Harvard i3 Proposal: Social Enterprise Samuel Galler Daniel Choi Kirk Benson Summary Briefly state the value proposition of your project in terms of what it will do, for whom, and what positive impact will result. BrowniePoints is an online community that encourages its members to post and fulfill basic favors by tracking and rewarding helpful actions. This online application will allow people to fully leverage their innate desire to help their neighbors by expanding access to information about how to help one’s peers and increasing public recognition for those who do engage in such helpful action. BrowniePoints will increase the frequency with which students help each other while at the same time normalizing the idea of the ‘random act of kindness.’ Project Summary: What is your idea? State all the main elements of your proposed project in narrative fashion. What are you going to do, for what purpose, with what resources, with what effect on the world and yourself? If applicable, you may include and refer to prototypes, demos, or screenshots in the appendix. We will design a website where a community of Harvard undergraduates can post requests for favors, and respond instantaneously to these requests. Each user will begin with a small number of “brownie points,” which will be traded freely in exchange for helpful actions. As users accumulate greater numbers of completed tasks, they will be earn extra “brownie points”, and BrowniePoints will look for sponsors to award prizes to the most active members on the site. Our site will be interactive, intuitive, and fun, and it will incorporate an irreverent sense of humor in order to encourage casual participation and a positive attitude. Each user will have a profile that lists the favors they have completed, and all users will be able to look through archives of past favors completed to better understand how to write a favor request. New users can also consult a page we will create with guidelines on how to write an appropriate request. In order to keep security concerns in check, we will offer membership only to individuals with an “@fas” or “@college” email address. We will advertise this service to Harvard undergraduates through posters, flyers, emails over student group lists, and other on-‐campus media, and we hope that the satisfaction users derive from using the site will cause it to become integrated into the student life culture on campus. As soon as the site goes live, we will moderate postings to make sure they are appropriate and realistic, and we will actively participate in the site’s user community from the start. We will monitor favors that are not completed immediately, and either have a staff member complete them or respond directly to the individual with possible reasons their favor was not claimed by other users on the site. This project is designed to be scalable to any small to mid-‐size community, including college campuses and neighborhoods looking to enhance community involvement. Currently, incentives to complete good tasks are skewed; people frequently offer small monetary rewards in exchange for help, but doing so fails to nurture the underlying motive of good will. We aim to provide incentives that will nurture a culture of giving to the community, in a fun and collaborative environment. Ideally, users will develop a sense of identity as part of the BrowniePoints community, and thus will begin to build trust and confidence in their peers. By introducing a new social currency (i.e. “brownie points), we will expand the favor market from one that is limited to friendship circles to the student body at large. Research by Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a practicing physician and professor at Harvard Medical School, has indicated that happiness is strongly correlated with interacting with happy strangers and those “one, two, and three degrees removed from you,” indicating that this social project would have positive effects on the student happiness generally. We believe that limited knowledge of others’ needs and lack of recognition for performing favors are the two principal barriers to neighborly behavior. Furthermore, we believe that most people actually want to help others, and that this is an unmet demand in most communities. In other words, if people were to know exactly what their neighbors needed and were rewarded for helping out, they would be self-‐motivated to perform acts of good will. Online media have increasingly started to undermine the importance of physical proximity in the formation of meaningful relationships and replace valuable face-‐to-‐face interaction. We believe that the Web can be used to the opposite effect, as a tool to encourage greater interpersonal interaction by coordinating and enabling social engagement. As things currently stand, most favor requests are sent out over student group or house lists, which suffer from being too small and not reporting task completion. We aim to unify these fragmented communication networks, since individuals arguably benefit more from helping strangers than from helping only friends. Ultimately, increased face-‐to-‐face time with strangers in this positive context will transform the social fabric of campus, improving student happiness and quality of life on campus. We will take advantage of users’ unmet desire to help other members of the community, and we will rely on two web developers to create the site. We will have a few people monitoring the site, and a few people working on marketing, which would include both advertising to students and negotiating with local businesses and corporate sponsors. Businesses will gain good publicity and access to a unique demographic by sponsoring this project at reasonable cost. The Project At what stage of development is your venture? What, if any, work have you already put into it and