Launching a Nonprofit Project: VisiHow’s Doug Collins

How many times have you struggled to figure out how to do something and couldn’t find a practical, easy-to-follow answer?
Doug Collins had faced this problem just too many times up till he has decided to launch a project to give an easy solution to basically any problem out there – VisiHow.
The concept is brilliantly simple: See it. Do it.
The new wiki shows people exactly how to get what they want done in a clear step by step, easy to follow way. Launched under a motto “We make everything simple” less than a year ago, VisiHow now attracts over a million visitors per month. Let’s talk with Doug about the ways he achieved such amazing results with a non-profit project.

How did you first come up with the idea of creating VisiHow?

“Surprisingly, it all started with buying a new smartphone. I’m not a tech type and I had a hard time trying to activate some advanced functions and figuring out how to set up everything correctly. All the ‘how-tos’ I found online were either way too complicated and almost required you to be an expert to follow along, or more often were at the other extreme – so overly simplified and generic that the instructions were not helpful at all. And I wasn’t the only one struggling with such problems as Google search stats suggested. There were a few thousands people per month looking for the same answer and finding none. That’s when the idea of creating a how-to wiki website came up.

Later on, we realized technology wasn’t the only struggle and now publish how-tos on various topics – from DIY beauty products to financial how-to articles. It turned out to be a blast.

What makes VisiHow different from similar sites like Instructables, Wikihow, and the like?

“We discovered that people with a certain problem often spend 90% of their time finding the information, and about 10% reading it. People often came away saying, ‘Why didn’t they just tell me that in the first place?’

What makes VisiHow different is that we not only provide easy, step by step instructions with pictures, we also make each picture playable so you can watch the video behind the picture for that step. Our users love the fact that they can quickly see an overview of all the steps with pictures, yet for any step they want they can quickly see the video showing all the detail.
Nothing demonstrates how to accomplish something quite like watching someone else do the exact task. We also augment the videos with step-by-step pictures and written instructions to make it even easier to follow along.

Thanks to the videos we have high user engagement rate and the average time on page goes well over 2.30 min. Bounce rate is relatively low too. Currently, we get around 1.2 million visitors per month and the site continues to grow.”

That’s impressive results, considering you’ve launched less than a year ago. What was your online marketing strategy?

“We focused on creating quality content that:

  • brings value
  • solves a problem
  • is easy to share

At first we were getting most of our traffic from social media. Now the vast majority comes from search as a lot of our posts received organic links from blogs, forums and even some tech news sites.

People naturally want to share helpful things with their friends. We invest in quality, not marketing.”

Visihow is a non-profit project. How did you fund it?

“We come from a traditional business background. We have no debt. We don’t answer to any big corporations with an agenda. We believe if you provide value, people will keep coming back and spread the word.

VisiHow is very much a grassroots effort by people who believe in challenging the status quo. Our passion is to simplify everything so everyone can easily and quickly learn how to do just about anything. We put our money and resources into making high quality helpful ‘How To’ videos and instructions. When people see the depth yet simplicity of our content they keep coming back and some even get involved in our community and start creating their own ‘How To’ videos. Once people start sharing ‘How To’ videos, they are often surprised how addictive and rewarding it is when people write in to thank our authors.”

What’s your current team size?

“We have a paid staff of only about 15 people which may seem small compared to the sites of similar size. But at the same time, we don’t use investor dollars to puff ourselves up. Instead we invest earnings from ads to support our writers and videographers. The pay isn’t that great, but we all have a lot of passion about what we are doing. Surprisingly, so do a lot of our volunteer contributors.”

Wikipedia, the huge amount of policies will make the site overly bureaucratic. What are your rules of contributions?

“We run on the same software that Wikipedia does. It’s pretty great as it allow many people to collaborate and develop high quality work with little efforts put. We love that about Wikipedia. No team is without the need for rules to keep everybody moving in the same direction.

However we do not have the bureaucratic nature that seems to have developed at Wikipedia. Perhaps it is just because we are still relatively small, but there is very little conflict amongst our team and contributors. I think because everyone shares the same goals and passion we all get along. It’s fun working at VisiHow. People are recognized for their talents quickly and nothing holds anyone back from going for it if they have a great idea. The only rule we have is ‘You thought of it, you champion it.’

Our team is empowered to do whatever they see fit to make VisiHow even better. It is really more a ‘movement’ than a company. The company structure is just the shell we need to operate smooth. The real driving force behind the project, however, are the people logging into our private Skype groups every day to chat about how to make improvements, catch up on the latest internal news, talk about our exciting new contests… etc. It’s more fun, than work.”

And how do you encourage authors to join?

“At VisiHow, it’s easy to record a quick video and upload it. Our team will do the rest from here take and convert it into a full article with images (video screenshots) and step-by-step text to go along with the video.

But you’re not out of the loop. The video will be linked to your account, and you’ll be able to track just how helpful it’s been to others. It’s always great when you can solve your problem in minutes instead of hours by seeing the steps done right in front of you, and it’s just as great when you know you’ve helped hundreds or thousands of others do something right the first time!”

What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

“Finding and building the awesome team we have today was not easy. There have been those that have come with along with ulterior motives and created problems.

We have discovered there are really two types of people. There are people who are out to only help themselves and those that truly love to help others. We are happy to help the first ones of course, but we prefer to surround ourselves and work with the latter group.”

To sum up, any short advice for those planning to launch a successful non-profit project?

“Be passionate about what you do. Bring real value to users and focus on quality, not quantity. Become a problem-solver for others and you will succeed.”


Image Credit: Flickr/Luis Llerena

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Written by:
Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien
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