Interview with Jesse Patel of Innovatorz Media (N2Y2 Featured Project)

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We're continuting our series of interviews with the Featured Projects from the NetSquared Conference (N2Y2) with a chat with Jesse Patel, the co-founder of Innovatorz Media. You can listen to the interview on the NetSquared Podcast and hear their 5-minute pitch at the Conference here. A transcript of the interview is available below:

Jesse Patel: My name is Jesse Patel, and I am one of the co-founders of Innovatorz Media. We are essentially an online media producer and distributer. Our goal is to make it really easy for social innovators to use "Web 2.0 tools", new media tools, to tell their stories and engage people in their work.

I started Innovatorz Media about a year-and-a-half ago. The goal is to get average people as passionately inspired and following the ongoing stories of social entrepreneurs as closely as they follow the stories of their local sports teams. People doing this are doing amazing, exciting things, with big challenges and big trials and tribulations that are great stories. The idea was that all these emerging communication technologies would enable them to open up a whole new flood of support by effectively engaging people in these real-world stories of triumph and failure.

We have expertise in all the data-technologies of podcast production, social networking, online video production, etc. We have worked on ways to make it really easy and low cost for organizations to use them. We work on a consulting basis with regular fees that produce regular content, and distribute it.

One of the innovative things that set us apart in the beginning was the idea that we identified this opportunity in the group of people who are most inspired about social entrepreneurship. Typically young professionals early in their career, a couple years out of college and in college right now, is where this movement is building in a big way. Our idea was we would tap into that energy and recruit student volunteers who would work with social entrepreneurs who they look up to, and be their student "Web 2.0" evangelists. They would help those social entrepreneurs, they would train them, and help them promote their work, produce media. They would have a team of these students that would be passionately behind them and helping them "go viral," if you will, online.

BB: Can you give an example of how Innovatorz has or will create positive change?

JP:
There are a couple of concrete outcomes that can happen from using online media. The most common one is getting talent, people who are on your team. Scojo Foundation, was one of the people we worked with when we were developing a pilot. We produced a series of monthly podcasts for them. People listened to them, and they got an intern from France who heard their podcasts and was excited about them, and contacted them as a result, so that's one example.

In terms of talent, that's the only one I've heard of through Innovatorz, but there are a lot of examples of people getting talent and team members early on, people who blog or podcast. Kiva is a really good example. Kiva has gotten some of its founding members because of the blog that Matt Flannery keeps on Social Edge.

That's one thing that we wanted to help people do. The other thing is donations. If you have a reason to have people coming back to your site, a reason to be reaching out to them and entertaining them, our idea was that you can do that to drive donations in a couple of clever ways. One is by directly asking for donations, two is by giving people a bonus if they don't have donations. We're just thinking about experimenting with a whole bunch of clever ways to do that now.

I would say donations, giving people a reason to come back to your site, build traffic to your site, and the big one is talent. You want to build awareness for your organization, and your cause.

BB: What's the next step for Innovatorz? What are some of its goals and challenges?

JP: Innovatorz is at an interesting stage of development. I'm going to be very blunt about it, my co-founders and I are not doing Innovatorz full-time anymore. We are doing it as a labor of love at this point. We're going to build it slowly, see how it works, and see whether it works. Over the past four months, we were going for it, and NetSquared was part of that. We wanted to see how much momentum we could get. In that period we had a lot of insights, and a lot of great conversations with people, and learned a lot of really interesting things. One of which was that we don't think that we're where we need to be right now in order to have the impact we wanted to have, in terms of creating cult followings for individual social entrepreneurs, and enthusiastic supporters, and floods of talent coming to people - all the things that I really do still think are possible, and people are already figuring out how to do using online media. I don't think that we are at a place where it warranted, where we were achieving enough of that, to warrant our full-time investment.

So, we decided to keep developing what we do, and keep doing it in a small way. Right now we're producing podcasts for people, a monthly podcast for a fee, which is something really simple that we can do well. We help them organize it, make sure the content is right, edit, etc. That's something that is really easy for us to do, because we've been doing it, but we're not working on the big picture. We're not spending a lot of time doing all the business development, the partnership development, and developing channels that are going to bring traffic to all of our clients and even the non-clients. (We were producing media for plenty of people that weren't clients at all). All of the big picture, long-term thinking stuff, we're not really doing right now. We're just having fun.

Britt Bravo: What was the positive impact for Innovatorz of going to the NetSquared conference?

JP: NetSquared was great. There were a lot of really positive outcomes. One is obviously the large number of potential partners, clients, and beneficiaries we met at the conference. We met a lot of people doing really relevant work. We met Greg, from the Knight Foundation, a huge funder in the media area. We met people from sites like TakingITGlobal, and organizations like Miro who are a great potential content and distribution partner. People like Geneva Global, who are a potential client, have stories that they need told. Lots of people who we met were great.

We got a lot of interesting advice from people. We were started as a nonprofit. A lot of people at the Conference said, "Why aren't you for-profit? If you're producing value for people, you should be a for-profit. It seems like your plan right now is to run on a fee-for-service basis, so why should we be subsidized?" We took that to heart. That's a big part of the shift that we've undergone in the last two months. That's one decision we made. We decided, "Yes, we'll be a for-profit, we'll see if we can wing it that way." One of our plans was to raise foundation capital, and then we decided, "We're not going to do that."

Overall, the Conference was an opportunity to evaluate what we were doing and step back from it. Sean Stannard-Stockton runs a blog, TacticalPhilanthropy.com, about new developments in philanthropy, and transparency in philanthropy, and this new age and burgeoning of interest in giving in the American populus. Sean is also the Director of Tactical Philanthropy at Ensemble Capital, and he's been a great mentor. He's actually become a client, and we're producing his podcast now. All he has to do is pick up the telephone, and have whoever he's doing the podcast with pick up their telephone. They both call into a free conference line, and record the podcast with however many people (it's always been two with him). That's all he has to do. We take care of all the editing, all the sound processing to improve the quality, hosting, all the pre- and post- music, the intros and outros, and transcription. It's been really interesting to have him as a client and a mentor at the same time. It's been really nice.

BB: How can listeners help to move your work forward?

JP: We're doing an experiment with using web media to increase donations to organizations. It's a pretty simple and interesting concept that we're trying out. We're looking for beta-testers or alpha-testers, people who run non-profit organizations or run the communications part of non-profit organizations, and who are interested in contributing some of their experience and knowledge, and maybe even participating. If you're interested, you can send me email at jessep@innovatorz.org, and I can tell you what we're up to.

BB: Is there anything else that you want people to know about Innovatorz, or that you didn't get to talk about?

JP: I'd like to add that I think NetSquared is an amazing project. I think that CompuMentor does an amazing job. I really respect the risk they took in innovating and trying something new. I think it's a testament to them that organizations like Innovatorz, which are extremely early stage, got to sit alongside organizations that are very well developed, with huge budgets. I am very grateful for that, and I think people should recognize the value that you are creating.