what has that work accomplished? BrowniePoints is in development and nearly ready to move to implementation. Front-‐end design is currently being drafted, while back-‐end implementation has yet to be started. The team has proposed the idea to various peers to gauge interest in the project, and an overwhelming majority has expressed sincere appreciation of and support for the idea. Describe in detail your work plan for the summer. A minimum of two months of work is expected, so please describe those work activities and what it will produce. At the start of summer, website design drafts will already be completed and the coding team will begin implementation of the web application. Depending on the final project specification, another engineer may be hired to help code. Front-‐end and back-‐end work will be developed simultaneously to ensure the creation of an intuitive user interface, a logical underlying infrastructure, and efficient use of resources. Throughout the pre-‐alpha and alpha process, the public website will include information about the project and the ability to sign-‐up for early beta access. This will help generate hype for the project and establish its purpose among the targeted demographic (Harvard undergraduates). Once the project reaches beta, a small number of testers will be given access to the site to find bugs and give feedback on the user experience. At this point, with proof of concept established and a budding community, the team will begin reaching out to possible corporate sponsors for awarding monthly Brownie Points prizes to the top earners. Marketing to students will also commence to build hype for the full release once the school year starts. The team has set several milestones during the summer to track its progress. Important dates are listed below. Date Milestone May 31st, 2011 Design drafts complete Team structure solidified Office space and technical resources secured June 30th, 2011 Alpha release Public “teaser” available at website June 15th, 2011 Finalize feature list July 31st, 2011 Beta release Publicity and marketing materials created August 15th, 2011 Corporate sponsorships secured Marketing strategy developed and rolling August 31st, 2011 Version 1.0 Release Who is your target audience, and what demonstrable need of theirs are you trying to address? Be as specific as possible, and if possible, quantify the size of the audience and need. BrowniePoints will be released first to a pilot community comprised of all Harvard undergraduate students. The application itself, however, is suited for any small to mid-‐ sized community, and our goal is to eventually branch into other educational institutions, geographic locations, and corporate settings. People constantly rely on each other for help, whether they are looking for advice on academics or careers or whether they simply need an extra hand in decorating for a party. Frequently, requests for help go unanswered or even worse – unasked -‐ because there exists no natural forum in which we can request and respond to small favors. We have estimated that five to ten requests are made over each of the thirteen undergraduate Harvard house e-‐mail lists every day. That amounts to 1000 to 2000 requests per semester across all houses, not even including requests sent over private lists and those sent via texts to friends. BrowniePoints seeks to connect those looking for a little help with those willing to give a little help, and ideally these two groups will have a great amount of overlap. It’s the pay-‐it-‐forward effect to the nth degree! The concept is very scalable – since a greater number of members in a community means more requests and more people to fulfill those requests, the sole limiting factor is the somewhat intangible aspect of trust and camaraderie. In order for this program to succeed, the members of the community must feel that there is something about their community that ties them together as individuals helping one another. For this reason, the Harvard undergraduate population is the perfect pilot community in which to launch this project. Who else is attempting to respond to this need? How are you unique? The institution at Harvard that comes most close to responding to this need is that of house and student group e-‐mail lists. These lists, however, lack the large community needed to answer more obscure requests. Furthermore, the e-‐mail interface is not conducive to handling requests and offers of help. Craigslist also has a section in which users can ask for favors, but it suffers from having too large of a community. People tend to shy away from using Craigslist for help because there is no implied connection between members of the community, and many would not trust just any Craigslist user to help them. Classified ads, though waning in popularity, are also sometime used to requisition help from community members. These ads fail, however, to address time-‐sensitive needs and also suffer from the same problem that Craigslist faces. The readership is just too large and random to effectively respond to small favors. To summarize, BrowniePoint’s competitive advantage lies in the following: • It aggregates requests into a single, intuitive interface. • It makes it helping people more fun by introducing a little friendly competition into the mix. • People are recognized and rewarded for their efforts to make their communities better. • It encourages neighborly behavior among community members. • It builds a culture of mutual goodwill. Describe your financial needs for the project work plan and how you would use an I³ award. Also estimate how much additional funding, if any, you would need beyond the summer project period. Our financial needs extend primarily to the development of the actual application. Once the website has been created, the majority of content will be created by