Business Experiment Update: When Failure Leads to Renewal

It's been awhile since I've blogged about The Business Experiment. The initial plan was to see if a group of people could come together and build a real business, in the open, with a "wisdom of crowds" type of process. Eight hundred people registered and contributed 60+ business ideas that we voted on, in groups of five, until we reached just a handful. Then we paired them off two at a time, tournament-style, until we got a winner. I thought the crowd would pick something simple like a distribution business of some sort, but instead they picked to build a small business consulting company that they have voted to call AskSpace. The somewhat self-selective nature of the participants was revealed, I think, in that AskSpace will use a consulting process inspired by "wisdom of crowds."

After the business was selected, a surprising number of participants stopped visiting the site. I think there were three reasons for this. First of all, lots of people didn't like the final idea, so they no longer wanted to participate. Secondly, when I put up the site I had no idea what the long-term needs would be, and the community quickly outgrew it. I didn't have the time to make all the necessary changes, so it became difficult to navigate. And finally, the *fun* part was over. It was time to stop throwing out ideas and get on to the real work, and people didn't like that.

Participation dwindled. I became quite frustrated, and if I hadn't been interviewed for a popular business magazine about TBE (as we like to call the site), I may have just shut it down. I was one person trying to do everything and I was failing miserably. I couldn't keep up. Plus, I wanted to focus on where TBE was going, not run the business (or businesses) it is creating.

I put out a call multiple times for someone to be the "benevolent dictator" for this new open source style company. Finally, a young guy named Sean Clauson sent me an email saying that he wasn't really qualified, but liked the idea and was willing to head it up. Regular readers know that I will subordinate qualifications to desire and intelligence any day, so Sean became the AskSpace leader. That was a huge breakthrough for the site. I think people had been connecting TBE too closely to me and what I wanted, but the experiment isn't about what I want, it's about what the community wants.

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Sean brought fresh energy and fresh ideas, and has done an amazing job so far. He first re-engaged the core TBE community, then worked on a plan to move AskSpace forward while re-engaging the broader membership base. There is still a long way to go, and AskSpace isn't supposed to launch until March 1st, 2006, but the site has picked up steam again quickly.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but what is interesting is that I almost shut the project down, because it looked like a failure, and now it is starting to look like it may really come to fruition. It is doing better now that I spend 15 hours a week on it than when I spent 50. And we are doing cool things, like experimenting with microchunks.

Microchunks are small tasks that you can do in your free time to get points. They move AskSpace forward. The points then become equity, revenue, or something valuable (the lawyers will figure out what we can do). Umair Haque was the first person that I saw write about the idea, and it is exciting to participate on these emails and skype calls where a group of us are fleshing out practical implementations of the concept.

I'm helping with AskSpace, but am really spending more of my time figuring out the best direction for TBE. I've got ideas for other business experiments but I want to wait until AskSpace gets further along before I start all that. Plus I need more time to think. If you have ideas about AskSpace or TBE, I would love to hear them. The ultimate goal, I think, is to build a business creation community. What that looks like, or how it makes money, I haven't yet figured out. But either way it's fun exploring the concept.

If you are interested in being part of the project, go to the site and sign up. If you have ideas, email me rob_business-at-businesspundit-dot-com.