“Don’t build on someone else’s land,” you’ve heard me say many times over the years. Especially with a company with a horrible track record like Facebook.
And for your own website, there’s really no need. With powerful platforms that allow you control as a customer like WordPress and Squarespace, you can build whatever you need.
Frankly, you can’t build a 7-Figure Small business without utilizing powerful technology platforms — it’s a big part of the reason for the growth of so many no-employee, 7-figure businesses. Just think of all the tiny companies that have build niche SaaS offering thanks to Amazon Web Services.
There’s a clear difference between these types of empowering platforms and Facebook. In the former, you’re a customer in a competitive space. With Facebook, you’re the product.
I’ve been building membership communities since 2008, always with custom WordPress solutions. In 2019, there’s no way to build a best-of-breed community-based business with all the bells and whistles from scratch — without it costing hundreds of thousands, that is.
But the answer is still not Facebook. I’ve invited Gina Bianchini, Founder and CEO of community-technology provider Mighty Networks to tell us why she’s creating powerful software for a fair price — and why it’s in her company’s interest to play fairly with creators and community organizers.
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Leverage Powerful and Affordable Software to Build a Community-Based Brand
Gina Bianchini: My name is Gina Bianchini. I’m the founder and CEO of Mighty Networks, and I am unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the podcast for freelancers and entrepreneurs who value their freedom, creativity, and income way too much to ever accept a regular old job. For the full Unemployable experience, sign up for our email newsletter for tips, tools, and trends that will take your business and lifestyle to the next level. Simply head over to Unemployable.com to join us. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: “Don’t build on someone else’s land,” you’ve heard me say it many times over the years. Especially with a company with a horrible track record like Facebook.
And for your own website, there’s really no need. With powerful platforms like WordPress and Squarespace that allow you control as a customer, you can build whatever you need.
Frankly, you can’t build a 7-Figure Small business without utilizing powerful technology platforms — it’s a big part of the reason for the growth of so many no-employee, 7-figure businesses. Just think of all the tiny companies that have built niche SaaS offerings thanks to Amazon Web Services.
There’s a clear difference between these types of empowering platforms and Facebook. In the former, you’re a customer in a competitive space. With Facebook, you’re the product.
I’ve been building membership communities since 2008, always with custom WordPress solutions. In 2019, there’s really no way to build a best-of-breed community-based business with all the bells and whistles from scratch — without it costing hundreds of thousands, that is.
But the answer is still not Facebook. I’ve invited Gina Bianchini, founder and CEO of community-technology provider Mighty Networks to tell us why she’s creating powerful community software for a fair price — and why it’s in the company’s best interest to play fairly with creators and community organizers like you.
I’m Brian Clark and this is Unemployable.
Today’s episode is brought to you by iThemes hosting for WordPress. That’s our host here at Unemployable, and it keeps the site fast and reliable. And right now, Unemployable listeners can save $50 off your first year. Just head over to unemployable.com/hosting for our full review to find out about Sync Pro, Security Pro and Backup Buddy that are included with iThemes WordPress hosting at no charge. And click over to your $50 discount from there. That’s unemployable.com/hosting.
Gina, thank you so much for joining us today.
Gina Bianchini: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
What Is Your Background?
Brian Clark: Yeah, this is a fascinating topic for me at this particular point. As we talked about offline, we’ve been running membership communities the dirty old-fashioned way for 10 years. And then something as amazing, in my opinion, as Mighty Networks comes along and is really catching a trend of where things are going with the state of social media and all that. And we’re going to dive in deep into that.
But before we do, let’s talk a little bit about your background. I know you were the founder of Ning, and that was I think around 2010. Is that right? But let’s hear the more general journey. Let’s say you graduate from Stanford with an MBA and then…
Gina Bianchini: And then I start my first company in March of 2000. I was a newly minted MBA, so I was particularly arrogant and thought I knew everything. And then the dot-com bust happened a month after we started this company.
Basically, my first experience with entrepreneurship was literally coming into a company day after day where it was like one piece of bad news after another piece of bad news after another piece of bad news. We survived, because we had a really good venture capital firm behind us, and we got super lucky in terms of some of our partners and people that both invested in — this company was called Harmonic Communications.
We were basically a really early version of ads like AdWords and AdSense. So, sort of the earliest you could be in 2000 trying to basically make marketing more targeted, more effective and efficient for advertisers. Nothing was in place to really be able to do that. We certainly can see it has taken quite a negative turn from there. That was 2000. So I was running Harmonic for three and a half years, and it was one terrible thing after another.
