Sharing Economy + Genealogy

This is a very exciting time to be involved with technology. Specifically in applications and mobile computing. We’ve seen in the last five years several, multi billion dollar companies be founded that have changed entire industries, all around what they are calling a Sharing Economy — a type of business model built on the sharing of resources — which we have only begun to see the potential of.

As humans it is in our DNA to share our goods, services and knowledge, when we are able. It could be said that the first real sharing economies were based around the collaborative consumption model that occurred in the early days of the internet.(ex. Craigslist, Ebay, Krrb) We now have seen a evolution in that to a lending model or temporary service, rather than the exchange of an object simply for money. Some believe that: “this emerging sharing economy has come about because society has collectively arrived at a more altruistic place in our evolution”. Which by explanation could be the case. Whatever the philosophical we are seeing the benefits, ranging anywhere from individuals making money, connivence, relationships being formed, competitive pricing, and entirely new disruptive models. It’s no question if we look at the leading sharing economy services they have helped us.

Motivation & Concepts

As of yesterday we heard the big announcement of a partnership between two very reputable billion dollar companies in Silicon Valley. Snapchat, founded by Evan Spiegel and Square, founded by Jack Dorsey decided to partner up by including in one of the most powerful messaging apps of all time, a payment method designed for peer-to-peer exchange. There is a lot to be learned from this. We’ve already seen, in the last two years, Facebook, Twitter and Apple jump aboard the payment train, including in their services the ability to exchange money and purchase within their application. Why are the leading technology companies moving in this direction? Simply stated, it works and we (as users) love it. I don’t believe we have yet seen the full potential of smooth peer-to-peer payments and the future holds much to be discovered. We have seen the Sharing Economy change and innovate a lot of consumer product markets but what about B2B, and service based industries? How can we better adapt our current thinking to this idea of lending/sharing?

Regarding the principles themselves, I do believe they are innovative and revolutionary but, we could view this shift comparable to the move from individuals and businesses owning software to the SaaS model — which a lot of startup companies capitalized on — that recently caused markets to adjust and adapt and gave way for new break through competitors. It’s most certainly something to be mindful of as you develop business models and structure applications and the UX.

Our Vision

As for the genealogy industry we’ve yet to see anyone execute such a model. It was well over a year ago, in the early ideation days of AncestorCloud I had an idea for implementing a peer-to-peer solving system that would enable genealogists to help each other overcome research brick walls together and for the individual solving the problem to be compensated for their efforts, in a sharing of services economy. You nearly every single genealogist has one problem, most have the same problem multiple times on different lines. They call it a “brick wall”. A brick wall is when you get stuck in a certain line of research and can’t continue because of some limitation, or lack of understanding. The nice part about this problem is that you are almost guaranteed that someone else out there knows the area better, or has research that issue before or may just better understand the culture or time period. This in turn, means that nearly every brick wall that a genealogist has can be solved by someone else. The problem, is nobody has connected them in a way that is motivating and engaging to allow people to help people (like discussed in the sharing economies).

I set out to do this and immediately became very interested in the different models for crowdsourcing information and facilitating positive peer-to-peer user experiences. As I learned the more it became clear that to accomplish the big vision of a social genealogy platform we were going to need a Q&A type environment where users could post a brick wall job/query and then incentivize others to solve their research problems — problems around direction, translation, advice, record retrieval and lookup — for a price. It would benefit the poster of a query by allowing them to overcome a brick wall that has pained them for some time and it would help the amateur researcher apply their expertise, whatever they may be to help a fellow researcher and be compensated for their time. This, in theory, would solve the motivation behind the giving up of your time to help another and is a much more affordable alternative to hiring an expensive professional genealogist to solve those problems.

Our Focus

With my idea now in the queue (along with many others) we continued to build out what we believed can and will be a great product offering. A SoundCloud like model for sharing and showcasing genealogical files and documents. We soon found we bit off more than we can chew — which I hope is common among first time tech entrepreneurs — and didn’t spend enough time developing in the open and listening to users. The product is and continues to be a useful solution for a lot of people who use it weekly to share with family and friends what they finding, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering if what we currently had was something every single genealogist would use.

As a creator of product you want to make a difference and build something EVERY single person in your target demographic will use. Frankly put, in today’s competitive landscape you have no other choice. Today, we have the most brilliant minds working in sync to create habit forming, well designed products and are giving them away for free. That is what we are used to as consumers and as businesses with modern SaaS models we expect more and plan to pay less upfront. Because of this if you ever want to break through in a space you have to do something nobody else is doing, or solve a problem most people don’t consciously know they have, otherwise someone else has probably already solved it. We knew this wasn’t the case with our current product. At least in the state it was in.

