Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

crowdsourcing a small business

Here is a crazy idea for a website that I wish existed.

Say you had a small business, probably a one-person affair.  A corner-shop, or maybe a hot dog stand, or anything where there is just one or two of you. An indie dev would be fine, actually.

Imagine a website where you could go, and anonymously (in terms of not saying exactly where your business was, or what it was called) you could lay bare ALL of the facts about your business, in terms of finances. Every day, you would upload your current sales figures. All your expenses and bills would be online (anonymized).

the site would have forums, and you would need an account to post. The idea, would basically be to help run peoples business. You could comment on their sales, and their plans. You could suggest new pricing strategies, refer them to data on other businesses you thought appropriate, and the owner could decide whether to take people’s advice or not, optionally awarding karma to people who provided decent feedback.

What’s in it for the business owner? It’s like having 1,000 varieties of the ‘bloke down the pub’ who has an idea on how you could do better. This time you get advice from all over the world, from all kinds of people. On the whole, people will be genuine and helpful, and if they aren’t they will get modded down anyway.

What’s in it for the forum posters? Entertainment. There are a lot of armchair experts and business-obsessed stats geeks like me. I’d love to wade through the sales stats for my local shops. Maybe I’m sad, and unusual, but I bet I’m not the only one. It’s a big internet.

What’s in it for the website owners? Money. A site like this would be a magnet for small business owners. High-value advertising screen-estate for people flogging business books and accountancy / marketing services.

Why isn’t there a site like this?

13 thoughts on crowdsourcing a small business

  1. Well… I don’t know why this isn’t online yet. Probably a bit hard to make money out of the idea. (Yeah, it is interesting to have these stats, but making and maintaining such a site sounds a bit like a day job, and not a very profitable one).

    I don’t think advertising would really pull in enough money to support the creator of the site. And small business owners would not be willing to pay for accounts I would think.

    Still interesting idea. Perhaps you should hire somebody to make it.

  2. It’s a good idea. But, if I’m going to be helping people run their business(es), I’d want more than just entertainment for compensation. Plus, I’d think that as time goes on, it’d be increasingly more difficult to keep the same level of anonymity as you would wish to have.

    Also, the other big problem is where do you draw the line between what you present to your crowd and what do you not? For example, do you tell them about a problem employee and that you wish to fire him/her? And then, do you tell the WHOLE story, so your crowd is able to provide unbiased input?

    From a purely technical standpoint, there’s no reason why a web-based service such as this wouldn’t exist. But, realistically, I wouldn’t want strangers having any effect on my business. And, again, from the external crowd-guy’s point of view, I’d want to be paid for helping some dude run his business, since I know I’d be giving good, sound advice based on my experience and expertise.

  3. You can get most of these benefits from a professional organization. It’s not anonymous, but you’re sharing data in a members-only environment so people are more free about details they would otherwise keep private.

    The Association of Software Professionals is one organization:

  4. I think this is a brilliant Idea. Unfortunately it will fail at least for another half of a decade. Why? Because people that usually run those kind of things like small shops or stands don’t usually use internet to even a fraction of it’s extent, and they’re most likely not looks for a site like this. However in a few years time, the people who have always lived with internet will grow up and create businesses of their own, then a site like that would flourish.

    Another thing that is needed is to actually make a site like this.
    Probably a lot of people already had such an idea but none of them came forward and actually done it.

  5. Extracting useful information from anyone to make a sound recommendation is painful at best. Worse is if they voluntarily provide the data themselves, because if they judged it pertinent to the extent of posting it, they would have acted on it already. You end up getting skewed data from self-reporting.

    I read US securities filings just for fun sometimes, and even with guidelines and other management colour added in, you can’t get an accurate picture without grilling management.

    Of course, armchair experts probably wouldn’t care that much if they got it right or wrong, just as long as their score increased. It reminds me of those investment blog/game sites like SeekingAlpha. It’s not somewhere someone would go to actually build an investment portfolio, but its still entertaining and a good place to get starter ideas.

  6. I like it!
    That would definitely also help the startups.
    So before you start your startup you can have your plan reviewed and tweaked.

    I know where to get money then:
    Some users are super-experts. After giving like 100 reviews which were marked as “very nice” by the help-seekers this super-expert can then upgrade to “paid super-expert” and if somebody wants his detailled opinion about something it will cost him some bucks. The platform will keep some percent of this of course.

