Here is a written version of a recent briefing on WeEarth we provided to some visiting investors.  It covers the history of the project, it’s current status, and plans going forward.

Initial Planning:  Oct 2007 thru Jan 2008
This was the initial phase where we knew we wanted to establish an environmentally themed web presence, but had many, many decisions to make.  What would be the name of the site? What would be the features?  The unique selling proposition?  What would make it different, and “sticky”?  During this phase we came up with and bought (at auction) the name after testing the name thoroughly to ensure that it really has the potential we think it has.   We decided on a model that has a unique blend of three elements:  social network, social e-commerce, and information portal.  And we committed to use the name “WeEarth”, which we tested in various ways and were convinced can become a great brand if we roll it out effectively.

Graphic Design:  March 2008
During this phase we worked out the graphic look of the site — essentially creating a “dummy” of how we would like it to look and what we would like it to do.  We worked with various consultants and designers, but our key team was the group from Stir Communications.  By the end of this phase we had worked out our ‘look’ and basic functionality.  Also, during this period in order to get a jump on the editorial aspect — articles and blogging — we operated a temporary blogsite that gave us the opportunity to get those systems up and running.

Website Development/Coding:  April-June 2008 (and continuing during test phase)
During this phase we hired the design team to actually put together the working site based on the design created in March.  By the end of April we had put an initial version of the site on the web … so at that point we “went live” on the web but it is very important to understand the difference between “going live” on the web and the actual “launch”, which comes much later.  “Going live” means that the site exists on the internet and users can go there.  But you intentionally do NOT heavily market the site because it is a “site-in-development”.

Beta Testing:  July 2008 – early 2009

This phase can last up to a year (or in some cases 2), depending on the project.  This  is the phase we are in now.  “Testing” means that with many (but not all) of the functions deployed, the site is “live” on the net and users are going to the site, using it, and providing feedback which is transmitted to management and the design team.  Functionality of the site is revised and upgraded.  Some features that are popular are improved ; other features that are not so popular or are problematic are dropped.   The goal in this period is to refine the site and its functions to the point that we are confident that upon its actual launch, we will have a site that will attract substantial numbers of users and retain those users.  We are targeting Q1 2009 for the completion of Beta Testing and actual commercial launch.  One of the positive things to note is that even at this Beta testing stage, WeEarth has become established as a credible “brand” for environmentally themed news, and our articles are now receiving prominent “google search” placement which means we are definitely ‘on the map’, plus our e-commerce module is generating sales income (modest to be sure).   But the goal of this phase is to “work the bugs out”, discovering what works best, what seems fresh and new and attractie to users.  During the Beta Testing phase there has been a modest degree of revenue from e-commerce sales.  Additionally, during this phase we have established relationships with more than 300 environmentally sound product suppliers.  We have gotten the e-commerce functionality to the point where we know it works well — but we are constantly trying to make it work better, and to add more “social e-commerce” functionality to it.  (“Social e-commerce” means making it possible for buyers to not only buy, but to rate products, to “tag” products and writeups so that they will be picked up by search engines and bloggers, and in general to create ways for the “viral” potential to take place.)  Also during this phase we have been continually working to improve the social network capability, finding ways differentiate WeEarth from other social networks.

Official Launch:  March 2009
When the “Official Launch” takes place, it means that we are satisfied with the functionality and marketability of the site and are ready to “put it out there” with marketing dollars designed to create wide awareness and attract large numbers of users.   It is very important that we are “ready for prime time” when we do this because the site will be under much greater stress in terms of users, and it will be evaluated both formally and informally by people who can make or break the reputation of the site.  If we get a good buzz going, the sky is the limit.  If we don’t, the opposite can happen (although the good news is that there are second chances and with a terrific name like WeEarth  there are a number of directions we can go).  It is at this phase that the enterprise is really “open for business”, with operating costs (instead of development investment, which is what we have now).

Remainder of 2009:  Operational Phase 1
During operational phase 1 the goal is to gather users, building up traffic to the site so that by the end of the year we have enough traffic (goal of 1 million unique visitors per month) to begin seeing meaningful advertising revenue, and so that the e-commerce sales can grow to become a substantial contributor to the bottom line.  We will see operating costs that substantially exceed revenues but this is absolutely the norm even for the most successful websites.   The key is — get the traffic, get the users, and keep building.

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