Building an Online Destination for CSR: The Zoosa Chronicles–with Mike McGlade

A social mission is not a short-cut. Your business won’t get preferential treatment from suppliers, investors or consumers because it aims to do good. Not at first anyway. You need to deliver a service that people want (either a new product or one of exceptional quality) at prices that meet or undercut market rates. It’s the combination of a well-run business driven by a social mission that makes a Patagonia or a Newman’s Own. My focus is to show you how to build this type of business.

I asked Mike McGlade who co-founded Zoosa, an online platform for socially responsible individuals, companies and non-profits, to share what he’s learned from launching and re-launching the site.

Mike and Brian Fleming conceptualized Zoosa in April 2008 to with the aim to create a destination for all social responsibility news, resources, volunteer opportunities and jobs.  They went live that August, but took the site down in December 2008 to refocus their mission. As Mike admits, “We tried to boil the ocean from the beginning. We weren’t focused enough on one target group or one service.” It was at this time that they developed their partnership model, which allowed them to pull in existing news, jobs and volunteer streams from other sites rather than create duplicate content and listings.

Six months later, they relaunched again, but soon after saw an opportunity to refocus the site to allow individuals to report on their own social responsibility. Mike and Brian launched this interface at the end of January 2010 to encourage people to use Zoosa to highlight their personal social impact–think LinkedIn for CSR. Mike says a current challenge is “Finding ways to reward people for entering their information in the system and understanding what the real value to them is.”  Right now, Zoosa is seeing the most bite from students who are looking to connect with socially responsible peers, job opportunities and volunteer projects, although Mike and Brian had visualized their target demographic as 30-something professionals.

Zoosa’s founders have learned the downside in trying to create a site for everybody right from the starting gate. They are more focused now, working with specific schools, organizations and regions to conduct focus groups that will guide Zoosa’s next phase of development.

Mike admits that they are still figuring out the ultimate business model. They’ve tried a couple of approaches. Once they get more feedback from focus groups and test users, they hope to be able to better gauge what type of features will add value for their customers. Currently, it’s free for individuals, schools and companies to input their information.

Although Mark and Brian have zagged a bit since their initial launch a year and a half ago, they still see a valid market for a CSR database that extends to companies and individuals and can be shaped by the public (wiki-style).

I asked Mike to share what other entrepreneurs can learn from their their relaunches.

  • Be flexible. As Mike mentioned, he thought Zoosa would appeal to 30+ professionals. Instead, it’s students who are taking the strongest interest. Desiree Vargas talked about the surprise shift in GiveForward users and how she’s using it to define the business.
  • Focus on a target group and define the value of your service to them. Once you can deliver this and have a loyal customer base, you can begin to diversify. Mike brought up Facebook, which expanded from Harvard to Yale to all colleges to the public over the course of several years.
  • Contact your alma mater or local school for interns. Mike’s an alum of Harvard Business School. He not only worked with a crop of MBA students, he receives council from his former professors and used two entrepreneurship grants from the university to bootstrap Zoosa. Mike stresses that you need to offer your interns value. What value can you share with them? It’s worth spending the time to think about this as it engages them more in growing your business, helps them learn and seeds their return as future employees.
  • Reach out to existing networks and let them know what you’re doing. You can find interns, resources, publicity, user feedback and council. Mike suggested university networks; NetImpact is also a good network to tap.

You can reach Mike at @Zoosa.


Comments are closed.