the Harvard community, and thus our major responsibilities will be periodic system improvements and updates and the moderating of the website. Also important is the continual solicitation of sponsorship for BrowniePoints prizes. We are looking to earn an I3 award in order to kick start our application development. The money would go toward funding the team of engineers that will bring our product to market. The project could be completed with two engineers working full-‐time over the summer. Compensation per coder should hover around $7000 in order to be competitive. Additionally, we would like to cover our costs of marketing the application to both corporate sponsors and student community members. We estimate around $1000 to cover the cost of producing and distributing our marketing materials. Finally, recurring costs like registering the site domain name and website hosting are small (~ $80/year), but non-‐ trivial. Major Costs Software Engineers (2) $7000 per engineer Advertising/Marketing $1000 Website Maintenance $80 per year Total: $15080 Additional costs past the actual implementation stage are small, so we fully believe that we can bring this application to market with a substantial I3 award. That said, scaling the project to include other communities (like colleges across the United States) would require another round of funding and expansion, so we are fully prepared to find further opportunities to finance our operation should we expand. What funding do you currently have? What other modes of funding do you reasonably expect? If applicable, how will you generate revenues for sustainability/profit? Tell us how you think an Innovation Challenge award would generate additional funding for your project. We do not currently have other funding for the project, aside from the money coming from our own pockets. Daniel Choi has graciously agreed to provide hosting for the project, but we need I3 funding to make this vision a reality. Unlike many other ventures, the sustainability of web applications relies less on continual funding. Past the costs of maintaining the website, the site is sustained by community interaction, which will likely grow over time. Should site traffic increase to such a degree as it would require a (more costly) dedicated hosting server, we could simply generate added revenue via advertising on the site. An Innovation Challenge award would do much to bolster the efforts of our team. We are all promising young entrepreneurs, and a success this early in our careers would provide us the experience and the confidence to continue our entrepreneurial pursuits. Additionally, a win would encourage us to enter additional business plan competitions and raise awareness for our goal of making social enterprises to better our communities. The Team Please list who is on your team and describe your reasons and theirs for pursuing this project. Also describe what each person will do on the project and what particularly relevant knowledge, experience and skills each can contribute. Describe any work the team has done together before. Briefly mention any professionals or advisors working with you and their area of expertise. The idea for BrowniePoints originated from Sam Galler’s coursework. Sam wrote a paper in a Sociology class where he found that people’s connections with their neighbors are eroding because people can interact online independently of geographic location. Then, as a student in CS50, Sam considered the idea of creating a website like BrowniePoints to foster personal connections in neighborhoods by encouraging people to do favors for one another. Daniel Choi joins the team with extensive experience and interest in entrepreneurship, design and coding. Last spring, he and Sam Galler co-‐founded a full-‐service web design firm called Full Glass Design. Tackling both back-‐end and front-‐end web design duties, he is passionate about design with the user in mind. In his spare time this past summer, he developed an open-‐source online application system used by student groups on campus, and he hopes to devote this next summer to making BrowniePoints a reality. Kirk Benson is passionate about business and entrepreneurship, bringing experience from management positions at Harvard Student Agencies and in last year’s I3 with HSA Talent. Together, we are an ambitious and optimistic team. We want to channel our interest in business to positively change our community, and we see great potential for BrowniePoints to make a real difference. Both our common and varied experiences make us a strong team. We met as singers in the Din & Tonics, a jazz a cappella group, and have performed together for audiences in Cambridge and around the world. Sam and Dan, given their experience in programming and design, will focus on developing the website, ensuring a fun and easy-‐to-‐use interface as well as strong functionality. Kirk will concentrate on marketing and business development, helping to create the buzz about BrowniePoints that can get it off the ground. We have attached our resumes in the appendix. Impact If you receive the funding you need, carry out your summer work plan and produce what you expect, what specific, measurable and realistic benefits will (a) your target audience and (b) you and your team realize immediately and over the following 3 and 18 months? Since our success comes from activity and traffic on the site, we can easily measure our progress. Specifically, we want to see steady growth in the amount of favors being requested and fulfilled on BrowniePoints. In the first three months we would expect about 5 new favors listed on the site per day and after a year, we would like to see at least 20 per day. Our success is based on community participation – BrowniePoints succeeds when its users are active since its users benefit from each interaction on the site.