The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, Lisa Chau, and do not necessarily represent those of Dartmouth College or the Tuck School of Business.
Earlier today, I shared about the growth of aSW (A Small World). I talked with creator, Swedish Count Erik Wachtmeister and his wife, Countess Louise Wachtmeister in an exclusive interview.
LC: What is the purpose of invite-only social networks? How do you respond to critics who argue it’s pure snobbery?
EW: Our purpose is not to create an elite social network. However, it may become so because we built our initial member base upon successful and well-connected individuals.
The goal of Best of All Worlds is to create an intimate and trusted environment as opposed to the chaos and overflow of biased information that prevails online today. The site offers special interest communities which attract people with particular expertise, backgrounds and passions to share with others who have similar interests. People are more likely to be comfortable with others they either know directly or indirectly through contacts.
Our site simply provides an environment that is already prevalent in real life such as private country clubs, professional societies or your own dining room. It is nonsense to suggest that all these should not be allowed to exist online.
It is not about snobbery, it is human behavior that has not yet effectively reached the online world.
LC: How did you decide who to invite initially? What is the demographic you imagine five years from now?
EW: I have lived and worked all over the world and therefore, my network is very diverse in terms of contacts, age and professional background. My objective is to seed BoAW so it’s truly global from day one. Therefore, I invited 5,000 particularly well-connected, international contacts.
The site already has members registered in 150 countries. My true belief, is that a successful global community must be global from day one. The dynamics become much more interesting when members exchange information or travel and meet new friends. Also, it’s key to have members from different fields, especially since the network focuses on member interests and passions in the niche worlds within BoAW.
LC: Please explain the rationale behind your concept. How does BoAW facilitate “paying attention to our own future”?
EW: In essence, we provide a service that is missing today. Currently, interactive media is dominated by backwards-looking, vanity-centric news feeds on one hand and a boring CV database on the other. BoAW creates a platform where people can connect and explore what they want to do and with who in the future, rather than looking at what they missed and living vicariously in their friend’s past.
We are building a tool that will become increasingly useful and intelligent the more you and others use it.
LC: Why did you leave A Small World? Do you ever regret it?
EW: It is a misperception that I sold aSW — I did not. I took in The Weinstein Company as an investor. It was not a good fit because our visions were not aligned. I can only refer to Harvey’s interview in Newsweek last year.
“In business, one of my all-time doozies was when I first started the Weinstein Co. I bought controlling interest in an Internet company called A Small World. The company functioned just like Facebook, except it was exclusive—you could only sign up if your friends were already in. It originated just weeks before Facebook got big. I thought this idea was way ahead of its time and we could sell advertising and eventually memberships. The first thing we did was concentrate on selling ads. Meanwhile, all the other sites concentrated on services to make theirs better. I ignored the technology and went after the bottom line. When I make a movie, I never think bottom line. I just think of how good the movie can be and sometimes I go over budget because I have a vision. But here, I clearly was in way over my head. The great thing that guys like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Google guys have in common is they treat their technology like it’s art, and I suppose in the hands of virtuosos like them, it is. The other social sites kicked my butt.”
LC: What are some of the lessons you learned from A Small World & how is this reflected on Best of All Worlds?
EW: We are now more confident, and we will run this company without taking in outsiders who don’t fully understand and support our mission. We will not give up control to partners who do not share the vision of BoAW.
LC: The Facebook revolution seems to be cooling down quickly. How will BoAW overcome this fate?
EW: Our site will cater to people’s fundamental needs and making those the number one priority. We aim to increase meaningful interaction online by focusing on new and existing passions.
We will also be monitoring user metrics in order to understand what is working well and not. Our team will then react accordingly.
LC: How does your new site handle the privacy of its members?
EW: In terms of privacy, members own their information. BoAW will adhere to the latest EU commission rules, and those laws will be applied globally on the site.
LC: Existing aSW members are very interested in how you plan to keep the standards of discourse high on BoAW.
EW: Our new site is based on niche worlds within the BoAW universe. These interest specific worlds will be curated and ambassadors have been deployed to make sure the membership and discussions stay relevant. A team of webmasters will monitor activity and members have access to an interactive feedback loop to remove inappropriate items.
We have also enlisted Riz Khan, a well-known journalist and television host, to moderate the ABetterWorld section of the site.
LC: Will there be a charge for membership on BoAW?
EW: There is no charge for membership on the site– that will always be free. However, we plan to offer advanced features and functionality for a fee. The freemium model will be implemented in six to twelve months.
LC: Are there any other details about BoAW that should be highlighted?
EW: Our site currently covers approximately 100 international cities and resorts now. We will increase incorporate more over time.
The worlds of shared interests will function like separate niche communities. In a few weeks, we will launch four worlds:
Message inboxes will sort private mail from bulk mail.
The site allows users to find new information either in active browse mode with filters or passive, Pinterest-style discover mode.
In four weeks, we will launch a feature which allows members to list their favorite things to do or own. Lists will be sorted by category and open for others to vote on.
Our site gives members unlimited ways to generate information about themselves, places, things and services. Ultimately, the more members put into BoAW, the more they will get out of BoAW.
Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. She has been published in US News and Forbes.