15 Dec

Peoplegeist is, simply put, designed to make it easier to find information about people for the purpose of forming and maintaining stronger relationships.

We had a long and insightful chat with Mr. ‘Darian Wilson‘; Founder of the US (Washington)-based start-up “Peoplegeist”.

Peoplegeist” is a social people search engine that allows you to present your digital self to the world and interact with those who are most interested in you by adding your links and answering questions they send you.

Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Wilson’ regarding his start-up company “Peoplegeist”;

1. What is it exactly that you do and what “Peoplegeist” is all about?

It is a commonly held belief by those in the know that the information revolution will be won by those who can design the best filters to help people find and use all the data gathering in the cloud. At the same time, people around the world are increasingly using the Internet for two main purposes – one to form and maintain relationships and two to find information. Peoplegeist is, simply put, designed to make it easier to find information about people for the purpose of forming and maintaining stronger relationships.

2. When has “Peoplegeist” been founded? And what stage is “Peoplegeist” currently at?

The Peoplegeist team first came together in July 2012 when four partners decided to hire a developer to build the site. The first version was launched in October 2012. Another programmer was brought on-board in November 2012 and the current version went online in December 2012. Funding for the site came from the initial four partners, with less than $5,000 being invested in site development to date.

3. What is “Peoplegeist”s business model and how does it work?

We are operating as a 100% always free social media site at this time and we will never charge members for our basic services. As the community grows, we will perhaps experiment with a search result advertising system similar to Google or we may decide to charge for premium services above and beyond what is currently offered on the site for free. Bottom line is we created this site in an attempt to change the way people find and communicate with each other using social media. That will always be our primary focus, and we will look at possible revenue models as the community grows and tells us what it needs, wants and is willing to pay for.

4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?

The four initial partners have all never met in person, but are all tied together through the founder who knows each of them in either a personal and/or professional capacity. When it came time to hire developers, we conducted a very careful vetting process using online employment and freelance services. We are truly a global team with members in the U.S., Japan, Singapore and Brazil, and we are able to conduct all of our business using online communication and collaboration tools.

5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?

When you look closely at almost all of the most popular social media sites available today, the one thing that becomes very clear is that many of the “conversations” taking place online appear to be very one-sided. On Facebook, for example, someone will make a post. Another ten people will comment on the post. Then the next post will appear and all is forgotten and the group moves on. Let’s not even think about how someone following 30,000 people on Twitter could respond or even read all of those posts. Peoplegeist is designed to be more permanent, and uses a question-and-answer format to foster a better sense of real conversation and connection. It is also designed to be more permanent, and we hope that people will be able to go read your information on our site 10 years from now and still feel that it is relevant and useful to what they are seeking.

6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “Peoplegeist” achieved so far?

We are currently in private beta mode and are strictly controlling the number of new members we are allowing onto the site. From January 2013, we are going to slowly start increasing the number of members we allow on the site using a list of those who have applied for a private beta invitation. Significant milestones to date include development of the link sharing functionality, development of the question and answer functionality, and the launch of the private beta. The next major milestone will be going live, although we have not set an exact date for that to happen yet.

7. Who are your competitors? And what is “Peoplegeist”‘s competitive advantage over them?

We have “competitors” from a lot of different directions, but nobody is going about this in exactly the same as we are (at least not that we have found yet). From a personal branding perspective, About.me and BrandYourself.com are the two big players. Social Media obviously must include Facebook, Google+ and Microsoft’s new So.cl platform. For search there are a few to include Google and Bing. Our primary advantages are that we are free for all users and our results are user-generated, meaning the results and information you find on Peoplegeist should be a lot more relevant and easy to find than those on Google and Bing. We are also trying to be more than just a site in which you post what you had for breakfast or lunch, which in some ways gives us an edge over sites like Facebook and Twitter.

8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

The biggest obstacles we have faced to date have included deciding exactly which features to include on the platform and to resist feature creep. We will look at adding new features in the future, but only after we have been operating for a while and have had a chance to get good feedback from the user community. Another major obstacle we expect to face is getting attention on the site from a marketing perspective. We are a very small team with limited resources, and so will not have the option of throwing thousands of dollars at a monthly ad campaign. Instead, we are going to focus our time and energy on creating a positive user experience and taking care of the members that we do have so that they can help us spread the word to their friends and family.

9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?

People are slowly becoming more aware that they need to take an active hand in managing their personal brand online, and this should help us as that awareness grows. The concept of personal branding has been around for many years now, but the tools needed to manage a personal brand online are still pretty basic. Even though we are in the middle of an information revolution, many people think a simple one-page landing site with a few words on it is enough to properly brand themselves. We want to change that and give people bigger and better tools to get the job done.

10. Why are you going to succeed?

Since this concept of personal branding is still relatively new and the tools are still evolving, we feel that our greatest strength will continue to be flexibility and innovation. The need to properly brand oneself online is only going to increase in the future, and we are going to work hard to ensure that we are offering the right tool set to do so both easily, quickly and in a fun and effective way. We are going to also work hard from the beginning to establish and maintain a proper corporate culture that will allow us to continue to work in a fast, fun and efficient manner.

11. If “Peoplegeist” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?

If we are able to grow a viable community, and create and maintain a working revenue model, there are any number of areas that we could branch off into. The obvious are video and photo sharing as well as offering other unique communication tools. Obviously, being a small start-up means we can be fast and flexible, and one of the advantages we will want to maintain is having a few secrets up our sleeve to that we can roll out the next big thing before being noticed by the other big players.

