At Genlighten, we’ve tried to take the 37Signals approach towards our competitors:
People sometimes ask us how much we look at the competition. The answer: not much. We can’t control what they do. We can control what we do. So we focus on that.
Still, when I first heard about Ancestry’s plans to debut ExpertConnect just a few months before our beta launch in 2009, my stomach experienced one of those roller-coaster drops that tend to characterize startup life.
Now a year and a half later, ExpertConnect is shutting down. When I saw Ancestry’s e-mail in my inbox yesterday, I went through three reactions in rapid succession:
- Cool, the 800-pound gorilla has left our market… we don’t have to compete with them anymore!
- Uh-oh. If they can’t make this business work, how can we expect to?
- Darn… I wish all our marvelous new features were ready to go right now!
Now that we’ve had a little time to process it, here’s our “official” response to Ancestry’s announcement:
To our current clients and providers:
- Genlighten will continue to serve you in the months and years ahead. We’ve heard your feedback and we’re working hard to implement the improvements and new features you’ve asked for.
- Our next release is currently targeted for the end of June. We’ll be inviting some of you to test the new version beginning in March or April. You’ll see an upgraded homepage, simplified navigation, a brand-new search capability, internal messaging, and an overall higher level of fit and finish.
To ExpertConnect users considering switching to Genlighten:
- We’d love to tell you that we’re ready right now to step in and completely fill the void left by ExpertConnect’s departure. We’re not. But we expect to be there soon.
- When we first launched, we focused Genlighten on offline record lookups rather than hourly research in order to differentiate ourselves somewhat from Ancestry. In response to client and provider requests, we are now revising our strategy. We plan to fully embrace high-end professional research offerings and online searches in addition to document retrieval and record lookups.
- By joining us now, you’ll have the opportunity to exert a significant influence on the direction we take in response to ExpertConnect’s closure. We’d love to get your help in making Genlighten all you’d like it to be.
Our next release
When our new release is launched this summer, we plan to offer both new and existing users the baseline functionality ExpertConnect had, plus:
- a flexible and customizable storefront interface optimized for client discovery and frictionless e-commerce.
- no one-year “lock-in” of clients you acquire through Genlighten
- active social media marketing of your profile and service listings
- tools to let you promote your presence on Genlighten via your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Adwords and more
- analytics to help you understand how to draw more traffic to your offerings.
- search-optimized research tools for localities and repositories that will attract visitors to the site and spotlight our providers to prospective customers.
How we plan to succeed
Genlighten lacks Ancestry’s global reach, brand awareness, massive staff and financial backing. Still, size and strength apparently weren’t enough to make ExpertConnect “a winner“. [Note the first comment to that linked post on Dick Eastman's blog. It's a particular favorite of mine!]
We think there are some advantages to our small size that will keep us from getting “blown out of the water.” For one thing, we don’t need to make anywhere near as much money as Ancestry required to justify ExpertConnect’s existence. We’re completely bootstrapped, with no institutional investors, so we’re quite content to be a “lifestyle business.” At the same time, Genlighten is our core product, not an add-on to a much larger offering, so you can expect us to be focused on it for the long term. And there’s another upside to our small size: when you call us on the phone or e-mail us, you’re connecting directly with our founding team.
As you can imagine, this is an exciting time for our little startup. We hope you’ll share it with us! If this is your first time here, please explore the site and contact us with your questions and suggestions. If you’ve been with Genlighten for a while, please help us spread the word to your fellow genealogists. Either way, Thank you for your interest and support!