August 25, 2010
From Tara Hunt’s Whuffie Factor to Foursquare’s badges and mayorships and Gowalla’s passport stamps – the idea of offering your loyal users some kind of virtual good or reward for participating has become increasingly popular. As a website owner, product development team or entrepreneur, it may make sense to incorporate a similar system, but building it yourself will likely be time consuming, costly and potentially distracting to your core business. That said, we recently saw the launch of Earn Mojo, a new badging system that can be easily added to any website. We got a chance to catch up with Earn Mojo CEO and Founder Chris Bucchere who recently moved from DC back to San Francisco, and asked a few questions about the customizable website-loyalty and badging system.
FG: Last we saw you, you were busy building out Social Collective. Now you’ve just launched Earn Mojo. Are you still building out Social Collective? What prompted you to start a new project?
CB: Sometimes I feel more like a chef than an entrepreneur and software developer. Essentially, I throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and just see what sticks. Between Mike Buckbee (my co-founder) and I, we’ve worked on more than two dozen different products over the past fifteen years. Social Collective, Inc. has launched three products since 2007 and they’re very closely related: they all help people use technology to connect with other people in meaningful ways. We’re still actively developing and selling CrowdCampaign (our social contest platform) and our web and mobile social network and scheduling software for conferences — in fact, JavaOne/Oracle Develop, Game City and CMJ Music Marathon will all be running their events on our platform in 2010.
FG: Tell us about Earn Mojo. Who should use it and why?
Earn Mojo is a game for everyone who uses the web, Facebook or Twitter. It’s like FourSquare, but the “venues” are websites or companies instead of bars or restaurants and you don’t have to be a 25-year old, smartphone-slinging hipster to be able to play. You can unlock badges and earn points with any participating company on web sites you were probably going to visit anyway. Checking in on web sites offers all kinds of benefits in addition to giving you bragging rights over your badge collection and point total. You can see how you stack up against your Facebook and Twitter friends on each site’s leaderboard, check out the interesting web sites on which your friends are earning Mojo and show participating companies how much you like their services and products. There are some more tangible benefits too. Already some companies have started emailing out gift certificates and coupons to the people who have earned the most Mojo on their sites. Later, we intend to automate that service, but we wanted to get our product out the door and drive adoption first.
FG: What kind of feedback have you received so far? And are you funded? Looking for funding?
Adoption has been steady and growing, both for new sites and new users. We’ve already had participation from a whole variety of different companies — hyper-local event sites, blogs about startups, gaming communities, coffee shops, mommy blogs, etc. We’ve been listening to the chatter on Twitter and it has been remarkably positive. What amazes me is that every email we’ve received about Mojo sounds like this: “Great idea! I hope this takes off. Have you considered doing XYZ to make it even better?” We started designing Earn Mojo in late 2009 and spent more than six months iterating on the first version before we felt like we could launch something that people would use and it seems like we’ve really hit the mark this time.
We raised some angel/seed funding last year and we have some more on the way. That being said, we operate a pretty lean operation and we have a healthy revenue stream from our other products so we’re not really in need of funding, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt.
FG: Can you tell us a little about where you are taking Earn Mojo?
We’re going to try to stick to a feature release approximately every two weeks. Each release will have only one or two features and of those, only the ones that our customers *really* need. Simplicity is our driving goal here . We want to do one thing — provide embeddable badges/awards for the web — and we want to do it really well. The upcoming release will include support for unlocking badges and earning points for interacting with a company or brand on Facebook. Actions like becoming a “fan,” “liking” content, posting on a fanpage’s wall, tagging photos, etc. will all help you earn more Mojo for the participating company. We also desperately need to get our notifications working in either this release or next. Users find out immediately when they’ve unlocked some badges, but others get unlocked asynchronously in the background, so it’s hard to know whether or not you’ve unlocked and badge unless we notify you somehow. That’s a big deficiency right now, so a notification engine is going into our next release. Later in the year, we plan to release an API so that developers can easily integrate Mojo into their sites in non-trivial ways, e.g. awarding Mojo for buying products, paying bills on time, conserving energy, making healthy food or fitness choices, etc.
FG: You’ve launched products, done programs like LaunchBox Digital in DC and then moved back to San Francisco. In all your experience so far, what have been your biggest lessons learned?
I can’t say enough good things about LaunchBox Digital and other incubator programs like Y Combinator and TechStars. Oftentimes slogging it out as a developer and entrepreneur working out of a garage (ok, so my desk is really in my kitchen) can be lonely, so it’s great to feel like you’re a part of something bigger. LaunchBox really helped connect us to the DC startup scene, “putting us on the map” so to speak. In SF, I joined DogPatch Labs for the same reason. I guess the big lesson learned is that wherever you are, you need to put yourself out there, engage with the startup community and help your fellow entrepreneurs by making introductions, volunteering to be a beta tester or just being a sounding board for their ideas.
The other big lesson I’ve learned is that Moore’s Law applies to more than just hardware. New web sites and mobile applications are popping up all the time, so a big part of my job is just making sure that our offerings are interesting, timely and useful in the context of the ever-changing social web. Going back to what you were asking about having multiple products and trying different ideas, I think Darwin had some great advice in the 1850s that is just as true today: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” If it works for monkeys, it’ll work for entrepreneurs too.
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