Dear Adam and Andy,
First, I love your new platform Yerdle. I’m a marketer and a mom (with a decent amount of disposable income) who teaches her kids that shopping is not a sport and that “used” is often as good as new. Like you both, I’ve seen the light and know we have to do something fast to reduce consumption and transition to a more sustainable way of living as a consumer society. I love seeing mainstream consumer industry people supporting the movement of practical consumption reduction. Being a technology marketer, and a geek, I was thrilled to stumble upon Yerdle as a way to share things with my own community. I jumped in ready to give and receive freely while making new friends along the way.
But then, several things happened that made me seriously worry about the future of Yerdle’s survival much less it’s potential as a real solution for sharing. First, there’s nothing on the site I really want or need except some honey but the giver never responded to my post. I was looking for gardening stuff and yoga gear. And when I posted my vegetables, flowers, and compost, no one wanted those either. I haven’t seen much turnover in items or much depth or range. Best I can tell, there are about 500 items on the site currently. Most posted seemingly by friends of the founders and their families trying to help populate content. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve launched (both successful and failed) consumer technology platforms. I can see the signs of languish after launch. After six months there doesn’t seem to be much of a trajectory. And there should be. This is an extremely useful service.
Then, your CTO announces on Facebook that you’re cutting the features I want most: “loaning,” and “asking” for items. You’ve just killed a “total solution” for me based on possibly 4,000 active users if you’re truly honest about site activity and what constitutes an active user. Now I have to go to Loanables to share my hedge-trimmer and find a chain saw for that pile of old dead wood in my back yard.
So, being a marketer at heart, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I think you can and should do to really kick this thing into action and leverage consumer demand and passion to drive radical rapid change in this space. I came up with a few ideas that I think might be useful.
- Focus on existing communities where Yerdle is NEEDED. Tap into passion groups where communities have already established an adhoc sharing process. Take for example Urban Farming. I know for a fact that in the Bay Area alone there are thousands of people connecting continually, looking for tools, seeds, and ways to distribute free vegetables. These guys like free and they like to share and connect. If you got one evangelist from 49Farms, and City Slicker Farms, you’d reach thousands of people and start attracting more. Oh, and how about the yoga community? They’re always looking for mats, blocks, those weird chairs, straps, free sessions, etc. Or hey, here’s a good one, the Burningman crowd. Now these people are all sharey and gifty by nature and they are totally connected. Usually their stuff is pretty darn cool. No really, who wouldn’t want free fur in July? It may be a little singed but in the dark with playa dust, it’ll look great? I know you’re engaging schools and that’s awesome. But with just a little focus, think of the momentum that could be generated in a pretty short time. BTW, I have a bunch more groups in mind. These are just my personal favorites.
- Design an engagement strategy that keeps people coming back. I haven’t seen your sanctioned site stats (according to Alexa.com your traffic ranking is low) but I can guess that individual return visits aren’t that frequent. It takes time to get people in the habit of sharing and receiving. Changing behavior is hard. An engagement strategy, linked to target groups (see above) that provides real motivation for people to come back is crucial. The recent email I received pointing me to a small inventory of stuff for Memorial Day BBQs is not an engagement strategy. It’s a broad stroke, uninspired attempt to do what traditional marketers (think Walmart) do. They can. They have the scale. You need to create that scale from the bottom up. A real engagement strategy works directly with the communities (farmers, yogis, cyclists, surfers, burners, cooks) where there is need, talking directly to them, in their language, through their advocates. It only takes a few well-placed connected individuals to light the fire. Oh, and you’ll get real stories that bring tears to the eyes of change mongers like me. Not silly stories like the one about the water bottle.
- Re-enable “Look For,” “Share,” and “Commerce.” Right now I have three business ideas that Yerdle could support immediately with these passion groups if these features were in place. Why cut off these features in the first six months based on a community of beta participants and their friends and family? I guarantee, this isn’t your long-term audience. It’s too early to limit your capabilities that severely. And by the way, how can you help sharers if you can’t track what people really want? I know, there’s search, but after awhile, if people can’t find what they want, why come back? Having a “want” button gives you a trigger for engagement (see #2) as well. Why eliminate a reason to contact?
- Create a recommendation engine. I’m sure you’re working on this. But for now, at the very least, mix it up when I log on. I’m tired of seeing my own stuff in the top three when I log on. Recommend some stuff. You can tell I’m into gardening. Draw some correlations and show me some other stuff. Oh, and while you’re at it, send out an email to the community posting the types of things people most want. Why not? It stimulates the whole organic process.
So really truly guys, you’ve got a wonderful service. I love it. I’m into it. And, and I want to see it grow fast. I look forward to seeing you both at the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego and hearing where this is really going.