posted 22 Jul 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 10
A journey, a new life, a new purpose, a new way of doing business
Here is a first-person account of the founding and flourishing of an acclaimed worldwide business network now celebrating more than 10 years of service to its community.
By Penny Power
What gave me – at 33 years of age with three very young children – the inspiration to start the world’s first social network for business? Was I intellectually stimulated? Was I driven by purpose? Did I realise what I was starting? By the end of this article you will be able to answer these questions yourself.
In 1998 I was enjoying a peaceful time at home with a young baby, a three-year-old and a five-year-old. My husband, Thomas Power, was working freelance as a speaker and author in the e-commerce world. I was oblivious to the business world, and certainly oblivious to the internet.
I had been in business as the sales and marketing director for a computer distributor in the
I now wonder if the lack of intellectual purpose in Ecademy at the beginning – and the lack of financial drive – is what has made it what it is today. Ecademy now connects business people all over the world - in over 200 countries, a staggeringly busy community all sharing knowledge, all helping one another.
My drive for starting Ecademy was simply “could we help business people by enabling them to connect with one another?” The answer is yes. We can and we have and we do. Every second of the day members are posting thoughts, connecting, sharing, helping and enabling each other to have greater self-esteem, greater self-belief and greater business presence.
The 10 years have been the toughest of our lives – 25 per cent of our lives so far. Ten years of our 44 years on this planet have been spent entirely focused on one message – “we can help business people to be more successful”. I say ‘our’, because there are three of us who have dedicated our lives to this – Glenn Watkins, our CEO, Thomas Power, our chairman, and myself. Three people who have had the most ridiculous, unwavering belief that we are right. Losing our homes, working 18 hours a day, receiving abuse, receiving praise, being ignored, laughing and crying – the journey has been remarkable, and so what has been our driver?
Were we driven by the opportunity to make money? I would have to admit that is a big yes, but could we have made the money quicker and easier, that would be a painful yes. So why didn’t we? I will now take you on the journey of the past 10 years, share with you the lessons learnt and at the end of this you can make your own mind up as to whether this is a fad or a new way of working, and ultimately what has driven us.
‘Community, Intention and Tools’
Last month I wrote a blog on Ecademy called ‘Community, Intention and Tools’. I wanted to help new members understand how to embrace Ecademy and know how to maximise its power. It was a cathartic experience to write, just as this article is. Getting down on paper the ‘recipe for success’ behind Ecademy was the summing up of what we have built. A community that is like a family, a business family that keeps on extending, that loves new members to join its family, that advocates, challenges and teaches one another, all sharing the same ultimate intention to help one another be more successful, all using tools that allow their message to be distributed around the community and on the wider net.
Community, intention and tools is Ecademy – in fact, it is every business. I call myself the heart of Ecademy, I am the ‘intention’; Thomas is the ‘brain’ of Ecademy, the thought leader and the head of the community; Glenn is our ‘nervous system’– he keeps us all working, joins us up, he is our CEO, he is the ‘tools’. We have always understood our roles, we have always respected the need for each other. In 10 years we have never argued, never disagreed on the strategy, we have shared the same intention and have relied on each other to deliver our part of the complex jigsaw.
You have now read how we tick together, you have read the purpose, the intention, but, I hear you ask, what is this business model? Ecademy is privately owned and sustains itself through subscription. Two per cent of our community wants to use more advanced tools to be more active, connect more, blog and run clubs, and those two per cent feed us through their monthly subscription payment.
The rest of the community feeds one another and feeds Ecademy through the sharing of knowledge and the connections. We value the whole community; each person is part of the Ecademy Ecosystem and their activity constantly helps the community get stronger and increases the value for everyone and for the business. Ten per cent of Ecademy’s revenue comes from advertising and partnerships.
Life at the Ecademy
Trying to teach larger organisations the value of the community is tough; they still want to broadcast and have not yet learnt that the 21st Century demands engagement and conversation. They will learn, but the hard way.
So, what is Ecademy like for a member? On the first day it is a muddle, a lot of noise, a lot of excitement, like joining a business meeting half way through and knowing there is something going on that the new member should be part of. As soon as they join, they can read blogs and comment on them, click on the names of people on the site and connect with them; introductions are not required, we believe in the random connection. They can look up clubs (networks) – there are over 4,000 of them – and can join and start to add to discussions. They then start to learn from one another.
