Archive for Social Ventures

Zazengo and the Social Resume

Last month around the inauguration of President Obama – and the day of the service centered on the celebration of Dr. King’s life  –  there was a ton of focus on creating a lasting online movement for citizen-powered change. As the economic crisis deepens and the new Administration deals with that challenge on a day-to-day basis, some of that January enthusiasm has been tempered by the reality of February – but during a recent conversation with the CEO of online social venture Zazengo.com brought back a bit of last month’s spark.

“This concept of challenging others, of making people do something, of a very focused call to action – that’s a big part of this call for national community service,” said Vicki Saunders, a serial entrepreneur and chief of the two-year-old online social change platform.

I think Vicki is exactly right, and that there’s an opportunity – even in the downturn – to create that “focused call to action” on the Web. And Zazengo is a very interesting platform: its motto is “What happens after the call to action?” and the emphasis is very much on impact. In Zazengo’s case, impact of members – in volunteering, raising money, taking actions and the like – is measured through a handsome user interface that favors graphs over pure numbers. This recognizes, I think, the idea that activism isn’t always about pure metrics (dollars raised, for example) but about impact over the longer term. Zazengo’s cool graphics offer a kind of friendly and light feedback loop that emphasizes encouragement over spreadsheets.

But Zazengo is also highly cognizant that the world may not need another destination website, with actions focused on a single URL. “People looking at destination sites, but that’s old thinking,” says Saunders. “It’s really all about getting your unique value proposition out to other sites, to where people live. We really want to be about tracking the impact.”

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Telling the Story with Short-Form Video

I’m incredibly impressed by this accessible video produced by Lend4Health, a new peer-to-peer microlending startup aimed at helping struggling families provide live-changing treatment for children with autism. Why? Flat out: it tells a story. I’m a total sucker for effective case-making for causes – it’s what I work on professionally, and I really care about folks doing it well. Kudos to Lend4Health on this…wish I’d had it for the book. And thanks to Christine Egger at Social Actions for the tip. Here’s the skinny of the model from founder Tori Tuncan:

Lend4Health facilitates community-based, interest-free “micro-loans” as a creative funding option for individuals seeking optimal health. Currently, Lend4Health is facilitating loans for the “biomedical” treatment of children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Other health issues may be included on Lend4Health in the future.

And Lend4Health is competing to win $10,000 on IdeaBlob this month – pledge your vote here.

That Start-Up Vision Thing

I found a remarkably honest post from the founder of The Point, Andrew Mason, over at GigaOm. The Point helps people start and run campaigns and is one of many growing platforms in the busy online social activism sector. Andrew’s post is a great one for any social entrepreneur to key in on, but I was struck by this bit of practical history:

In our case, we spent nine months developing extra features to accommodate our grand vision instead of focusing on what our users would really need. This cost us precious time, delaying our launch, originally planned for June 2007, to November of that year. Even after launch, the costs lingered — maintaining the extraneous features was a time-consuming distraction from improving the parts of The Point that people were actually using.

Thankfully, we caught on to what I call the curse of “vision overload” — when you put your vision ahead of your users — and quickly reversed course. This month we’re delivering a major upgrade to The Point, our first release in months, and we’ve actually cut more features than we’ve added. While arguably less grand, it adheres to the critical success maxim of KISS, or “Keep it Simple, Stupid!” All founders face an inherent conflict between their most ambitious visions and the practicalities of execution. Below I explain how The Point addressed this uncomfortable compromise, and how you can learn to KISS, too.

Read the rest, it’s great. In the sector I’ve written about in CauseWired, sometimes the vision is so strong – the desire for change so palpable – that driven founders can’t help but to add features and try every new idea and partnership that comes along. After all, they’re trying to change the world. But as Andrew points out, a little tunnel-vision can be a good thing indeed.