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5 Questions For Dmitry Buterin, Chief Apricot

Dmitry Buterin (aka Chief Apricot) is the co-founder of BonaSource, the company behind the creation of Wild Apricot. His passion for planning and implementing sophisticated IT projects led him to the company’s creation in 2001. BonaSource takes great pride in having completed eBusiness projects for some of the world’s largest companies. A member of the Society of Association Executives (Canadian and US chapters), he is justifiably proud of his new “baby”, Wild Apricot.

One Degree: What is Wild Apricot?

Wild Apricot is a set of web-based tools to run a non-profit organization: Hosted website with content management, database of members, event registrations, email blasts, online donations. All these tools are integrated into a single system, which saves a lot of time and hassle for people running a non-profit. Now they do not have to juggle six different clumsy tools and spend hours on mindless export /import copy/paste retype kind of work – which quickly burns out staff and volunteers. Wild Apricot is tailored to small and mid-size non-profits – because they hurt the most and have the least money and resources for their technology needs. What 37Signals did for project management with Basecamp, we strive to do for running a non-profit with Wild Apricot.

One Degree: How does Wild Apricot fit into the bigger picture of BonaSource?

We have always planned to transcend from a purely consulting company (we do usability consulting and custom web apps design and development) to offer our own software. And Wild Apricot has become a perfect convergence point for a lot of trends for us: usability focus, prior work for non-profits, AJAX technology expertise, Agile (iterative) methodology, experience building large-scale custom web apps for enterprise customers. We still offer usability consulting and design and development services – focusing on a few select clients who share our passion for user experience, embrace the principles of agile development and collaboration – and are building really unique and innovative web apps.

One Degree: Not-For-Profits certainly need help doing the good work on the Net but they can be a tough market to make money on. Did this factor in to how you approached the business?

Absolutely – and we know it first-hand. We have worked with non-profits in the past and their appetites were always much bigger than their budgets. So we are investing our own money to building a system to meet the most common needs of a wide variety of non-profits and make it very scalable. We make money by getting paid a little bit by great many organizations. Also, we believe that by providing great user experience in the system we will have word-of-mouth a very significant part of our lead generation effort – and we are happy with the results we are seeing so far.

One Degree: How will you be promoting Wild Apricot? It can be tough to get attention online when you have such a specific market in mind.

You are right – the market is very diverse and hard to reach. And because it’s so poorly funded, there are fewer marketing services and tools targeting this niche (e.g. non-profit mailing lists) and they mostly focus on large non-profits. So we have to be very creative! We are looking at blogs, websites and other resources serving this community – especially “influencers” – tech people who help non-profits (on the side or as a volunteer). Also, we put a lot of effort into our logo, name, website and support communications to reflect our spirit – warm, friendly and open. We do not bamboozle people with marketese or tech-speak – and this actually helps. Finally, we are working on extending Wild Apricot from being just a tool to offering related resources and knowledge – best practices on organizing an event, finding a venue, running a website, communicating with members. In this way Wild Apricot becomes a community nucleus for people – who use the system now or might use it some time in the future.

One Degree: You’ve long been a proponent of embracing usability to create business value. How did usability impact the decisions you made in developing Wild Apricot?

Usability is our overriding priority in design and development. We cannot expect a small non-profit to have a dedicated IT person or money to spend on train all system users. Our system is used by volunteers – who are busy enough in their lives and full-time jobs. So we devote a lot of time in design and testing to usability. Also, very often we have to make a choice between developing more functionality – or improving usability of some existing features. For example, our system has always offered a way to customize page headers – but people could not find/easily use it and we have now totally redesigned it – instead of building some new feature. Another example is our directory search function where we have thrown out many conventions and designed a totally different way to search. See the demo where you can instantly search with 10000 records.