Thursday, April 20, 2006

CivicSpace, here I come...

So I have joined the guys at CivicSpace full time as a Managing Partner after leaving the Beaumont Foundation. I'm responsible for strategy and business operations in the organization.

This is particularly exciting because CivicSpace is poised to make a big leap from good open source idea to compelling, paradigm shifting sea-change. How are we going to do this you ask?

We are going to build a sustainable economy around CivicSpace. In talking with folks, it has increasingly become clear that "the business is the community" and the "community is the business." Folks need health insurance. It takes money to change the world.

And, surprisingly, CivicSpace has seen very little investment relative to its impact (the same is true of CiviCRM). Not sure if all those visionary individual donors and foundations are asleep at the wheel and can't see the thousands (yes, thousands) of nonprofits adopting the technology because it meets real, concrete needs to improve efficiency and expand impact. Alternatively, we aren't communicating the story well or in a compelling way (something about being focused on the needs of thousands of individual groups, perhaps?).

In either case, we'll draw some attention to ourselves and see if we can multiply our impact by 10 (for those following at home, that would be tens of thousands of groups engaging in more effective social change). If any of those investors read this blog, please do send me an email (dgeilhufeATyahooDOTcom).

Back to the business model. We think that there is a big and sustainable business in launching a hosted version of CivicSpace. In fact, we have quietly launched an initial trial of CivicSpace on Demand. But the business is the community and the community is the business.

So we also think we have a model for how the innovation in our business can be harnessed to benefit the larger civic sector. Rather than be a traditional ASP peddling our wares directly to nonprofits, we are looking for CivicSpace Associates. These are folks that deploy CivicSpace On Demand for "customers" (nonprofits, civic groups, political organizations, whatever). Associates could be a business that serves a hundred nonprofit sector clients or just a college student that builds a grassroots community website every couple of months as a volunteer project.

These Associates, as they invest their time and energy into CivicSpace On Demand to create a better experience for end users, end up creating a better CivicSpace open source download [remember we are a social enterprise so we can give away our proprietary advantage for free if it helps the community; our financial ROI stops far short of Porsches-- closer to health insurance for employees].

Our innovation? Create a direct financial incentive to improve the open source software. Since Associates re-sell CivicSpace On Demand to customers with a mark-up for the value added services they offer (set-up, configuration, training, support, etc.), they have an incentive to make sure that CivicSpace On Demand is a great product. Since a lot of Associates are already comfortable with open source communities, they will participate in CivicSpace On Demand the same way they participate in other open source communities since the CivicSpace On Demand code will always be available as the free and open source CivicSpace download.

But the community is the business and the business is the community. So I'm getting ahead of myself and will go back to our initial associates and ask them what the business looks like. They have the final say because they are the ones that know how best to create an economy around CivicSpace On Demand.