    So: Let’s say you are going to the bank to have your startup funded.
    You can tell them that some certified expert tweaked your plan and gave it a score of 1.3 so it’s very good and the guy in the bank would be dumb not to approve the credit.

    Also the guy in the bank could have all the other credit-wanters get a cheap pre-check from the platform.

    Anyway: I would like to be on that platform just for information.
    But I guess to build it could be difficult.
    The status quo of self-explanatory business web-stuff seems to be not THIS self-explanatory after all. I know some Enterprise project platforms but they are far away (though good looking and might have niiice features) from being idiot-proof-web2.0-stuff.
    So you would need guides, wizards and “interviews” to get the data in along with many videos for explanation and so on.

    Now some web2.0 guru go build that thing!

  7. Its a good idea. But, how can I say this, most managers/senior staff I meet think they know it all already.

  8. It’s not anonymous, but I’d like to think Chris runs our company along these lines. Maybe not all the time with our general business affairs, but our games wouldn’t be what they are without the many individuals who have spoken up on the forums. Since our community/customers see that we listen and consider what they have to say (often responding in length as well), they’re willing to provide us with great feedback on a consistent basis, knowing they very well could have a say in a key decision in the development process. Sometimes it feels like our team is much bigger than just a handful of people!

    Now for on topic, I think that while there would be some kinks to work out (like anything), ultimately the idea is sound. Especially now, CEO’s who close their doors to outside advice seem to be dwindling, and there’s definitely more of an inclusive feel on the rise when it comes to how to run your (admittedly for the most part small) business. One issue that might come up is users would likely tend to help more in the areas of the business they felt they understood better, or found more entertaining. So a certain part of the business might have a much larger “support group” around it, while another part only has one or two interested parties maximum providing feedback — say the PR/marketing department for instance; that’s what I do, and no one ever talks to me on the forums! :)

    Lastly Cliff, your name was dropped today at E3! Unfortunately it was just in a hallway chat I had with Scott Reismanis of ModDB/Desura. :) Lot about digital distribution and how you’ve spoken out about some alarming trends that have been forming over the last couple of years. He’s currently forging ahead into the Linux support space, interesting stuff.

  9. Two main, and terribly obvious reasons

    1) As Justin mentions, maintaining anonymity is extremely difficult. Almost impossible, if you’re uploading stats every day. How can you release plans and maintain anonymity?

    2) Figures are useless without context. One business might need to spend 20,000 pounds on tech support, another (with bullet proof software) might have a budget of 200 quid..

    Look at Minecraft objectively. Lots of people love it. The website doesn’t exactly sell it, does it? Hell, the game itself doesn’t immediately show many people what’s going on.

    Now examine something that’s not been (relatively) too successful – say plenty of stuff on Planescape:Torment or Arcanum. They could perhaps have been more successful, but then they might not be the same product..

    It’s the worst possible idea for the single indie dev – they’re already short for time, particularly if the development is part time. The time required to monitor and post every day would I suspect be outweighed by the value returned.

  10. I like the sound of the idea itself, i.e. using the openness to feed back into strategies that everyone would then see the effectiveness of. However as people have said there could be real issues with maintaining anonymity etc.

    Perhaps the better question is: Since you already have so many websites why haven’t you started this one :P

  11. This is a great idea, but the real problem would be time, I think. It would take a long time to upload enough data and information to help people make an informed decision, and a long time to read through it. I’m not convinced that the people who need the advice and the people in a good position to offer it would have the time to do this service justice.

    That said, it is also the kind of thing that deserves trying it out. You could prototype the idea by setting up a forum on a new domain, putting some design and rules around it, and promoting it to see what happens. If it really works, you could look at building something out using custom code to more closely guide the process. If it doesn’t work, then it’s still a cool idea that’s available for those who want to use it.

    To make it work, you’d probably need to recruit some SMEs to kick it off. The key success factor is the content and SME participation, rather than the website to host it. People can set up blogs and get advice on LinkedIn, so it’s only once people make a commitment to transparency and ongoing reporting on this shared site that the idea really works.

  12. There is a website that is kind of going for this idea. It was founded by one of the original facebook guys. I read about it a while. It’s Not so much about the money side of business, but more concepts and ideas about starting and running businesses.

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