We ultimately sold that company in 2003. The thing that’s so interesting about really bad dark times is sometimes those eras are the ones that have the seeds and the kernel for the next great set of changes.
In 2003, 2004, a really good friend of mine was passionate and obsessed almost with the earliest seeds of social networking and user generated content. He went on to start LinkedIn. At the same time, I was watching a bunch of these trends and blogging and just all this stuff.
I was fascinated, because I had grown up in Cupertino. I had always been around software and technology and I was comfortable with it, but I wasn’t actually an engineer. My passion was really about people and human systems. That played out in studying political science and really wanting to understand the history of social movements. But even more than that — how does culture change?
For me, everything came together in 2004, 2005 when social technologies became possible in a way that wasn’t totally obvious before. So, I and a different friend of mine started Ning, which was really designed to say, “Hey, the social web will have millions of different social networks.” Just like we went from AOL as this walled garden that had a narrow and fixed view of what people could do, and then the Web happened. Because you actually had an open platform, you could create yourself and just build websites and those websites could actually get attention in all sorts of really interesting ways.
The premise behind Ning was that there would actually be millions of social networks, not one big monolithic one. And I actually still believe that to be true. That is my contrarian point of view that basically says, “What’s the thing that I believe that isn’t necessarily conventional thinking today?”
I continue to believe that we are going to live in a world with millions of social networks, millions of communities run by individual creators and entrepreneurs and people who are passionate about their particular niche.
With Ning, I left in 2010 and started Mighty Networks in 2011. And we, today, are a platform for how people build what we want to be thriving communities with content and online courses and events and a lot of different things to do, including being able to charge for membership or for the course or the content within a Mighty Network. And to be able to allow for creators and entrepreneurs to put it under their brand, which is a very different model than perhaps what we’ve seen evolve over the last decade.
That’s what I do and why I ended up doing it.
What Is “Experiential Commerce”?
Brian Clark: Yeah. You use the term “experiential commerce.” To me, there’s a clear evolution from the idea of Ning to the idea of Mighty Networks. And it’s really the idea of customers paying money and not being the product — ala Facebook, Twitter, what have you. All the problems we have right now with the privacy, with data, with just the travesty that social media became.
I’m talking as someone who in the early days of social media, the Web 2.0 thing, I owe everything to what we were able to build because of those open networks. But of course, those days are gone. And I do agree with you that it needs to be a move, whether it be of tiny social networks or just paid communities. But clearly, what we have now is not good for society, for people, for anyone.
Gina Bianchini: The reason I actually think that what we have right now is not good is it is stifling creativity. Yes, data is creepy. Privacy and lack thereof is super dangerous and creepy.
But the monoculture of Facebook specifically, and specifically the negativity in that monoculture, is I think one of the most disturbing trends in our lifetime. And I think that the opportunity — let’s take a step back and talk about what experiential commerce is.
I’ve always been passionate about creator-led communities. Specifically, in the early days of Ning, a lot of those were amateurs. People that just like, “Hey, I actually have a Myspace page, or I have a list, or I have a forum.” And what I’m really passionate about is alternative brides. So basically, how do we take our authentic style and bring that to the day that we get married?
One of our early Ning networks that was incredible was called To Diabetes. It was basically started by a guy in Florida who was diabetic and wanted to bring together people with type I diabetes, because type I diabetes, it’s a lifestyle whether you like it or not.
We saw Ning networks created for every conceivable purpose, interests, passion, goal, organization. We had 3 million Ning networks created and served nearly a hundred million people when I left.
If you fast forward nearly a decade later, almost down to a person, the creators on Ning professionalized. They were able to start charging for some aspect of people together around an interest and creating a brand and a business from doing so.
The other thing then that’s happened is when you look at the fact that there are 147 million people with over 10,000 Instagram followers. There are 22 million people who have over a million Instagram followers. There are 68 million people who have Facebook groups with over 20,000 people in them. And you start adding this up, this is not a bunch of amateurs just doing an amateur thing, because it’s fun.
The fact that there can be a business where you are essentially charging for experiences, relationships and access to that skill of curating great people and bringing them together. And then also expertise with the multi-hundred million dollars being spent this year on online courses.
When you bring those three things together, you look at the pattern of defining your niche or defining your interest, building an audience, and bringing people together that then you can charge for some part of that.
You take a step back and you’re like, “Holy Guacamole, there is something happening here.” And it’s predictable, it’s scalable, and it basically is a revenue model for creators whose skillset is not just having expertise or putting on an online course or a retreat. It’s their ability to bring people together and make it natural and normal and safe and fun to meet other people around a shared interest or a shared passion or a shared goal.
