Friday, December 12, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship Update: MassWrestling.com, Mass Development Association of Dar Es Salaam, Olive Arbor and Moca Mobile

This year, MassWrestling.com, a site that I founded in 1999 is entering its 10th year (!) in existence. Check out this old school archive! I can't believe I called it the "Wall of Glory". I'm so embarrassed.

MassWrestling is an interesting study in community based websites. It really was Web 2.0 before Web 2.0 existed. Not a lot of people wrestle in New England relative to the rest of the country. And not a lot of people wrestle in this country relative to the number who play other sports. But those who do are passionate, and I was lucky to tap into such a community.

In my social entrepreneurship work, I stress sustainability a lot. You plan for it, you constantly drive towards it. Well, with MassWrestling.com, I got flat out lucky. In 2003, I had started a full-time job and pretty much ran out of gas running the site. A young man named Mike Atlas stepped up, we did a transition, and Mike, with his programming skill automated the site to a great degree, thus making it sustainable and retaining the strong base that had been built up over the previous three years. Mike Atlas has been an important person in the way I view entreprenuership. Before Mike, I was always a lone wolf, doing interesting things until I'd burn out. Mike made me realize that you need talented people (ideally those who can code) who understand how to run the ship, and have the same energy and passion that you do (or once had) about something.

This is the rough story in 400 words that I drafted for a business school essay I don't think I ever used:

At Thanksgiving, in 1999, I went back to visit some coaches I'd worked with - high school, club, etc. They complained about their athletes being out of shape because they hadn’t been able to find off-season clubs. Instead of wrestling, many of these teenagers had spent their free time getting in trouble. I decided that if there were a website where athletes and parents could network, it would help improve athletes’ access to the proper coaching and information required to be focused and healthy. I knew such a website could have a significant impact on this tight-knit community, but MassWrestling.com’s popularity and contribution to the sport surprised even me.

I decided MassWrestling.com would begin with a forum in order to gather input and start communication with both athletes and coaches. Word of mouth spread quickly from the initial list of contacts, and I was pleased that many people expressed interest in getting such a website off of the ground. Shortly afterwards, I added individual and team rankings, knowing this would bring in more traffic and exposure to hardworking athletes in an underpublicized sport in New England. When I started gathering tournament results for the entire New England region reported by correspondents, traffic really took off. The community grew to over 3,000 registered users (under Mike, it's now close to 10,000!).

Now that people were hitting MassWrestling.com with regularity, I wanted to make it a resource that could help athletes and their families with the challenges I faced. Having struggled to make weight myself, I built a section with nutritional information and a place for parents, athletes and coaches to discuss safe ways for wrestlers to diet. I set up an area and provided webspace for wrestling clubs so that athletes could keep improving in the off-season. I arranged for wrestlers from low income families to attend wrestling camps for free. In exchange, the camps received publicity at no cost. I used the website to help inner city schools get donations to fund their wrestling programs. I called on the collected efforts of the community to archive the history of the sport in New England, gathering tournament results and All-State teams going back to the 1970s.

And I wasn't the only one contributing - I call it Web 2.0 before Web 2.0 because a lot of others were contributing. Some wrote articles, retired wrestlers sent in old clippings of All-State teams for me to scan in, and everyone argued about rankings (nothing much has changed if you visit the new site). People still contribute - amazingly busy people like Rollie Peterkin, the Penn wrestler who somehow balances a Wharton education and being one of the nation's top student-athletes.

It was great to be a hub - something I miss being a part of. During this time, I made lifelong relationships, including friendships with parents of athletes that resulted in future employment. This included an internship at Compaq and a full-time at Collaborative Consulting. But as you get busy, it's hard to stay involved with the sport with a 60 hour a week consulting job. Still, I'm proud of the groundwork I helped lay, and what Mike and community have built since.


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For my regular readers, I'll be out of touch for a couple weeks. I'm climbing Kilimanjaro starting on December 22nd. Then I'll be working on a team from MIT Sloan to develop a microfinance/training program in Dar-es-Salaam with a community based organization called the Mass Development Association. I'll also spend a week in Zanzibar the week after regrouping so I can finish up my term at MIT strong.

Olive Arbor is starting to generate some organic traffic as some of the corporate profiles get better. Still a lot of bugs to fix. Everyone I mention this idea to is excited about the idea of getting an organized view like this on how responsibly corporations are behaving. I have a lot of great data sets that need to be formatted so they can be parsed into the system.

Moca sneaks into TechCrunch. We have a big launch call with the Philippines on December 18th. Looks like I might be in Capiz for the summer deploying Moca, depending on when my new job will start.


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