GrabOne founder Shane Bradley bankrolls Neighbourly
Neighbourly.co.nz soft launches today.
It's already been online for three weeks, using old fashioned hard copy fliers to sign up residents in five Auckland suburbs clustered around the tony eastern bays: Glendowie, St Helier’s, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and Orakei.
In another couple of weeks, more suburbs will be added, including Remuera, St Johns and parts of Pakuranga.
We've seen commercial attempts to build neighbourly buzz before, including the (now moribund) Yellow Local, which tried to build community sites around schools, and the intial iteration of NZ Post's Localist.
How can Neighbourly suceed where they failed?
Cofounder and managing director Casey Eden tells NBR that where Localist and Yellow Localist went wrong was shoving $2000 ad campaigns at local businesses from the get-go.
“The key is you’ve got to build a community first before you try to make money off the site. Find some common ground, and build trust first,” Mr Eden says.
People in an area can use Neighbourly for a virtual chat across the fence, rebuilding the sense of community that we’ve lost in modern times. You can use the site to say hello to people down the street, organise a baby sitter, sell an old bit of furniture, or find a trustworthy mechanic, to give a few of Mr Eden's folksy examples.
It’s all feel-good stuff, and also a sensible commercial approach if you’ve got deep enough pocket to let the audience build for a few months before you hit them with special offers.
That’s where Neighbourly’s other point of difference comes in. It’s 51% owned by Shane Bradley (the balance is held by Mr Eden). Mr Bradley says he came on board because he liked the idea, and because the pair have worked together before. Mr Eden has frequently popped up as sales director or business development manager in Mr Bradley’s various ventures. Of which there are many. Mr Bradley has created then sold (or part-sold) a string of successful websites, including Finda, Sella and GrabOne (which all fell under his holding company IdeaHQ). The Auckland entrepreneur sold IdeaHQ to NZ Herald publisher APN in three tranches, with the last 25% going for $4.18 million (plus up to $8.08 million in earn-outs), according to accounts published by the Australasian media company in late 2012.
Last year, Mr Bradley set up a new company, Shop HQ, which he sees launching a series of vertical online shopping sites in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) space. His first Show HQ site, petfood specialist Pet.co.nz, had barely gone live before The Warehouse Group took a 50% stake in the startup for $3 million – a sum that put a lot of faith in the Pet and its sister sites to come, but also reflected the value The Warehouse placed on Mr Bradley’s expertise.
As ever (GrabOne was something of an homage to US daily deal site GroupOn), Bradley and Eden looked for successful overseas examples. US site NextDoor.com caught their eye. It’s garnered a truckload of press in North America for its approach, which borrows heavily from social media.
You can’t just type an email address to sign up for Neighbourly.co.nz.
You have to leave a verifiable cellphone or landline number to gain partial access to the site, then enter a code snail-mailed to you for full access.
“It’s both the biggest strength and weakness,” Mr Eden says.
Unlike Facebook or Twitter, everyone has to register under their real name, and use their real name.
More hoops could well be added. Neighbourly is assessing whether to add a driver license number or other ID as an additional verification measure.
But the MD hopes the rigor of the process will give people confidence in Neighbourly.
Privacy is a big concern for users, he says.
To allay fears, members can choose how much information they share. For example, they can display their street number, or not.
The flipside is that Neighbourly’s terms and conditions say it can click-track your every move.
Bradley and Eden want to know how people use the site – the better to hone it. And, done the line, to track people’s interests to send them targeted offers.
The managing director says the non-commercial soft launch, which will continue for months, or longer (he claims there is no timeline to turn a profit), will provide time to build up a sense of community, and trust.
Flipping into monetisation mode
One it does move into commercial mode, Neighbourly “won’t have any big banners or directory ads” Mr Eden says. Nor will companies be asked to pay an annual fee, Yellow Local or Localist style. Rather, he sees performance-based advertising. He gives the example of a butcher in St Helliers only wants to target people within a 5km radius. “Almost any business is willing to pay $1 for every customer if they know they’ll walk in the door,” he says. But how do you measure that? Stay tuned.
And although Neighbourly’s Ts & Cs allow it to hit people with offers, he stresses it’s all opt-in, and that the site will go out of its way to remind people of that fact before it does switch to monetization mode. At the end the day, it’s self-policing; if people feel they’re being exploited, they’ll quit the site. Mr Eden says he hopes he can prod people a little in the other direction. If they open up a little, they can get more out of their online interactions with their neighbours … and some better-target ads, which will be less annoying.
The core Neighbourly site will always be free, Mr Eden says, but down the line there will be some value-added features that members could pay for.
What sort of features? Don’t look to US hero neightbourhood site NextDoor.com for clues.
Likely Neighbourly, it’s still in a feel-good, community building phase – although the past year has seen its value rise and rise as it’s built media buzz.
In October, Nextdoor raised an additional $US60 million in private equity, implying a total value for the company of $US500 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The new equity was earmarked for international expansion.
If it heads down our way, NextDoor – like GroupOn before it - will find Mr Bradley has got in first.