Lesson Learned

You always hear about The Lean Startup principles and how imperative they are to every companies success and or failure. We certainly believed them, and did what we knew to apply those. However, there is a difference between having a knowledge of a principle or concept and having an understanding. An understanding a principle in business (and life for that matter) usually can only come from experience. We can have a knowledge and talk all day with VC’s about Lean Startup principles and things we are doing to apply those in our efforts, but any experienced individual who truly understands those principles can testify that understanding leads to results and will yield fruit if one is adhering to this specific startup doctrine.

AC had gotten to the point where I was beginning to really understand what it meant to be lean and build in the open, to ask the hard questions to early users and really listen to what they were saying and why. Because of mental transition I was able to step back, with the help of a new technical co-founder and review what wanted to do and what we had done and make decisions based on the principles learned from succeeding startups. We listed everything on the board, all of our options. We listed what we were focusing on and how it could play out and every option moving forward in the future. There were 8+ ideas written out, and we ranked them based on their potential to generate revenue and the technical resources required to execute. Because I had stepped back and accepted that maybe I didn’t do everything right up until this point we were able to make a crucial business decision for the future of AC.

Our Prototype

The decision to change would be an all or nothing choice. It was either to continue and bank on what we felt would work for the past twelve months, or take the chance of losing all of the current brand reputation we had built and risk it all for this new concept. We chose the latter, based on a lot of reasoning and discussion. Quite honestly a lot of the decision was gut. Which historically has worked for many leaders and myself personally most of my life. The change meant doing a lot in a very short amount of time, but we couldn’t have believed in it more. This time around I subconsciously began to apply principles that I now understood I knew would minimize the risk and allow us to be most productive in our product development. For some reason this now was natural for me because of the time crunch, the risk and pressure of the situation. I’m not inferring those were the reasons we weren’t “lean” before but certainly must have played a role in it.

That first Wednesday we decided to do this I spent the night making sure our assumptions about the competition were correct and validating what I had stated so confidently in our discussion regarding the current solutions available. It was all spot on. The next day I designed, high fidelity wireframes, that allowed me to see a visual of what we had conceptually created the day before. Some people have shared their thoughts on low versus high fidelity wire frames. I’m a fan of high, why? Because with some of the tools today (Skitch etc.) it really doesn’t take that much longer to create visual designs. I knew if I were to paint the picture quickly for potential users it would have to have some degree of good design. Friday, out of instinct (again I had never done this prior) I immediately began setting up calls and meetings with potential users.

To my surprise and with a new approach I was able to get meetings and calls with individuals who I otherwise should not have. My approach was simple, thank them for helping us out, compliment their intelligence and expertise in the space, and then humbly ask for their valued opinion on something that could potentially impact a lot of people. My first call was setup that afternoon followed by a meeting at the office of professional genealogist thirty minutes away. Saturday I was able to have two more calls and setup a meeting was for Monday at 8am. After every meeting or call I had validation or rejection on our user story theories. In between each of these events I would hustle to change, alter and add to the designs. In the six days from the idea to now we had gotten hours worth of advice from the most expert of opinions and completely validated and refined a pretty worthwhile product offering. This confirmed all that we had speculated and had each one say confidently, yes I would put money into this system.

Off to the Races

Knowing what I know now (i.e. understanding), it’s very clear how the next two and a half months will play out. We will continue to talk with on average at least one user a day to get really get a feel for what they want and we will put our heads down the rest of the day and build. I’m confident we could do it in a shorter amount of time but we will have to juggle the holidays, family and a few of our part time team members will have finals. That being said, I’m pleased with the road map we have laid out and the plans to execute in a relatively short amount of time.

The launch of project “Astrocat” which has yet to be officially named, will enable genealogists and beginners to solve problems together in a fun interactive environment and get paid for their efforts. We’ve chosen the path to gamify genealogy and enable collaboration, problem solving and peer-to-peer money exchange because we know that is something NOBODY is doing, that EVERYBODY can benefit from. This wasn’t an easy week for me. Accepting the pivot and late caffeinated nights alone at my computer banging my head over UX but we’ve now got a clear vision and can see validated profits from our very first users in the next 60 days. Something a lot of startups can’t say. We look forward to the end of this rigorous prototyping and have hopes that from a sharing of services, and peer-to-peer money driven approach, we can make a difference in the way people research their family history. 

 
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