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4 posts from August 2009

August 26, 2009

Tantrums, Threads, and Threats: The birth of a social networking site ....

Through Twitter, my wife Vanessa recently came across Ollie Cornes, the founder of one of the original property networking forums, Singing Pig.

Seeing as how Ollie is something of a trail blazer when it comes to forums, having started Singing Pig in 2002, she took the opportunity to ask him a few questions as I felt I could learn a great deal from his experiences. I thought I would share the interview with you here.

1. What gave you the idea to start SP forum seven years ago? What was your vision for it?

Ollie: Much of the driver in my life has been some non-life-threatening, manageable, but chronic, challenges with my health. These things make us question our values and priorities - they are a gift if we let them be. "Rich Dad Poor Dad" led me to learn about assets, cash-flow and building businesses - although I had previously run a dotcom/VC-funded business (it failed), that book crystalised many ideas for me. I needed to meet like-minded people to share ideas and learn, and out of some meet-ups in London, and chats online, connecting with people like Lisa Orme, I set up Singing Pig as a social venture - there was no intention in the early years to build a business out of it - I just wanted mutual-sharing. In 2002 I was scouring the web to find books or courses or articles on property investment and landlording, and there was almost nothing there.

2. Did you have a platform custom-designed or did you use a generic one?

Ollie: Technology - build-or-buy - the eternal question I've been searching for an answer to for longer than I can remember. My thinking continues to evolve, but at this point I believe that buying a software platform is likely to be better than building your own AS LONG AS the platform is extensible and open and you have ownership of the data (ability to get a copy). It's far quicker, and users benefit from a far wider range of features. Choosing a platform remains a difficult decision (it's hard to undo), hopefully it will get easier as more apps move to the cloud and interconnect. Singing Pig started on MSN Groups (to migrate away from here we had to screen-scrape the content off each page with custom software - ugly, but it worked), it then moved to a proprietary forum platform, and then moved again to another, much better platform, later on. The migrations were painful, for me at least, but I think they worked out in the end.

3. How did you generate groundswell in the early days of the forum?

Ollie: I remained active in the forums, I was interested in what others thought and were doing, I felt passionate about the community as it grew. Looking back I think there was a mutual sense that we all wanted to learn, and I listened to what people wanted from the forum and tried to deliver that. There was some luck in there too. For a while I had business cards with "Pig Daddy" on them, and it was a bit of a joke, but I did hold a kind of sense of paternalism, to encourage learning, to deter the idiots, to nurture the community.

4. How did you monetise the forum, or was that something that developed over time?

Ollie: I didn't press the monetisation very much, that was a side-benefit, and made sure costs were covered. If it was all about the money the ads would have been a lot more intrusive. It was about meeting people. We all know that landlords are often solitary workers - cabin-fever can set in, and lots of us (me included) relished the communication. Singing Pig was there at the right time really, Buy To Let was exploding, and there was a thirst for knowledge. To be honest if I wanted to build an income business, I wouldn't set up a content/community site, it's hard work for limited returns (as Rupert Murdoch is finding out on a larger scale). If the owner has a product/service they can promote on it, that's often a different matter...

5. What were the biggest challenges you faced with running the forum?

Ollie: The cowards who libelled people & companies behind the mask of anonymity, and the lawyers acting for their (often scumbag) clients. Mishcon de Reya had a dig once (you can probably guess who their client was) - they were so aggressive it was like being in a movie, but I had to admire their solid understanding of the law and technology (many lawyers who came at me were strangely clueless). Ironically I often felt like "piggie in the middle" - someone posts libellous comments in the forum, but the lawyers came after me - it was boring, and time-consuming.

6. Did being a forum owner help add credibility to your personal brand?

Ollie: Yes, I think it has, but as an (admittedly confident) introvert, that has limited appeal.

7. Why did you sell SP and was there anything in the timing of the sale?

Ollie: I sold it as I wanted to focus on other projects, I was working too hard, I was spread too thin. The timing worked for me, it took some pressure off, though I hope the new owner has benefited from it since - there were certainly days afterwards when I had mixed-feelings about the sale.

8. You rarely appear on SP now. Why is that?

Ollie: I decided back in 2007 that I wasn't prepared to continue working such long hours, and my community activities were a casualty - I focused on buying property, on building a business around that, improving the management of my properties. I continued to network, and still do, but much has been with smaller communities through people I know.

