable, or enjoyable pass by unseized becuase we are so hopelessly oblivious to what's around us. In many important ways, we know less about what's around us than people living thousands of years ago.
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).
Making money 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.
Location - We strongly believe that a community-based technology such as this really needs to be born from and developed in a particular place before spreading nationally or globally. And if there is one place where a collaborative medium such as Swidjit could become established, it’s Ithaca, NY (one of the most progressive/sustainable/local/educated cities in the US). Ithaca has the mindset, community infrastructure, and demographics to really embrace this new technology
Utility - Considering the numerous functions our platform can serve, we will have a lot to offer users. Many reasons to come, many reasons to stay.
Traction - Thus far we have logged around 500 registered users, and nearly 9000 unique visitor from the county. Those number may not sounds huge but tompkins county has roughly 60,000 internet users so that’s decent momentum for what is pretty much just a prototype of a product that is not being marketed.
Local Search - We also believe that we can perform very strongly in local search results which can provide a large boost in traffic and increased community visibility without incurring us any costs.
A Social Venture - Swidjit also gains considerable advantage from aligning with burgeoning evnironmental/economic/social movements trying to make this world a more just and sustainable place. In this capacity, we have found it a lot easier to find people willing to get involved and secure the resources we need to meet our goals.
Versatile & Scalable Technology - The innovative design of our platform allows it to be used in so many amazing, powerful ways which will make it a lot easier to introduce new features and encourage new behaviors as time passes. It is a very simple way of managing information yet it leads to all sorts of poweful applications.
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:
While their architecture and tools are similar, and they both serve as a virtual gathering place, the content, audience, and function of the two sites is totally different. Facebook is a place to hang out with friends while Swidjit is a place to discover the goods, services, events, information and ideas that will make your life easier. Facebook is about connecting to people you know well over photos and stories whereas Swidjit is about connecting to the general public over resources and information.
Facebook’s utility as a community operating system is severely limited by the lack of tools to organize information. Through tagging, community curation, custom content streams, and algorithms for determining relatedness/popularity/relevance, Swidjit will make it much easier for users to find the things that are important to them, and to keep track of them for the future.
Another significant difference between the two networks is the ability to interact with people you don’t know. In a sense, this is where Swidjit is more like Twitter. A public network will be much more effective for facilitating commerce and other community activities. Not being a member-only kind of utility like Facebook, Swidjit can provide a place that is inviting and useful for more people.
Lastly, Swidjit is local, community based whereas Facebook is a tool to connect with a global network. Again, this changes the way it can be used.
How is it different than Craigslist?
In a sense, Craigslist is our main competitor, so it’s important to understand how we are different:
Swidjit has social tools. We cannot overstate the power of this distinction as the social web allows for so many more possibilities when it comes to commerce, communication, collaboration and the other activities that facilitate community. That you cannot share, suggest, invite, comment or otherwise engage socially with content on Craigslist is a major problem.
Swidjit feels more like a real community hub. It is a public network where people will (mostly) use their real names and faces. It is a place where we can establish trust and reputation such that we can effectively buy, sell, share, trade, rent and otherwise network with people we don’t know. It aims to be an inviting, safe place, not the shady place Craigslist can sometimes be due to its low tech, anonymous interface.
By abandoning the limiting and antiquated notion of categories, and instead using techniques like tags, communities, curated lists and custom feeds to organize information, Swidjit will make it much easier to discover what you are looking for or to reach the audience you are trying to broadcast to. Again, one of Swidjit’s primary functions is to enable a community resource ecosystem that will make it easy to know what’s out there.
Swidjit will also develop advanced tools to facilitate aspects of the emerging collaborative/p2p economy. A lot of p2p transactions can happen with nothing more than simple listings, but other more complicated, new-market transactions will require more nuanced tools to make them work smoothly.
Lastly, we will serve a broader community role. Craigslist is used primarily for p2p selling/trading, housing, jobs, rides and personals. Swidjit will do all this (minus personals) while adding in all the other useful community functions we have discussed. Swidjit is also a place for local businesses, goverment and organizations.
Countless companies have tried to disrupt Craigslist and have failed--why is this different?
Everyone who tries this attempts to build a marketplace, a classifieds, or a directory or some sort - more of the same old idea. Swidjit represents a much more evolved and elegant way of connecting with people and resources that is informed by new media. Most previous attempts have failed partly because the products have not been sufficiently different or more functional.
Other efforts have not been so focused on getting it established in one place. We have the partnerships and momentum to make this happen in Ithaca, at which point we will be the first to demonstrate how much better life can be when a community moves beyond Craigslist.
Anyone hoping to displace an established powerhouse like Craigslist, is going to need a great product, great marketing and a great story to tell. As a social enterprise looking to disrupt globalization, restore communities and combat climate change, Swidjit is something to get excited about, something to rally around, a change worth making.
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.