No Picket Fence: a network for entrepreneurs
SA start-up No Picket Fence is an online support network for entrepreneurs. It hopes to allow business people to tap into experts’ knowledge. By Craig Wilson.
No Picket Fence was established to connect experienced and would-be entrepreneurs to share information and expertise. The service creates a network of like-minded individuals and helps to develop SA’s entrepreneurial talent by providing them with insights from those who have already succeeded, or failed, in various start-up ventures.
Aimed squarely at South Africans, No Picket Fence acts like a forum, allowing users to post questions and encouraging “experts” to offer suitable answers. Users can rank the quality of answers, with those who regularly provide useful information given “expert” status for particular categories. Users can also create “storyboards” of images and video.
The service is loosely based on US site Quora, started by former Facebook chief technology officer Adam D’Angelo in 2010.
Founded by Michael Bouchier and Michael Cowen, No Picket Fence was launched in April and now has almost 1 000 users, despite still being in “beta”. “Collectively, business owners have invaluable insights and knowledge that they are willing to share among their counterparts,” says Bouchier. He says experts also benefit by becoming a credible resource to others.
Entities like Property Point — the enterprise development arm of Futuregrowth — SA incubator company Raizcorp, and the Silicon Cape project are some of the site’s early supporters.
Cowen and Bouchier, both 44, met when they discovered last year they had similar word-of-mouth marketing companies. “We were both working on the same thing and then decided to merge,” says Bouchier.
The pair now focuses on building communities around people’s niche interests. “People like to associate with people like them.” Bouchier says SA is full of entrepreneurial activity and “most job creation comes out of small businesses”. He says it’s important to provide resources for people looking to start businesses. “[No Picket Fence] is about sharing knowledge, insights and connections.”
The service includes the ability to share questions to social networks and breaks down its content into various topic headings, including branding, research and advertising. “It’s a peer review site,” he explains, “so the best answers are voted up and the people who provide them are seen as more credible and as experts in their respective fields.”
Those willing to provide answers can get notified via e-mail when a new question in a category of interest is posted. Similarly, any user can follow a question and the answers that follow using e-mail notifications.
“When we looked at different forums, we wanted to prevent the site from becoming heavy with moaning sessions or filled with petty arguments. As a result, answers are standalone to the actual questions, and these can in turn be commented on,” Bouchier says.
“At first all of that activity is hidden, so users will see a question and the best answers, but can also delve deeper into the answers, should they wish to.”
No Picket Fence has a local rival in the form of BusinessMasters, but Bouchier says his company doesn’t mind competition and that with any such service the quality of the content is the most important aspect.
“We moderate the service quite closely,” he says. “The quality of questions will determine the quality of answers. We’re seeing people coming in and giving of themselves, their knowledge and their time. There’s an element of giving back with the service, and of course there’s also an element of ego, but as long as these result in good content we’re doing something right.”
The website will run numerous Google+ Hangouts, or group video discussions, with well-known entrepreneurs in coming months. The first of these happens on Thursday with Yola.com founder and SA expatriate, Vinny Lingham.
Bouchier says the name of the service stems from the idea that the whole “American dream” has changed forever. “Modern business isn’t about reaching a point where you can have two-and-a-half kids, a dog and a retirement fund anymore. The paradigm has changed. People need to adapt accordingly.”
No Picket Fence is just one of a number of current and future niche community services that Bouchier and Cowen’s company BrandSocial intend to launch.
They’ve recently released another, international community website aimed at cyclists called Cycle Diari, and another aimed at horticulturists is coming soon.
A self-funded service, No Picket Fence is monetised using Google advertisements, but the company hopes to make money from its other niche communities through advertising and sponsorships. Bouchier says niche communities allow for targeted advertising and there is potential for particular companies to sponsor specific topics or categories and receive brand promotion in exchange. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media