Posts Tagged ‘recruiting providers’

Build Something For Yourself

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I’m not a natural at networking. In fact, I find it pretty painful. But I know I need to do it, so I do. And sometimes it pays off.

Genlighten and “Getting Real”

jason_friedLast night I attended the Chicago Tech Meetup at OfficePort in Chicago. Jason Fried (of 37Signals fame) was the keynote speaker. Jason had plenty of cool stuff to say to the crowd of startup entrepreneurs, both the real ones (like Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon) and the simply aspirational (like me). Most of Jason’s advice was familiar to those in attendance who’d already read Getting Real, 37Signals’ manifesto on building a successful web application, or who follow Signal vs. Noise, their exemplary blog.

As Jason rattled off his key doctrines, I mentally checked off which of them Genlighten was adhering to:

  • Bootstrap… start building your product on the side while keeping your day job (check)
  • Charge for your product right away (check)
  • Don’t be afraid to hire non-local people and let them work remotely (check)
  • Don’t take VC money too early (check… though to be honest, we’ve never been offered any)

And then, in answer to an audience question, he said something like this:

Build something you would use yourself, whether or not anyone else ever does.

That one made me pause and ponder for a while. Does Genlighten fit that criterion? Jason was of course referring to Basecamp, the simple yet powerful project-management application that 37Signals built for itself before eventually selling it to others. But Genlighten isn’t like Basecamp.

The Chicken-Egg Problem

Here’s why. Basecamp was tremendously useful from day one. But Genlighten doesn’t start to be that useful until a certain amount of lookup providers sign up and offer their services. And to attract providers, we need clients, who in turn our unlikely to use the site if they don’t see lots of providers. That’s the Chicken-Egg problem. Or, putting a more optimistic spin on things, Genlighten gets better each time a new provider posts a new lookup offering. That’s an example of a Network Effect. Many startups have to climb this hill before they can really take off (think Facebook or Twitter) and we’re no exception.

Eating Our Own Dogfood

On the other hand, we do meet Jason’s criterion: Genlighten has already made my wife’s lookup business easier to manage, and we’ve both used Genlighten to further our own research. For example, we’ve ordered German translations from one of our providers, and Massachusetts death records from another. And with recently-joined providers now offering Maine and New York City lookups, we’ll be submitting more requests in the near future.

But sometimes, I find myself wishing I could just wave a magic wand and suddenly have providers for every county and country.

An Obituary for John Harper Reed

This brings me to this evening’s experience. I attended yet another startup-oriented meetup tonight, this one a casual get-together of Hacker News fans. As I made my way towards the long table set up for us in the back room at the Hop Haus in Chicago, I immediately recognized Harper Reed, the iconic former CTO of local startup success story Threadless. Harper is that rare web celebrity that lives up to his advance billing. I gratefully took a seat across the table from him.

We’ve talked briefly about Genlighten before, but this time Harper volunteered a query. Growing up, his parents had mentioned that he’d been named after an “uncle” from Colorado who had (so the story went) died in a car crash. Could Genlighten help him find out whether the story was true and how the two were really related?

As soon as I got home from the meetup, my wife and I went to work. A simple Ancestry search returned two Harper Reeds who died in Colorado. A USGenWeb site listed a John Harper Reed buried in an Evergreen cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado. To produce a quick happy dance, we’d need an obituary mentioning a car crash. The obvious sources did not immediately produce one online.

Could Genlighten help? Tonight, unfortunately, no. We don’t yet have any providers for Colorado. They’re out there, I’m sure, but we haven’t successfully recruited them yet.

You Can Help Us Leave Our “Chicken-and-Egg Problem” Behind

To fulfill Jason Fried’s mandate more completely, we’re going to have to work long and hard to build out our provider base. We’re trying to do that every single day. And we’d appreciate your help.

Please take a look at the states where we still have yet to recruit at least one provider. If you know someone in one of those states who knows their local records well, has the time and inclination to retrieve them, and is interested in getting paid to do so, please put them in contact with us. Especially if they can retrieve El Paso County Colorado obituaries. Thanks!

Signing Up for Genlighten’s Provider Beta

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

We’ve seen a nice spike in traffic to the last few weeks. The combination of our brief AdWords experiment, last week’s NGS conference, and a mention on Diane Haddad’s Genealogy Insider blog gave us some of the highest one-day unique visitor totals we’ve ever had.

Even better, as part of the traffic surge, a bunch of potential lookup providers have signed on for our upcoming private beta. I’ve been impressed with the experience and expertise these individuals can bring to Genlighten. Here’s a sample:

  • a genealogist with access to extensive records in Pittsburgh / Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
  • a researcher specializing in African American research, Indianapolis records, and Indiana cemeteries
  • a published family historian with 20 years experience and expertise with court records and probate records from Guilford County, North Carolina.

We hope to show them and the hundreds of others who have signed up to be Genlighten providers that we’re building something they’ll be proud to be part of.

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!