9. What are you doing now?

Ollie: I'm a property guy, but I have just as much passion for technology. It was natural that I fuse the two, and so for a number of years I've managed my portfolio using a scalable software platform that I evolved specifically for that purpose - I rather over-engineered it for one landlord, but it brought me great pleasure to build what didn't seem to exist on the market. I'd been asked on quite a number of occasions why I was not making it available to others to use, but I resisted - too busy, would other landlords find it useful, how to solve the technical hurdles to re-sell, etc. But I came around eventually and so this year I'm bringing it to market - opening myself up to the views of the landlord masses. It's designed specifically for landlords (not agents - so it isn't missing essential features to manage mortgage debt, valuations, equity, cash flow, buildings insurance, leasehold etc etc) and it is a cloud-based app, so secure, easy to access, a 30day free trial, no backups, no software to install, mobile access, free upgrades, and instead of a large up-front payment, it'll just be a small monthly fee. It's not commercially available yet, there is no web site yet, the service is in a small private trial. Like Singing Pig, there will be a community element, and landlords can vote on features they'd like added - democratic software, if you like. I'd love your feedback Vanessa & Nick - if you think it might be useful to you, let me know and I'll add you to the next trial phase.

10. Do you have an opinion on the future of SP and how it has become orientated towards deals and leads selling rather than discussion?

Ollie: There was some pressure before I sold it to expand this facility, or charge for it as a service, and I admit I resisted it, but I think since I let go of the business the market has changed a great deal. One of the challenges with any community/group is that ultimately the "owner" has limited control over how people use it, and BMV became the core focus for a great number of people - that "gold-rush" changed the nature of the community. To twist the old phrase "Cash-out is vanity, cash flow is sanity" smile

You can read the original interview and ensuing discussion on the Property Tribes forum here.

I really take my hat off to Ollie for creating such a vibrant community and selling it on. You can follow him @juicyproperty on Twitter.

Our next Guildford ecademy/property/social media networking event is on Sunday 20th September. You can join us here. At our events, we share a lot of inside information about how we monetise social media. This is a great way for you to expand your knowledge and contacts in a collaborative networking environment. Nick and I hope to see you there.

August 25, 2009

Are you a leader?

We are entering the era of the individual and the networked economy.  In order for you and your business to stand out from the crowd, you need to be a leader.

In a tribal society, the Elders are the most respected and committed members of the community, the leaders, the sharers of wisdom, and the people to turn to for support and advice.

Following the amazing news that Property Tribes has grown 180% in the last three months (Alexa stats), we’re introducing two new levels of membership to help grow the forum and provide enhanced benefits for our members.

“Tribal Elders” and “Tribal Elders PowWow” are our two new levels of paid membership for those of you who want to lead the property community and signal your commitment to property, networking, and raising the visibility of your businesses through on and off-line networking.

Tribal Elders Yearly Membership Programme:

For an annual subscription of £60, you will access the following benefits:

  • FREE entry to all our networking events for the duration of one year, plus bring a guest FREE. (Value £240).
  • An exclusive Tribal Elders gathering after our networking event for deeper networking and relationship building.
  • Enhanced visibility for you and your business on the forum and at our events.
  • 10% discount voucher off any of Nick's training events or consultancy services at socialmediagraffiti.com


Tribal Elders Yearly Membership Programme PLUS Pow Wow:

  • For an annual subscription of £400, you will access the following benefits:
  • FREE entry to all our networking events for the duration of one year, plus bring a guest FREE. (Value £240).
  • An exclusive Tribal Elders gathering after our networking event for deeper networking and relationship building.
  • Enhanced visibility for you and your business on the forum and at our events.
  • 10% discount voucher off any of Nick's training events or consultancy services at socialmediagraffiti.com
  • Discounted rates for sponsorship of Property Tribes.
  • A video "PowWow" interview (max. duration 10 minutes) filmed on HD with Vanessa to promote yourself or your business, which will be featured on Property Tribes. (See The Bookwright Interview). You will also have access to this video to use on your own website etc for your own promotion. (Value £450)
  • 1 hour business consultation with Vanessa and Nick. (Value £240)
  • Leveraging of our network, social media platforms, and contacts to increase visibility and awareness of your business in the online community.

