This is how we set up a non-profit by the seat of our pants.
In the past, organizations just about had to physically meet on a regular basis for most of the heavy lifting to be accomplished and for the start-ups to get off the ground. Much of the coordination was local/hyperlocal or very well funded, allowing for travel. From the onset, the effect limited direct participation and hamstrung progress.
Before the interweb, telephones, faxes, and cells alleviated some of the bottlenecks of ideas, but the crossflow of information remained hampered. The exponential growth of web technology has streamlined the idea sharing process, making it easier than ever to establish and cultivate a start-up.
0. I wrote 0 business plans for it. The plan is simple: Get a site launched in a few months, see if people like it, and sell ads and sponsorships (or not).
0. I pitched 0 venture capitalists to fund it. Life is simple when you can launch a company with a credit-card level debt.
7.5 weeks went by from the time I registered the domain truemors.com to the site going live. Life is also good because of open source and Word Press.
$4,500. The total software development cost was $4,500. The guys at Electric Pulp did the work. Honestly, I wasn’t a believer in remote teams trying to work together on version 1 of a product, but Electric Pulp changed my mind.
$4,824.14. The total cost of the legal fees was $4,824.14. I could have used my uncle the divorce lawyer and saved a few bucks, but that would have been short sighted if Truemors ever becomes worth something.
$12,107.09. In total, I spent $12,107.09 to launch Truemors. During the dot-com days, entrepreneurs had to raise $5 million to try stupid ideas. Now I’ve proven that you can do it for $12,107.09.
1.5. There are 1.5 full-time equivalent employees at Truemors. For me, it’s a labor of love.
$0. I spend $0 on marketing to launch Truemors.
$29.96. Our monthly break-even point was $29.96 with Yahoo!
$150. Because Yahoo! evicted us, our monthly break-even point quintupled to $150. If you’re interested in buying a monthly sponsorship for $151, you’d make Truemors profitable.
From the beginning of FROG, we knew the operation was going to be bootstrapped. Many returned volunteers involved in the project were right out of the program, and we were spread across the east coast with one member in Africa. It wasn’t possible to meet in person, so we turned to the web.
How did we do it? What tools did we use? We started out with using only a handful of apps and moved on to others as our needs changed, it has grown into quite the list. Here’s the breakdown:
PBWiki – we started off here, throwing ideas against the wall and waiting to see what would stick. The wiki still has great potential for our organization, but for the moment we’ve moved beyond this.
Gmail and Google Apps – we had to communicate yet keep a record of our progress, personal email wouldn’t quite work. The apps that come with this work just fine; with a spreadsheet, word processor, calendar and now slideshow applications, this was a natural choice. It’s all integrated and free.
YouSendIt – very large files come through here, it’s not always practical to send and host chunky files on Gmail.
LiveMeeting – this has enabled us to meet and collaborate regularly and is used in conjuncture with Freeconference.com, which we used as our conferencing software. I’ve had some thoughts of holding meeting in SecondLife, for the sake of transparency and open participation.
Skype – still trying to get the rest of the group to adopt this. It’s free; you can record your calls and have group sessions. Perfect.
GoDaddy – we registered our domain, GuyFROG.org, appended it to our Gmail accounts and it’s been love ever since. You can’t beat the price, and their customer support has been solid. I spent a little less than $10 for the domain for a year; we were hoping to land FROG.org, but that didn’t happen.
WordPress – we (the web guys of FROG) decided to move to the hosted WordPress.com service, thinking it would be a great way to expand the site, add modules and tailor it to our needs. It’s turned out to be a very expensive and impractical idea. Some core features are only accessible by paying for them, for a group with no money, we’re going to have to bail. After our launch event in July, we’re moving WordPress to our servers. Between another board member and myself, we spent less than $40.
FormAssembly – this free tool allows us to build ad-sponsored forms for whatever purposes until we’re able to get on our own server.
Craigslist, Upcoming.org, & Eventful are web-based calendar apps we used to publicly post our launch event and spread the word quickly. They each have unique and common features and I wanted to take advantage where I could.
Idealist – we registered with Idealist, a no-brainer and as a non-proft to take advantage of their services but also to post our event.
Reactee – this shirt printing service allows you to choose a slogan and a keyword that is placed on our shirt. Anyone can text the included number with our keyword, which is FROG naturally. When someone sees this shirt and texts the keyword (and whatever else they want to write) to the number, a pre-set message written by FROG is sent back to the texter. A novel way to interact with a passive audience. The shirt costs about $25 including shipping and handling.
Flickr – we can go a lot of routes with Flickr, since they have a robust API. For now, the service exists for archival reasons but eventually we’ll be able to do many things like print photo albums and posters, build videos and slideshows, share content and so on. Web services like Qoop make printing a painless process. I bought the Flickr Pro account for under $30.
Facebook – we’ve set up a profile on Facebook and with the viral tendencies of the site, we’ve been able to spread the idea of FROG and the upcoming fundraiser quickly. The reach and impact of Facebook for whatever organization is tremendous. Facebook took the bold step of opening up their backend and API to third parties, allowing various sites and services access to its 20 million user base. From HotorNot to Last.fm to Flickr to Digg, you name the service, it’s either on Facebook or will be shortly.
Technorati & Feedburner – these services can push and pull our data much more effectively than a simple RSS feed. If you add services like Yahoo Pipes, Dapper and Popfly to the equation, future mash-ups of our data and media may have a greater impact than we can currently anticipate.
Change.org – this is a fairly new website dedicated to connecting movements and people. They have many tools at our disposal that will help us raise money, organize people and spread our message. (should be in the Publicizing category also)
PayPal – we’re working on registering with PayPal, eventually we’ll use it to collect dues, fundraise, sell items and so on. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and for now, it fits our needs.
Future apps? I’m sure I’m missing a few but the obvious are MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. Mash-ups using the sites mentioned above (Yahoo Pipes, Dapper and Popfly) will eventually play a bigger role in data manipulation. Oh, and Freelancer. Offering jobs to the lowest/bestest bidder will help us tweak our site, develop our ideas and move forward…on the cheap.
UPDATE: We got a little love from Mr. Kawasaki, thanks!
UPDATE 2: Someone posted a link to the article on Digg, vote it up, it would really help! Thanks!
UPDATE 3: Looking for developers to volunteer time on a Ning project for us, anyone out there good with php and have some free time?