That is what we define and think about as experiential commerce. It is a new category that consumers today, people today, they are willing to pay for access to expertise, experiences and relationships around the things that are most important to them.
Where in the past we used to organize by local geography or neighborhoods – today, you can be one person and build a media brand where people will pay you for being a part of that interest, a part of that niche, especially if you have a creative brand that really speaks to a combination of who you serve, what makes them unique and what you want them to do together.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s really similar to how social media eventually went mainstream with dire consequences. This is really just the mainstreaming of the online culture that grew out of where I started blogging and all of that kind of thing. It’s just evolved into… that was a very small nerdy thing, if you will. And now, this is the way it is. It’s fascinating.
Gina Bianchini: I think it’s a reaction, by the way. One, the fact that we can access things and things are ruining kind of our environment on some level, that experiences are more important than things. We know that they are more meaningful to us. The fact that we are lonelier than we have ever been. And if you are 18 to 24, you consider yourself the loneliest generation.
The fact that we know that we have to constantly learn and that learning actually with the Internet is super fun. Because you get to find amazing people who are on this journey, that together we can learn something super interesting that we care about.
I think there’s something really fascinating, not just with the number of people who can create these brands and businesses that bring people together, but the number of human beings who want to be a part of these interests, these passions, these goals, these tribes.
More Than Just Bringing Together Those with Similar Worldviews
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned loneliness, because it’s becoming a real problem despite the fact that we’re more connected ostensibly than ever. Another thing that I saw in some of the materials or the articles that you’ve written — I’ve been reading a lot of what you’re saying and it makes a lot of sense.
But more than just topic or interest, aren’t we also bringing together people with a similar worldview? Which is really how modern marketing works. I mean, you’re not going to market or connect with, let’s say, a Fox News viewer compared to an MSNBC viewer. That’s a very broad and black and white kind of thing, but those are two radically different worldviews.
So, a lot of times, it’s not just the topic, it’s also the “who” — who are the type of people that you’re trying to reach here?
Gina Bianchini: Yeah, I think that that’s true here. Here’s my take on the worldview part.
I think part of the fragmenting and pointing of fingers of like, “This is my tribe and everybody else outside of it is terrible,” I think part of that is actually a direct consequence of passively watching an algorithm-generated set of content and conversations in a general one-size-fits-all monoculture.
In fact, actually, what we know about people, and this has been true going back thousands of years, is that when you actually create something that people need to do something together or they’re learning together, the space for differing point of views, that there’s more of it. And the reason there’s more of it is because you’re actually focused on something else.
So, this all-consuming focus on politics and tribalism, I think it’s actually a byproduct of the fact that we are spending our time in a negative place that doesn’t care about what kind of engagement is happening, as long as they have you contributing data points for them to be able to target ads at you. And that you come back every day, in the same way that casinos aren’t that much fun, but you stay in them because they’ve really honed in on what makes them addictive. Plus sometimes you get free booze.
But I think when you start to create a world where there are different creators that are building different communities and community-powered brands for different purposes, you actually have more reasons to interact with people that are outside of these very well-laid and clear dividing lines in politics and culture today.
So, I’m fascinated by: one, just how do we spend more time in places that are healthy, that are meaningful, that allow for a different kind of cultural dynamic and norms (I’ll give you an example of this in one moment)? And how do we start to actually talk about more and more interesting things that are completely outside of politics?
I think we can say the lines being drawn are not particularly constructive, especially for a thriving democracy where the whole point of it is that we are accepting of people who are different and have different points of view from our own.
But I’ll give you an example of why I believe so strongly that people by their very nature are not angry members of a tribe that hates another tribe.
We have a Mighty Network called Find What Feels Good. 90,000 people in it. It all is the community for a YouTube star named Adriene Mishler, and her channel has 5 million subscribers to it called Yoga with Adriene. So, this is a yoga-based health and wellness community.
About two years ago, they had a Facebook group of 25,000 people and they started a Mighty Network, small at first. I think they had maybe 30 or 100 people in it at the very beginning. Obviously, today it’s significantly bigger. A woman posted in both the Facebook group and their blossoming, emerging Mighty Network, the same post. And what she found and the organizers or the hosts of Find What Feels Good found is that the responses on Facebook and in the Facebook group were dramatically more negative than what was happening on the Mighty Network.
The way that she described it, the way that Sarah Bowman who runs Yoga with Adriene described it was, “When they’re on Facebook, people just are running a lot hotter. They are ready to lash out, they are ready to be defensive.”