About a week into it, they may have 10-15 connections, they will have read some blogs, they will have joined a couple of clubs and they will be feeling the ‘intention’ that everyone shares and will feel safe to share.
I am constantly amazed to read messages from members who say they are shocked by the attitude of giving and caring, people offering unconditionally to help them with their learning. I think this makes some people feel suspicious; how can a place like this exist? It exists because we all believe in winning by sharing, we all know that if we live in a community where everyone is ‘upping the game’ and everyone is getting stronger, that has to be great for me too.
I have two people I admire – Ivan Misner, who founded the BNI Network, and Roger Hamilton, a wealth guru and founder of XL Foundation. Two things they have taught me, that I use as anchors:
Ivan Misner teaches his network ‘V. C. P’ (Visibility and Credibility leads to Profitability). Ecademy provides tools that enable visibility and the relationships, the advocates and the knowledge shared provides the credibility. If you are an expert, then you want the world to know that. The more of a niche you can make for your business, the more unique your expertise is, the greater the opportunity for building your brand. Communicating this is critical.
I said at the beginning of this article that Ecademy’s Intention is “to help businesspeople be more successful”. I did not say: “I am a subscription sales person”, although ultimately that is what I am. Too many people link their expertise to what they do and sell on that basis. People buy and people advocate based on your intention. Ecademy is a self- development tool, a business tool and a branding tool and it is this sharing of knowledge that enables everyone to grow.
Roger Hamilton taught me the value of knowing what you are good at, and then surrounding yourself with people who do the stuff you are poor at for you. He asks you to imagine you are a candle. You are made of flame and wax. When people are in business and they are in their flame, they are on fire, they can light a million other candles and do not lose their energy; they are on fire. Candles have wax, and so does your business - stuff that you are not good at.
When he had his own business I watched my husband get drowned in wax, his flame stopped shining so brightly. He was doing his bookkeeping, trying to market himself; even driving from speech to speech was wax. This is where the power of collaboration in business is so powerful; those who really ‘get’ Ecademy is building its business. We do not see Ecademy as a sales engine.
In a poll on Ecademy [http://www.ecademy.com/node.php?id=104485] 90 per cent of the members who replied said they use Ecademy for business development, not for sales development. Business development was defined as sharing knowledge, resources and ideas.
This is very sophisticated in networking organisations and sets Ecademy apart, placing it in the knowledge management world. Capturing knowledge and having people and blogs that you can tap into 24/7, real-time, is what is needed now. Thoughts evolve at internet speed, and relying on books and institutions for distributing knowledge is not enough.
Online ecosystem a must have
One of the lessons I have learnt through Ecademy is that we all need to be part of an ecosystem online, gaining and processing information by osmosis, not making a deliberate decision to research something, but learning randomly from other people’s thoughts and words. It is not possible to know what you need to know any more; you are not the best judge. This is where large organisations are going to become dinosaurs because they do not see the merit of social networks. They see them merely as an audience to broadcast to; however, as a great guy in Oracle taught me, how do they know who their outliers are? How will they sense the people who will be eating the food from their plate unless they have conversations with their market, unless they share, trust and become transparent?
The final lesson I have learnt is the power of having a low-cost, highly adaptive business model. Ecademy is a large organisation, running over 500 offline events a month, with a knowledge pool so large and high in quality that members, by default, are optimised on Google on the front page (subscribing members only), and operates in over 200 countries. We have over 4,000 micro social networks (clubs) within Ecademy and we enjoy adding a new member to the family every three minutes. What is extraordinary is that we only have four people on the payroll and no offices. Does that make us a small business or a 21st-Century large business?
As a management team, we are focused entirely on the customer. We listen, we communicate, we share, we discuss and we serve them. We are not managing HR, we are not managing and spending money on facilities, we are lean and we can adapt on a pin. The community is our focus, their knowledge is our food, we serve them. In a traditional business, I would now be so far from my customers that I would have lost sight of my ‘intention’.
Penny Power, founder of Ecademy, a global business, lives in the south of England.
Blog address: www.ecademy.com/node.php?id=102349; e-mail address: email@example.com; Ivan Misner, BNI, www.ecademy.com/account.php?id=70820; Roger Hamilton, XL Foundation, www.ecademy.com/account.php?id=1216