Five Questions for Leigh Himel – oponia networks inc.

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Leigh_himelLeigh Himel has worked as an environmental planner, a digital strategist and a marketing communications consultant. She is currently the CEO of oponia networks and her blog on networked ecosystems, culture, technology and other stuff, can be found at leighimel.blogspot.com.  Here she answers our five questions about the stealth launch (shhh …) of her company’s new product, the ucaster.  She talks about the product, about developing a business model without relying on advertising revenue and the pros and cons of launching a product without an agency.

One Degree:  Okay, so give us the elevator pitch. What is ucaster?

We call it the hyper-simple way to instantly share content online right from your desktop. You don’t have to upload it anywhere. Just drag, drop, and you’re done!

Great for sharing folders filled with files, photos, and play lists. And the best thing about it? It’s instantaneous to anyone with or without ucaster.

One Degree:  How do you decide what a service like ucaster is worth to users? (Or, for the MBA’s in the crowd –  what’s your business model for ucaster?)

Couple answers.

Firstly, my pat answer is a freemium service model.  Meaning, basic service will be free but over time we will launch enhanced services including one for “business professionals” that will be paid.

Secondly, as anything that tries to do things differently, it’s also important to see what the community does with the product.  When people give you money for service it’s ultimately about value creation. Where does the community see value worth paying for?  Just because we see value in X doesn’t mean they will.  So part of our model is watching and listening in order to identify potential value over time beyond our own models.   For example, we have limited resources and we aren’t VC funded but there are so many things people are asking for already.  Amazing things that are on our list to do but we can’t get to.  What if the community could decide and donate to specific projects?  Kinda like a public network utility model. Stuff like that.

One Degree: Pretty much every web product that is launched these days includes advertising revenue as part of its business model. Why didn’t you go with an advertising model for making money?

Your ucaster works directly off your desktop.  The applications run off your desktop.  You serve the content yourself (we route messages on our network so people can find you).  It wouldn’t be right for us to impose ourselves on your desktop by throwing Google ads on there.

 

The ucaster as a brand is all about you, not about us.  We are facilitators and enablers.  None of this precludes the fact that you can put Google ads on your own site if you want to. But that’s your choice, not ours.

One Degree: You’ve kept the beta pretty quiet. Do you plan to continue to grow your audience organically or are you planning a complete media frenzy for the official launch?

It really is a bit of a chicken and egg sort of thing.  Obviously we want some press because we want people to hear about us but at the same time there are dangers with the, what I like to call, ‘blogosphere broadcast model’.

We aren’t famous.  We aren’t the guy from DIGG who is going to create something and get a bazillion people trying to use it and great reviews because it looks cool.  The blogosphere are a damn cynical bunch.  That’s just a fact.  The “A” list bloggers (or whatever you want to call them) get review requests all the time and it all starts to feel like clutter after a while.  Being nobody, we will get all the usual cynical questions based on what “they” think.  ‘yeah but there are so many file sharing products’ … ‘yeah but ease of use isn’t a selling feature’.  It’s hard to answer those questions if you only have a couple hundred people using your product.  But if you have 5000 or more? That’s a different question.  Canadians have always been ahead of the technology curve so hopefully your readers will come and sign up and try it and if they find it useful, invite three friends and so on.

My final point on the slow to market strategy, while it might be useful for VC fundraising, “The Techcrunch 50,000” won’t help us develop a brilliant product.  Growing organically and focusing in on our community means letting the network help us develop it and give it a chance to grow up.  I have no doubt however, that our coming out party will happen soon enough.

One Degree: You have an agency background and have helped clients launch product before.  Now that you’ve started your own gig, would you ever hire an agency to do work for you?  How can startups best utilize agencies?

One of the hardest things in the world is working on your own branding and marketing.  We are now the client and clients are the worst when it comes to being objective about themselves and the marketplace.

We have been lucky though, because we have so many friends who we could never have afforded who have jumped in with two feet and helped us because they believe in what we are trying to do.  It was really important to us that not only would the product be different (giving people an ‘aha’ moment as they keep telling us) but that the experience of the brand feel equally different.  I think, and based on early feedback, we have managed to accomplish both.

   

As for using agencies, never say never.  If we did it would have to be a non-traditional agency that understood digital and network culture. But I would have to seriously consider that one some more because I really hated those trays of sandwiches they used to serve for lunch 😉

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