This is what I mean by monoculture. When you think about you are being taken from one very intense political conversation to the next post you see is for your serene yoga community, and then the next post that you see is for family friends. You can’t help but bring that energy of that hotly contested political argument you’re having with your in-laws or friends of your in-laws into all your other interests.
When you take your interest outside of Facebook, and you actually create a community that has focus, that has a mission to it, that has features that are really built to get as many people contributing to it as possible. Most importantly, you take out the desire and focus for some monolithic black box algorithm to keep you there with addictive dynamics. They don’t care what you’re doing there as long as you’re there. And you replace that with courses and content and potentially something so valuable that people will pay for it — again, not everybody. It doesn’t have to be a paid membership community exclusively.
But when you do that, something really special happens, which is we get back to the best version of ourselves. And I think that that is something that is not completely appreciated about this moment.
We just even really started to see this in terms of the quality of the conversations, the depth of the conversations, the positive energy of the conversations in some really specific ways, like Sarah’s example, just even in the last few months.
Creators with Purpose and “Inspirational Commerce”
Brian Clark: Yeah, I’m with you. The algorithms are not your friend. Again, you’re not the customer of Facebook, you’re the product. And it’s a toxic, horrible place that is designed that way, and people are starting to figure it out. I wish it would go a little quicker, but we do what we can do.
One thing that really resonates with me is the way you talk about creators with purpose. That makes a lot of sense to me with what I’m trying to do here at Unemployable. I mean, my purpose is to help people never have a job again. And I’m passionate about that as someone who hasn’t had a job in 20 years since I quit the practice of law.
But that’s such a different thing from a community driven by advertising and algorithms that has nothing to do with really that purpose, that human element of, “Here are the things I can give to you that will bond this community together as like-minded people about this particular topic.” And I really think that that’s kind of the defining point of what you’re doing.
Yes, the experiential aspect of it, especially with millennials, they spend their money more on experiences than even Gen Xers do. But it’s really coming from the standpoint of… let me put it this way, you once used the term “inspirational commerce” instead of “experiential.” What were you thinking with that particular article that you wrote? I think it was in the health and wellness space.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah, I think they’re related. I think that the thing to pay attention to is I think creators with a purpose, I think entrepreneurs with a purpose.
When you are bringing together those people who are unemployable, or when you are bringing together those people who recognize the role of yoga in their lives in terms of grounding and centering and allowing them to see the world in a different light — when you look at those things, creators and entrepreneurs are our superheroes, because they are really good at being people at a moment and a time when it’s actually like our muscles for meeting other people and to host parties and to get together.
And the supercomputer in our pocket is making it a little bit harder, because it’s not as natural. It’s not the muscle we’re building to talk to somebody next to you at a coffee shop or a restaurant as opposed to just being able to sit on your phone and have a completely vibrant world happening on your phone.
Creators are the antidote to that. Meaning they are the ones who can bring people together and find ways to make it super comfortable and natural and awesome to meet the other people that they bring together.
It’s great for the creator, because one, it means less work for them than having to post all the time, because the feed is going by so fast. And realistically, Facebook and Instagram are only showing your posts to about 3 to 5% of the people that are following you on any given post.
So, you’re on this hamster wheel of production as opposed to being in a place where you can actually say, “Hey, I’m the convener. I’m the person who’s going to bring us together. I’m going to give us some parameters. I’m going to give us kind of a mission.” Just like you would in a game or the hero’s journey. “And my goal is to bring you guys together so that you’re building relationships that are positive and interesting where curiosity and joy is at the core of what we’re doing together.”
Here’s the thing I think is so cool about this. This isn’t just about a business model. This isn’t just about sending as many emails as you can to try to get someone to buy your ebook. When you make money by creating a community, a series of events, even expertise — because what expertise or a course does is give your community something to talk about, something to explore together.
When you do that, and people pay you for it, guess what happens? You get to spend more time doing it. You get to invest more in doing it. You get to have higher production quality videos. You get to actually run ads that bring more and more interesting people into you. You get to actually organize a retreat in a place that is epic, because you actually are generating the revenue to be able to put a down payment on that hotel or on that event space.
That is what’s so cool to me about experiential commerce and inspirational commerce — when you find a niche and you are bringing a community of people together around that interest, that passion, that goal, that lifestyle, that identity, you are able to generate revenue that allows you to reinvest into that community.
And if we do this hundreds of millions of times, what kind of world are we living in? We’re living in one that’s diverse, that’s interesting, that makes it really easy to meet the people that share the same passions and goals that you do.
And with that diversity, there are lots of different people being interested in lots and lots of different things. And to me, that is why we are on this earth.
