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Genlighten: we’re kinda like “x” for “y”

Posted On: August 23rd, 2008 | Posted by: Dean


I love it when someone at a genealogy conference stops by our exhibit booth and says “So, what exactly is Genlighten?” (usually while unwrapping a chocolate from our candy bowl). As you can imagine, I’ve given lots of different answers to that question over the past year.

How I answer the question “What does your site do?”

An example: I often tell a story about wanting to get an obituary for one of my ancestors from Jefferson County, New York and how nice it would be to find a local researcher in Theresa or Watertown who could track it down for me. “Genlighten helps you do that,” I say.

But most of the time I try to get out a simple, succinct “elevator pitch” — something like:

“We’re an Internet-enabled, human-powered search and retrieval network for genealogical documents;” or

“We connect you with local researchers who can help you find the genealogical records you’re looking for.”

Sometimes people get the concept right off, but often they don’t. They seem to need something to mentally compare us to… an existing business concept that they already grasp.

A “high concept” startup

Over time, I’ve tried to improve on our elevator pitches and craft a phrase positioning Genlighten as what Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners calls a “high concept startup“. That’s where you describe your business model using an analogy to an existing business that people already know well. The best I’ve come up with in this vein is probably:

“We’re kinda like eBay for genealogy document retrieval services.”

But there are several problems with that one. First, not everyone likes eBay, particularly lately. Also, Genlighten isn’t focused on bidding or auctions of genealogical services, so the analogy doesn’t really hold that well. Plus, at least one other genealogy-oriented startup is now using the eBay analogy — and it fits them better.

When I learned about Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade-crafts, I tried saying “We’re kinda like Etsy for genealogy lookups”, but few inside the genealogy community seemed to get the reference.

Tapping the wisdom of our exhibit booth visitors

On more than one occasion, visitors to the booth have come up with their own high-concept pitch for us. I heard it again a few nights ago at the IAJGS Conference here in Chicago:

“So, you’re kinda like Random Acts, only you’re not free.”

This one made me cringe the first time I heard it, at the FGS meeting in Ft. Wayne, Indiana over a year ago. It still does a little, though it’s actually starting to grow on me with time. It’s true, we are a little like Random Acts — we help you find people who can find genealogical records — and it’s also true that we’re not free. But we differ from Random Acts in several highly important ways, and those differences are part of why we feel justified charging for our services.

How is Genlighten different from Random Acts?

If you’re not already familiar with it, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) is a marvelous website that lists volunteers willing to perform genealogical lookups for free (or for just the cost of copies or gas). It embodies the spirit of volunteerism that powers much of the genealogical community: researchers help other researchers without expecting to be paid for their time.

I’m always honored to be compared to RAOGK, but of course our business model is significantly different than theirs! We want to help lookup providers get paid for their time and expertise (not just their expenses) in retrieving genealogy documents. And we aim to make money ourselves in return for the service our site provides. I discussed our “value proposition” in an earlier post. Here are some specific ways I think Genlighten will be different from RAOGK — different, that is, in a good way:

  • We’ll provide a simple way to enable messaging back and forth between lookup clients and providers without the need to exchange e-mail or regular mail addresses. This should enhance privacy and security and help minimize spam.
  • Each of our providers will have the chance to create a profile describing their genealogy background and experience so clients can make an informed choice when competing providers are available in a given area.
  • When providers are out of town or on vacation, they’ll be able to temporarily put their lookup offerings on hold. That way, clients won’t have to wait for weeks wondering why they haven’t gotten a response to their lookup requests.
  • The site will provide an online payment interface with state-of-the-art security, allowing clients to order lookups conveniently using credit cards or electronic checks.
  • Providers will deliver the documents they find by uploading scanned digital images to our site. Clients can then download the the documents they ordered immediately without having to wait for them to come in the mail.
  • Clients will be able to rate and review each of our providers based on their reliability, responsiveness, and customer service.
  • The combination of client ratings, researcher profiles, and fees set by the providers will create a strong sense of accountability that will allow our users to order lookups from our providers with confidence.

Still in search of the right analogy

So we’re not really like eBay, and we differ in important ways from RAOGK, and we’re a little like Etsy but that probably doesn’t mean much to you. What then is our ideal high-concept elevator pitch? As you probably guessed right from the start of this post, I’m still working on it. And I’d welcome any suggestions that readers of this blog might have.

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