BUY NOW £400

Sample Video screenshot of Vanessa interviewing Tome Evans @thebookwright These programmes represent excellent value for money to give you access to very affordable networking and other benefits that will enhance your visibility in our network. They are designed to help you grow your business and brand on-line in a supportive, open, and collaborative community which has been built over the past five years on trust and ethical practices.

By aligning yourself with other like-minded people, you can use the momentum of the group to move yourself and your business forwards.

Whilst the normal Property Tribes membership remains free, by joining one of our paid programmes, you are making a commitment to yourself to become a leader in the property community. The programmes are for serious and committed people only who see the benefit of joining the “inner circle” of our community and benefitting from enhanced visibility and credibility in our network.

August 20, 2009

Smoke signals ...

To celebrate the news that the Alexa statistics report that the Property Tribes forum has grown 180% in the last three months, we're introducing some exciting new initiatives and benefits for tribal members:

Special offer from Upad for tribal members:

We are delighted to report that the Property Tribes forum is now sponsored by the U.K.'s premier rental marketplace, http://www.upad.co.uk/. Upad are offering tribal members a special offer of buy one listing, get one listing free. (Go to the Property Tribes home page and click on the banner to take advantage of this). Your Upad listing will be distributed to over 100 portals for a one off cost of £59.00 until the property is let. The great news is that upad covers room lets as well as houses and flats, so do take advantage of this special offer. The upad site is a great resource for both Landlords and tenants, so do take a few moments to visit and see what it has to offer.

The sponsorship of the Property Tribes forum will allow us to invest in and improve the forum and develop it into an even better resource for members, so please do support upad if you have a house or flat to let out!

You can also follow upad on Twitter @jamesatupad

Tribal Gathering on the horizon!

Our next tribal gathering (networking event) has been scheduled for Sunday 20th of September in Guildford. Please make a note in your diaries now not to miss the fastest expanding property networking event in the South East!

Entry is £10.00 and you can register and pay here.

On Property Tribes, we have a discussion on how to create the ultimate networking event. Please have your say here as to what you think makes for the ultimate networking experience.

Property Tribes is now on Facebook!

We have now started our own group on Facebook to increase the tribe's visibility. You can join us here.

In the Spotlight

We are currently in the process of introducing some new initiatives to make Property Tribes the most valuable property resource on the web.

One of these includes "In the Spotlight", where we interview key/active members of the community so that you can get to know them better.

The purpose of this is to raise awareness of what tribal members do, so that you know who to go to if you need a particular product, service, or some advice. We hope that one of the benefits of membership of the tribe is increased business transactions between the members.

Our first Spotlight feature is dedicated to our good friend and mortgage broker, Wasim Ahmed. You can read all about his personal property journey and strategy here.

If you would like to be featured in the Property Tribes Spotlight, please do get in touch. However, please note that this feature is only for active contributors to the community, not passive viewers.

It's one of the ways we are going to "give something back" to the members who contribute the most to the forum.

Coming soon in the Spotlight: Roberta Ward, Brian Heath, John Corey, Sally Asling .....

VideoBlog: Why we started Property Tribes

If you would like to know more about why we started the Property Tribes forum, and the benefits of membership, please view our latest video blog.

Property Tribes Twitter League

If you want to find all the most influential people in U.K. property, look no further than the Property Tribes Twitter League! John Corey is out there in the No. 1 position with over 11,000 followers!

Coming soon: "Tribal Elders" programme

We are shortly going to be introducing a subscription programme for those of you who want to lead the property community and signal your commitment to property and networking by becoming a Tribal Elder.

For an annual subscription of £60, you will access the following benefits:

* FREE entry to all our networking events for the duration of one year, plus bring a guest FREE. (Value £240).
* An exclusive Tribal Elders gathering after our networking event for deeper networking and relationship building.
* Enhanced visibility for you and your business on the forum and at our events.
* 20% discount voucher off any of Nick's training events.
* A free copy of our new e-book "Social Media : Why you have to be there".

If you have any suggestions as to what other benefits you would like to see, please let us know.



August 12, 2009

Why we started Property Tribes ...

Click here - to learn more.