Brian Clark: I love it. And from a more pragmatic standpoint, the pace of change and the need for lifelong learning. For example, our audience are freelancers, entrepreneurs, I mean, you have to constantly stay on top of your game. Just with the changes in technology and methodologies, never mind everything else.
Gina Bianchini: And it happens in culture and what people are comfortable doing today.
What Types of Non-Business Mighty Networks are There?
Brian Clark: Yeah. So, I could imagine belonging to several communities. You’ve got the ones that help you protect your livelihood and you’ve got other passions and other groups. Tell me some of the non-business oriented Mighty Networks that you might have examples of.
Gina Bianchini: Yeah, one of my favorites is called Rolling Solo Australia. This is a group of primarily women who are traveling solo around Australia in RVs. And the way they’re actually using courses is for RV maintenance. Like how to actually do mechanical maintenance on your RV. That is one of my favorite examples of a Mighty Network that is not for business alone. It’s certainly quirky and interesting.
There’s another Mighty Network that I think is fascinating that actually is all about — both of these are private networks — a guy will run your hot wheels cars through his race tracks and give you the videos of doing so. And I just think that that is a really, really interesting dynamic to what we’re doing.
The vast majority of Mighty Networks do fall into one of three buckets. One is health and wellness. So, I don’t know if you think about that as professional or business-related, but whether it’s Yoga with Adriene, whether it’s Commune, under One Commune, which has all sorts of fascinating health and wellness related courses from the masters in that world.
One of the things I think is fascinating in that space as well is what Gretchen Rubin is doing – bestselling New York Times author of The Happiness Project. Her most recent book is called The Four Tendencies, which is how you react to expectations that are placed upon you by others. Are you a questioner? Are you a rebel? Are you an obligor? There’s one more that I’m forgetting.
There are 80,000 people in that Mighty Network called Better. That 54% of them are in small groups talking about what does it mean to be a questioner? What does it mean to be an obligor? What does it mean to be a rebel? And what does it mean to have a rebel child or a questioner as a spouse or a partner?
So, we’re seeing a lot of transformational topics and missions associated with Mighty Networks.
Obviously, the second big bucket is professional identity, professional networking, but also just professional knowledge and expertise and how we’re all gaining mastery over the things that are important to us and how we make money in our livelihoods.
The third bucket is really just where communities are obvious and makes sense. Spirituality and faith-based organizations, education and every kind of subject matter expert from Rolling Solo Australia to the Hot Wheels that you could possibly imagine.
Brian Clark: So, I was introduced to Mighty Networks by Jerod Morris, who’s the producer of this podcast and my cohost on certain episodes.
Gina Bianchini: Thank you, Jerod.
Why is Mighty Networks a Good Idea for Creators?
Brian Clark: Yeah, this is an interesting story. This is the one that’s going. So, we were talking about we want to develop community for Unemployable. It’s just such a natural and necessary thing in my mind. And so Jerod said, “Well, we should do it on Mighty Networks.” And the first thing that came out of my mouth (and Jerod used to work for me in the other company) was, “Why would I build on someone else’s land, Jerod?”
This is a big deal and there are probably people in the audience who’ve been listening going, “When’s he going to say it? When’s he going to say ‘digital sharecropping’?”
This started back when I started criticizing Facebook in 2007 when people were leaving their blog to go make a Facebook page. We know how that turned out. Then it was Tumbler, then it was Medium. Now, we’re seeing how that’s turning out. And it’s just like, “Don’t build on someone else’s land.” And this movement, if you will, I think it’s even getting stronger as part of the backlash against Facebook.
Now, I could tell people where I’ve come down on this issue with regard to Mighty Networks, but really, I want to hear it from you. Why is this not a bad idea for a creator?
Gina Bianchini: First and foremost, we’re not an advertising business. That was a conscious decision on our part to say, “Where and how do we want to align our values and why we exist with our business model?”
Our business model is to charge creators or entrepreneurs who are creating Mighty Networks a fee just like you would have if you were starting a Shopify store or a Squarespace website or a Wix website. We have a free version, but our real goodness is in our paid versions of a Mighty Network.
We feel really strongly that that’s the right model. This notion that you can have a delightful member experience that’s just awesome and keeps getting better for free means that, by definition, you are the product. And so, we charge money for what we do.
We also then say our focus is on the creator and the entrepreneur — that alignment of charging for our premium versions with supporting the creator and the entrepreneur, because we think that that is so important for all the reasons that we mentioned.
We want to push the money out of Facebook’s arms and into consumers directly buying things that are of value to them, that are digital in nature typically, from creators directly. That’s what the world we want to live in.