12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “Peoplegeist” based on?

I recognize the importance of relationships and connections. As such, I have always wanted to try and launch a social media site. The problem has always been trying to find an idea that people would actually be interested in and want to use. I decided on going with the Peoplegeist concept after realizing that I might be able to make something more lasting with a site that members could actually build their digital legacy on. I also saw how ineffective the current tools were and that is what really sealed the deal for me.

13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?

There are always a zillion lessons to be learned with each start-up launch. In this case, I re-learned the importance of doing huge amounts of due diligence before the launch to make sure that I am not copying an idea that is already out there. I also continue to try and improve the way in which I communicate with and work with our programmers and other creative team members. It is virtually impossible to launch a start-up if you are not willing to put yourself into a learning mode.

14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?

Based on past experience, I think our biggest challenge will continue to be finding ways to market ourselves with a very limited marketing budget. People are very busy these days and, in my opinion, web habits are becoming increasingly ossified as time goes by. This means more and more potential customers will be spending an increasing amount of their online time on an ever-shrinking number of sites, and many users will be unwilling to try something new unless it is already big and getting bigger.

15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?

Peoplegeist offers numerous benefits to include allowing members to post all their links in one place, ask and answer questions together with other members at any time, control how they appear in online search results, and leave a digital legacy that will potentially last for many years into the future.

16. How did customers / users find out about you?

Up to this point we have not actively been seeking new members. We launched in Private Beta in December 2012 and will be taking applications for that for the next few months. We hope that at some point the site will begin to grow organically as users share their profiles and ask and answer questions with each other. We know it can be long and difficult to achieve this kind of growth, but we are going into it with open eyes and a willingness to work hard to make it happen.

17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?

As we have been in test mode until very recently, all of our current members are partners, friends and family. Eventually we hope to attract the same base of members that might be attracted to a site such as Linkedin. We are looking for digital professionals, marketing and advertising pros, freelancers, artists and others to help us grow our user base.

18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?

We initially intend to work with Linkedin Groups to help spread the word about our site, but will also be careful not to be spammy. Meaning we won’t talk directly about the site, but will instead participate in the discussions and let people find us in their own time. We will also use all the usual tools such as article marketing, social media marketing, directory submissions, other white-hat seo techniques, etc. The fact that we are free and are offering a service that potential users have not seen yet will be what we use to entice new users into trying us out.

19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?

Feedback to date has been minimal, but initial comments seem to show that members enjoy being able to interact with each other using our question and answer function. Others have said they really like the fact that they can build a digital legacy on the site, and that it will still be potentially relevant for many years into the future.

20. How are you going to scale?

I have started a few other sites in the recent past, with at least one of those reaching more than 10,000+ members so far. For better or worse, that is as much as I have had to scale to date. I have read a lot about how important it is to plan for scaling from the beginning, but I would be less than truthful if I made any grand claims on this matter. As this is an online business and content will be almost 100 percent user-generated, we will focus on scaling the platform as that becomes necessary. I understand this might not be the most efficient way to proceed, but we need to see if our idea and platform are viable before we start spending scarce resources on a future that may never arrive.

21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?

This is, of course, the big question that we are constantly asking ourselves. The fact that we are just now opening the site to a few select beta testers means that we do not know for certain what the answer to that question will be. We do know that as a small and flexible start-up, we will need to listen to our members and community in general, so that when they do tell us what is missing from the site we will be ready to provide it before somebody else beats us to the punch.

22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?

We have already built and tested our site to ensure that it works properly in other languages and other character sets. As such, we are looking forward to having users from different countries use our service and help spread it around the globe. We do not yet see a need to set up shop in other countries, but will of course be willing to look at that in the future if the need arises.

23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?

As with any Social Media site, bigger is almost always going to be better. If people visit our site, understand what we are trying to offer, and decide to use the site because they like the services we offer then there is no reason that we could not grow to be as big as a site such as Linkedin. If, after some time, we do not see the growth that we are hoping for, then we will look at the site again and continue to tweak it until we are able to offer something to entice new users in.

24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?

We are currently not looking to grow our workforce. If the site continues to grow and we are able to generate revenue at some point in the future, then we will re-look at what our staffing needs might be.

If there are people out there who love the idea of Peoplegeist and would like to join our team as volunteer community moderators, we would be very happy to discuss that as an option.

25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?

We are currently self-sustainable and so are not actively seeking investment for this project. If we were to be approached by an investor, we would look closely at not only the financial resources available, but also the background and experience of the investment partner. We would want to partner with somebody who could also offer experience, ideas and contacts and who agreed with our vision and corporate culture. All of these things would be as important as any monetary investment.

26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?

Do your homework. Know the market and know the competitors. Set realistic goals for yourself and the team. Listen to what your distractors say but don’t take it as gospel. Create a corporate culture early in the game and stick to it. Pace yourself. Don’t get discouraged. Know when to pull the plug. Enjoy the ride!

27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Peoplegeist is a mix and mash of Google, myLife, About.me, Delicious, Facebook and Linkedin, but it is also more. Peoplegeist lets you present yourself to the world the way you want to and on your terms. WIth Facebook and Twitter you only see people’s updates. On Youtube you only see their videos. On Flickr and Pinterest you only see their photos. On Delicious you only see their bookmarks… On Peoplegeist you see it all and you see it all in one place! That is the main power of Peoplegeist and I hope people will come check us and kick the tires a bit. You can also visit my personal Peoplegeist profile here to learn more or ask me any questions you may have: http://www.peoplegeist.com/darianleewilson1.htm

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