Posts Tagged ‘genealogy societies’

Three great questions about Genlighten

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, we’ve sent e-mail to about 760 local genealogical societies over the past week, inviting them to partner with Genlighten and to encourage their volunteers to offer lookups through our site.

One of these societies sent me a reply yesterday that went something like this:

“Our society met today to talk about your proposal. We have a few questions:

1. How much do you suggest we charge? [for lookups they would offer on our site]

2. Is there a contract you expect us to sign, and if so, what’s in it?

3. If we try offering lookups through you for a while and decide we don’t want to anymore, how easy is it for us to stop?”

I was thrilled to get this message. First off, it’s hugely gratifying that someone in our target audience has taken the time to seriously consider what we have to offer. Second, the questions they’ve asked tell me they’re giving real thought to what sort of business relationship they want to have with us. In other words, they’ve readily grasped our business concept and they’ve moved on from there to ponder the risks and contingencies of adoption.

Here’s how I answered them.

Suggested Fees

We don’t really have a proposed fee schedule. Our goal is to let providers set the fees that make sense for them (inclusive of all expenses) and let the market take care of things from there. However, as a rule of thumb, we’d like to see most individual document searches come in between $10 and $20. If it’s still worth it to you to do them for less, all the better, but many potential providers have made us aware of the growing costs of copies, gas, parking and just about everything else.

Is there a contract that you want us to sign?

Just the terms of service for the site. Our attorney helped us draft these, and they will likely undergo some changes as more people sign up and various issues arise. Let us know if you have any concerns about any of the things you read there… at this early stage, we would definitely try to respond to any feedback you have regarding our terms.

One thing our terms of use address is the concern that providers might register with the site, attract customers, then encourage those customers to go directly to them and bypass our site. Ultimately we can’t really prevent that, but the terms basically ask that providers not solicit our customers to go elsewhere for lookups. Hopefully that’s not overly constraining for you.

If things don’t work out, how do we discontinue our relationship?

Your society members can simply delete their lookup offerings from the site at any time. We’ll eventually include a “remove my membership” option on the profile page so they can remove their personal info as well.

On a related note, if your members want to offer lookups but need to go “on vacation” for a while occasionally, they can simply change the status of their lookup offering from “active” to “on vacation”. All the info will remain saved, but the lookup offerings won’t appear in users’ search results.

To me, these kinds of interactions with our potential partners are tremendously helpful. One of the most frequent pieces of advice I’ve heard from more experienced entrepreneurs is how important it is to be teachable and willing to adapt and iterate the strategy of a new business in response to customer (and partner) feedback. That’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to being able to do at Genlighten. It looks like the fun is just beginning!

Reaching out to genealogical & historical societies — early results

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

It’s been a heads-down week here at, with pretty much every spare moment devoted to trying to recruit more genealogy researchers to our lookup provider network. Beginning last Saturday night, we began composing and sending out individual e-mails to around 760 genealogical societies in the US and Canada. Our basic pitch was simple. It boiled down to:

“We’re building an e-commerce platform dedicated to making it simple to offer fee-based genealogy lookups. If your volunteers sign up to provide lookups through our site on behalf of your society, we’ll return 90% of the fees they earn to you. In return for our 10% commission, we’ll handle payment processing, tracking of incoming lookups, communication between client and provider, etc..”

The last of the e-mails went out last night. Here are some stats we’ve gathered thus far:

  • Number of messages sent out: 759
  • E-mail addresses that bounced: 68
  • Societies that weren’t interested: 5
  • Societies considering our site: 15

Those numbers definitely tell a story, though I’m not sure yet exactly what it is. Here are some preliminary reactions:

  • The bounced addresses all came from sites that I’ve visited within the last several months. Admittedly, some said they hadn’t been updated since 2001(!) so I anticipated plenty of undelivered messages. But it’s still kind of jarring to think that almost 10% of county genealogical sites that currently exist aren’t being actively maintained.
  • Several of the societies that wrote back to say they weren’t interested explained, in polite terms, that they were philosophically opposed to charging for lookups as a source of revenue. That’s a sentiment I both understand and respect. Only one message thus far had any hint of “we’re morally above any such thing.”
  • Many of the interested respondents indicated that they’d need to consult their society’s board of directors before proceeding. That certainly makes sense. But it hadn’t dawned on me that it might be a while before they would next meet. So perhaps some of those “no response” societies will meet and get back to me over the next month or so.

All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic about these results.  Now that we’ve made an initial effort to inform genealogical societies about our online lookup marketplace, we plan to expand our recruiting efforts to encompass an even broader potential audience.  This coming week, we’ll be reaching out to APG members and other fee-based genealogy researchers who we’ve learned about through exhaustive web searches.  Wish us luck!