So, we think that the most aligned business model is charging. We also then say, “Hey, we’ll give you your member list. You will have the emails for your members, you will have the data from your Mighty Network. You will have access on these paid plans to all the analytics. We’re not going to hold your stuff hostage. That’s not what we’re trying to do here.”
“We want your members to own their contributions, because that’s the right thing to do. And we want you to own everything related to your ability to run your brand, run your business, and take it anywhere else that you want to take it if you need to do that. In exchange, we want a license to be able to run our platform and we’re going to ask for you to pay us money.”
That’s the foundation and the fundamental business model of Mighty Networks.
Here’s the benefit of doing something on a Mighty Network if you’re a creator or you’re an entrepreneur, as opposed to trying to go build it out yourself with custom development or even on WordPress.
Both of those options are extraordinarily difficult, require many people, most people actually, to either create something that is terrible or rely on engineers and people that in the custom development world, in the best case, expect you to understand how software gets built. In my experience, there is 100% chance that miscommunication will happen and you will end up spending much more money on custom development than anything that we can offer as a Software as a Service platform that allows you to stay focused on your community, your content, your courses, and your commerce.
The patron saint of Mighty Networks is Shopify. When you look at the fact that Shopify has unlocked nearly a million small business owners and merchants, as well as big companies, to create e-commerce and an e-commerce store in minutes, where 10 years ago you had to have a $30,000 bond just to be able to get started as a small business owner. And you had to go find a separate security firm, Magento developer in the Ukraine, or spend millions of dollars in the US. You had to have your inventory system. I think you had to actually figure out how to get it integrated into your website. I mean, just the whole thing was a mess.
The easier that they have made that, the more people are able to set up a store, set up drop shipping, and start to see revenue generated from selling goods, and then basically, no joke, hop on a flight to Thailand and run your business from wherever you want to run it.
We think that the same thing deserves to happen for digital services, because communities, connections, relationships, experiences, and expertise has never been more valuable, nor is it going to stop being valuable. And that is what we want to do.
We want to make that super easy, so more and more people can make money doing that. That fewer and fewer people have to be employed, because it becomes so easy to be a phenomenal community member and leader around a specific niche, passion, goal, lifestyle, etc.
So that’s how we approach it and where our values and our goals for the world that we want to help create, and play our own small part in creating, is aligned with our business. We sleep really well at night, knowing that every day we go to sleep and wake up thinking about the creator and the entrepreneur. And that for us, delivering a delightful member experience, making it easy to join and obvious how to buy stuff, and ensuring that we continue to remove friction in places that… We’re bringing things together that haven’t really been brought together. We know that that is in service to the creators and the entrepreneurs that we serve.
Brian Clark: That’s well said. Yeah, I, basically before we ever spoke, did my own investigation. This is a solid deal that is in the right space as far as protecting the interest of the creator’s business, while also facilitating a way to do powerful things that are otherwise really hard.
Like I’ve said, for the last 11 years, we’ve run membership communities that we built ourselves. And I had a lot of talented people on my team to be able to do that, but it was a pain in the ass and it’s just difficult.
So now that we’ve sold off most of the company, the team has moved on. And the thought of doing that again right now, even though I could, is horrifying. I just don’t want to mess with that development nightmare.
So, I look at all these amazing things that Mighty Networks can do, this is world-class SaaS here. You know what I’m saying? The whole premise of the kind of businesses we’re talking about here at Unemployable is: you can be a solo person, you can be a small team, with the assistance of technology platforms allow you to amplify what you can do.
Now, there are some platforms like Facebook that are bad for you. And then there are other platforms. For example, Amazon Web Services. We built two SaaS applications. We couldn’t do that without Amazon. We built on their platform that allowed a small company to do big things.
Looking at the features of Mighty Networks, I want to get into that next because it’s pretty fantastic, I can map my own domain, put it on a subdomain of Unemployable, keep my member list. It’s just renting world-class software from a provider who charges money for it. I mean, that is a great deal in my estimation.
And that’s why the cat’s out of the bag. We’ll be building on Mighty Networks for our community.
What All Can Mighty Networks Do?
Brian Clark: Let’s talk a little bit about all the things you can do. You’ve added so much functionality, I think, from the version one that you started with. You now have courses and all sorts of things. So, let’s run down some of that.
Gina Bianchini: Sure. We organize the features of a Mighty Network for the benefits of a Mighty Network in what is literally the fastest start that you can have — our core features, and then what we like to think about as super-hot features that are exclusive and unique to a Mighty Network. So, in terms of the fast start, I think nobody wants to launch anything new.
