Ten years ago, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook out of his dorm room at Harvard University. At around the same time, Swedish Count Erik Wachmeister created “A Small World”, or aSW – a hyper-exclusive online community for extremely well-connected jetsetters and executives. The former continues to play a major role in his company, while the latter walked away from his website in 2009 to create Best of All Worlds, or BoAW, in 2012 with his wife, Louise. Their crowdfunding launch on leading equity crowdfunding website, Crowdcube was announced this month.
I interviewed the INSEAD-educated Wachmeister by email about his latest invite-only network. Questions were crowdsourced from nostalgic aSW members.
What is Best of All Worlds and what does it do?
Best of All Worlds is a complement to Facebook, though it has a very different focus. We fill a gap where Facebook is not active. In fact 90 percent of what we do does not exist on Facebook. We offer a global, local and member-based event guide, a comprehensive and user-generated city guide, trip planner, discussion forums, people search around location, and Global Worlds of shared interests to launch in the coming weeks. What we don't do is Farmville and Zynga. We don’t have a newsfeed, either, but we may add that later.
Our iPhone app is distinctively different. Users can search for people with the same interests, intents and modes around the same location -- down to the granularity of who wants to do what, when and where and with what degree of separation and based on what privacy setting.
By matching similar passions, niche interests and backgrounds, BoAW provides an intimate and private online environment that targets top influencers, creatives and entrepreneurs from around the world. BoAW enables its members to evolve their passions, grow their trusted networks and discover new opportunities.
Stephen Bates states that private social networks have inherently the same economic model as journalism. Content and community are created; revenue is generated by subscriptions and/or advertising. What is the ideal mix of subscriber-generated content v. curated content by advertisers and sponsors for websites that charge premiums for access?
As the network grows and gains traction from brand partners, curated content from sponsors becomes more noticeable. In order to make such content interesting and relevant for both sides it is important that the content is integrated in the user experience. The decision process is to always place members’ interests first. Sponsor curated content should be of high quality similar to the “Where to Spend It” section in the FT. If possible, real benefits for members can be offered in order to get a win-win situation.
Moti Levi notes that private online networks are in a tough spot concerning size -- a Goldilocks dilemma. Only a very small percentage of members in a social network or forum are really active. As a result, if such a network keeps its exclusivity by keeping its size small, it faces difficulty in generating advertising revenues and revenues from other sources, as well as insufficient social interaction resulting in a loss of interest by users. On the other hand, if it grows too big, it is no longer deemed "private." If the network is not private, it is just another small Facebook and, therefore, not needed really. How do private networks like BoAW plan on solving this Goldilocks choice of "just the right size" of membership?
The first part of the answer is to find the right balance with both an intimate atmosphere and critical mass. A network can still be perceived as intimate and even exclusive with 1 million members worldwide in the context of Facebook’s 1 billion active members. Such a network can also be quite profitable given average revenue per user ranging from 5 euros for Facebook and 10 to 50 euros for niche communities. It is easy to do the math, and costs can be kept low if content is user-generated and marketing is word-of-mouth.
The second part of the answer can be summed up with one word: Segmentation. By creating several “worlds” of shared backgrounds, interests and passions, members can find themselves in intimate and relevant subsets of the general network. My goal is to launch several of these worlds once we achieve critical mass of say 100,000 active members. If we do it too soon there is a risk of “balkanizing” the user experience but done right it introduces the notion of having a dozen worlds with 1000’s of passionate and knowledgeable individuals in any given segment. This is in stark contrast to Facebook’s now over 2 billion groups with an average of 30 users. Facebook has even stated, “the groups format is designed to help you share with the small groups of people in your life.” I believe Zuckerberg has even stated that a group on Facebook is by definition an entity where everyone already knows each other.
I believe that there is room for a social network to capture the top one percent of the online population. That would be more than 10 million people. With carefully executed segmentation allowing for say a hundred different worlds, it could still be an intimate and even exclusive user experience. There is no doubt that such a network could be immensely profitable.
Ze Ma dismisses exclusive social sites to be things of the past. The glory years following 2006 can never be created or copied again. Please address this.
Niche sites are the future while the all “you can eat” colossus model may become extinct. Indeed, Facebook is looking into ways to fragment so it’s not perceived as a behemoth. The word exclusive is part of the problem, particularly in regards to sites which prey on people’s need for validation by belonging to groups simply packaged to be exclusive.
I prefer the notion of being “inclusive”. I include anyone who would make a network interesting for its participants. If we replace the word exclusive with the words intimate and relevant then we should not see any obsolescence. We are emulating the real world by creating spaces where human beings like to be, but online. To be in a vastly open space and open to everyone is not how it works in real life.
Roy M. Martens and Enrico Verga inquire about the future of BoAW. Will the user experience be updated?
We have gathered feedback from the 30,000+ registered users over the past year. Our goal is to update the UI, simplify the registration process and make it easier for people to invite their friends. We have also experienced some technical bottlenecks and we hope to address all these issues before we do full global launch later this spring. We are launching a crowdfunding initiative the second week of February in order to complement our funding opportunities as well as broadening our base of stakeholders.