But, at the very minimum, what’s so cool about a Mighty Network is you set it up for free. As you are inviting people in, the software itself is designed to make those connections between your people. So, literally, you really don’t need to have a bunch of content or the perfect branding or things like that. Now, that’s the faster.
Most people, especially creators and entrepreneurs, they want to bring more of their flare, more of their brand, more of their look and feel visual design, as you say “custom domain mapping.” And that’s really where our core experience for hosts — we call our customers hosts, because that’s really what all of us are doing is we’re hosting a community.
We have topics, articles, posts, all the things that you would expect for organizing content and activity well. Events, again, super straightforward, the ability to support photos and embedded videos. We’re going to move to direct video here over the course of the summer, hopefully early fall. Then obviously, member profiles, direct messaging.
And then every Mighty Network is accessible on our Mighty Networks iOS app, as well as our Mighty Networks Android app. Each Mighty Network is organized separately. And so, it’s not about joining Mighty Networks. We don’t want your people joining Mighty Networks. We want your people joining your network, which is why we allow for the level of branding that we offer from a Web experience. And then you can use the native mobile apps where over 50% of our activity is today.
If you are a creator, if you are an entrepreneur, if you’re a freelancer and you’re building a brand and you want people to talk to each other, you’ve got to really pay attention to what your experience is on the native mobile apps.
Now, let’s get to the super-hot features. A Mighty Network has the ability to organize subgroups within it or groups within it. Rename them into anything that you want. What that means is that you’re not creating, or your members aren’t creating, 85 different Facebook groups that you can’t keep track of.
It’s all in one place, which means that as you’re inviting people into your Mighty Network, at the Mighty Network level, they can find groups that are near them. They can find groups that are for people like them. And it’s all really seamless. It’s all in one spot.
Then, in the same way that we have groups, we also have online courses which are all community-powered. Every course on a Mighty Network — we don’t have all the bells and whistles that you’re going to find on other platforms that are only about online courses. But what we offer on a Mighty Network is one, the ability to have a community and course all in the same place. We actually have community features built into every single online course that you would launch within a Mighty Network.
Then, the other benefit is because it all lives in one place, it means that you can cross sell or upsell other courses to people that have taken a course, because it’s not just hammering them with emails. They’re there, they’ve met other people that they’ve actually absorbed and worked through course content with. They’re in other groups for other reasons. And so, you have all of your people in one place.
What we’re about to launch at the end of this month is the ability to charge for individual courses and groups within a Mighty Network or bundles of courses in groups within a Mighty Network.
Today, what you can do is charge for the Mighty Network level. So, basically have a paywall and access to your app costs $5 or $50, or in some cases, we literally have Mighty Networks that charge $5,000 a year for access and membership.
Now, what we’ll have is this ability to essentially have in-app purchases. I don’t know if you remember when Apple went from, you could only charge for the app to in-app purchases. What it allowed was an entire vibrant ecosystem of free apps that had in-app purchases that generated I think somewhere between 50 to 100 times the revenue that paid ads in and of themselves had generated. So, we’re really excited about that coming down the pipe.
Any feature that you can imagine, in terms of the foundation and core, a Mighty Network has. And sometimes, it’s a work around, but for the most part, we’ve really sought to make the member experience of finding other members around member categories is something we have that’s exclusive to us.
You can essentially say, “Hey, I’m unemployable and I’m unemployable as a baker.” Or, “I’m unemployable, and how I make my money is by bringing people together as a travel guide,” or whatever that might be. And then you can find the other travel guides within your Mighty Network or the other bakers within your Mighty Network.
Then, obviously, by location. If you opt in to a location, you can see the members who are near you. Because our networks are, for the most part, private, or if they’re public, they’re focused around a niche. Some of the things that you would actually be super creeped out by in a general one-size-fits-all network, actually it would be really valuable to be able to say, “Hey, who are the other people that are unemployable in Palo Alto?” Of which, by the way, there are a lot. Or, “How do I find these other travel guides that have the same context that we love unemployable?” And now I get to actually reach out to them and get to know them better.
That’s a whole set of features that are exclusive to a Mighty Network and we’re about to make just absolutely killer in a summer release. I think I answered your question. Did I miss anything?
Brian Clark: I don’t know, but I’ve just re-evaluated the statement I made earlier that said I could build this. No, I can’t. I mean, this is really solid. It’s because you have an entire team focused on doing one thing perfectly well.
Gina Bianchini: Exactly. And here’s the thing that I think especially for anybody who’s considering custom development that I would love to understand and get better at explaining without sounding just like a complete Dr. No type person.
We have been working on a Mighty Network intensely as a 20 plus person team for six years and have spent millions of dollars in developing, not just a Mighty Network on the Web, but also on an iOS app and an Android app. And we actually allow a replacement for custom development with our Mighty Pro Plan, which actually gives you your own apps and totally integrated experience. So, it’s as if you built it.
What I see over and over again is somebody basically says, “I have something that is so special and unique that I’m going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars,” although it may start just sounding like it’s going to be $50,000. “I’m building this out myself and I’ll do it on the Web.” It always takes twice as long, costs literally five times as much.
The problem today is that if you do not launch on all three platforms at one time — Android, iOS, and Web, and by the way, if you want to count mobile web, somebody just was like, “Oh, you guys, mobile web is not great.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I got it.”
We also have a 20 plus person team that is dedicated day in and day out as a startup in Silicon Valley with world-class engineers. And that to me, is the thing that’s super important — that we know how long it takes and how expensive it is to create an integrated experience for somebody’s brand that meets the bar that your members are going to have today for the software that you put your name on.
I think that the custom development ecosystem is full of people that just are like, “Hey, you must know that building a product is hard. And so we don’t have to actually tell you all the risks involved in it.”
And that breaks my heart, because I see more people who have such energy, especially around convening people, trying to build their own custom software and not only failing doing so, but also ending up with something that is unusable, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on it. We don’t want that for anybody.
So, that’s all a long-winded way of saying we’re building our platform to be creator-first, entrepreneur-first and deliver delightful experiences to members under your brand in a way that allows you to create something that gets more valuable with every new person who joins.
Why This Is Not an Advertising Business
Brian Clark: Okay, I’m sold. But I want to get you on the record here today promising that you will never pull a Zuckerberg on us.
Gina Bianchini: Meaning what? There are so many different bad things that…
Brian Clark: There are so many Zuckerberg moments. You’re right, just the whole bait and switch, because you’re saying all the right things to someone like me and to our audience. And I believe you, because it’s just good business. It makes sense that you do put the creator, the entrepreneur first. But Facebook used to work a different way too, and then it switched.
Again, the difference between having paying customers and being the product in an advertising-based platform is the difference here.
I will happily pay you money. And I suppose, if somehow Mighty Networks pulled a Google and turned evil, then we would have to go do business with someone else. But I don’t see how that’s in your best interest.
Gina Bianchini: That’s right. This is why also we’re upfront with, “And here’s your data.” Again, this is software. It’s hard to move people. The whole idea of a network effect is the fact that you can bring your people together and we want to enable that with software.
Here’s what I would say: I know why I’m doing this. I think my team knows why we’re doing this, which is fundamentally to redefine and move social media and the time we’re spending in these monocultures into spending them in millions of different communities led by creators and entrepreneurs who are creating really interesting things. To me, that is more important than anything else.
If we can have a business model that allows for that and allows us to, again just in the same way that a creator can invest in their business if they’re making money from it, invest in our business and our platform, so that more creators can make more money much more easily, that’s the world we want to live in. That’s why we’re doing this.
I don’t want to build an advertising business. It’s kind of gross, but it’s also really hard. The other thing, it’s like, “Look, if you want to build a successful software platform in 2019, you can’t have an advertising business.” You’re just being dumb at that point, because there’s monopolistic or duopolistic control over advertising online today. It’s that simple.
So, if you want to actually drive adoption, you have to actually drive it by saying, “We’re completely different from that.” Because then, the monopolies or duopolies, they’re going to just stay focused on the thing they’re really good at, and you have to build something different.
And that’s true for every creator and every entrepreneur as well. If something exists out there that your audience wants to be using and you can’t offer something that’s fresh and interesting and different and bring together people that just reinforce that energy and that dynamic of what you’re doing that’s different, you’re not going to win. And we’re here to win.
Where Can We Find Out More?
Brian Clark: Gina, thank you so much for being here today. It’s been a pleasure. Tell people where they can find out more about their own Mighty Network.
Gina Bianchini: Great. Yes. Pretty hard, it’s www.mightynetworks.com and you can create a network for free. You can obviously upgrade to, again, we have a Mighty Brand Plan, a Mighty Business Plan. And obviously, our replacement for custom development, which is our Mighty Pro Plan.
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Brian Clark: My pleasure. All right, Everyone, this is an interesting model for each of you to consider for your own business. Obviously, you’ll be hearing more about the Unemployable community and you’ll need to stay tuned for that. But it’s interesting times and the world really does need a solid version of community, and you can be at the center of that with your particular purpose. Thanks for tuning in.
Gina Bianchini: Thank you.
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