The power of the Internet, backed by beefy companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook has launched a new era of small businesses or “startups”, in which entrepreneurs small and tall can take advantage of its tools to turn bright ideas into nimble, lightweight companies.
To capitalize on this trend, American Express has launched OPEN Forum, an online community for business owners chockfull of insights, advice and tools to help them manage and grow their companies (and hopefully sign up for American Express cards). This site provides articles from OPEN Forum editors along with staff picks from around the web. The site currently sees over a million unique business owners coming to its site each month, about double what it was last year.
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American Express OPEN Forum has partnered with a number of New York City’s most successful startups to both collaborate with and further power its initiative. OPEN Forum’s VP of Digital, Scott Roen says, “I think we’ve really hit a groove in collaborating with a host of young NYC start-ups and I am personally excited to see the NYC tech community thriving.”
Let’s take a look at the New York City startups that OPEN Forum has partnered with:
Percolate is one of New York City’s newest media companies, which launched in July 2011 with our story: “Percolate: Your filtered news with a shot of microblogging.” Its co-founder Noah Brier describes Percolate as “a blog platform that tells you what to blog about”. OPEN Forum is tapping Percolate to help power its content on its new OPEN Forum Tumblr page, to turn out more quality content at social scale.
Percolate co-founder James Gross describes Percolate’s process with OPEN Forum:
“First, we help OPEN Forum identify the sources they should follow through a process we call, Calibration. The goal of the calibration is to find the ideal sources that OPEN Forum wants to follow in order to curate and share the very best of it with their Tumblr community. A source could be anything from Twitter to Tumblr to any RSS feed. Once we have identified these hundreds of sources, we put them into the Percolator to get to work in bubbling up the most interesting content for the editor to comment on and push into Tumblr from Percolate.”
Tumblr is a vibrant channel for OPEN Forum and it is increasingly becoming important for its business audience. OPEN Forum’s Scott Roen says they started with Tumblr because it is “easy, fast and flexible”. The Tumblr is meant to be a signal of small business insight by pointing to stories all around the web that different SMB sites are creating. OPEN Forum editors found that short, quick pieces of information that are media rich do well with the community.
Overall, Percolate’s flow-like content is a compliment to the longer-form expert opinion pieces OF has on its main site. “It’s early stage, but a really interesting player as far as a brand is concerned. We were lucky to get an early start in building out a community and content site for small business owners. Percolate has given us some pretty good insights and helps manage some of the assets we are building out. While we started with Tumblr, we want to pull Percolate into the other channels like Facebook and Twitter as well,” says Roen.
If you’re interested in using Percolate to power your own Tumblr, go here and OAuth into Tumblr. Then on any post you want to publish, just click the Tumblr icon and you are good to go. Here’s what it will look like:
This past May, Silicon Alley startup Kohort unveiled its yet-to-launch platform at Tech Crunch Disrupt and announced that OPEN Forum would be sponsoring Kohort’s Tech Entrepreneurship Channel. The Kohort platform offers organizations and groups such as TechStars and StartupWeekend, a platform to connect communities through membership directories, events, ticketing, dues, and the ability to manage organizational structure through multiple tiers of subgroups. Given OPEN Forum’s experience with the small business community and content, it makes good sense to help Kohort build out its Tech Entrepreneurship Channel.
“Working with Kohort is a natural extension of our work on OPEN Forum. Since our launch in 2007, we have been focused on providing entrepreneurs and business owners with an opportunity to meet and connect online. We knew then that business owners found the networking at our live events to be invaluable, so we wanted to provide a platform that would enable that networking without travel and time constraints…We hope to bring the expertise we’ve learned by serving millions of business owners on OPEN Forum to Kohort, as well as to leverage some of Kohort’s capabilities to facilitate greater collaboration among our members,” writes Roen.
Roen attended the first Tech Stars’ Demo Day in NYC where he met Lee Hoffman, the founder and CEO of VERI, a startup that aims to create ‘the learning moment,’ and is getting people to pay attention online using gamification, such as multiple-choice trivia quizzes created by users. According to Veri, users stay on the site for an average of 27 minutes, which is very impressive, particularly for an educational site.
OPEN Forum has teamed up with VERI to create “Crash Courses” for small businesses powered by its services. Entrepreneurs can take courses focusing on a different skill set that can be implemented into their businesses. Five of the eight courses are specifically designed to educate business owners on online and social marketing, including Facebook for Your Business, Website Conversion, Location-Based Marketing, Search Engine Marketing and YouTube Marketing. Additional courses will teach business owners how to be better leaders (Leadership Skills for Success) like how to find and hire the right employees (The Art of Hiring) and how to pitch your business to investors, partners, or customers (Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch).
“Crash Courses will help redefine how entrepreneurs learn, providing custom learning experiences that are actionable, inspiring, valuable and fun,” said Stacey Gutman, director, OPEN Forum, American Express OPEN. “OPEN Forum and Veri are the perfect catalysts for entrepreneurial education—OPEN Forum brings industry-leading content and insights for small businesses and Veri is an innovative startup transforming the social learning space.”
“We’re seeing really strong results: the time on our site has doubled to about 13 minutes with 5 times the page views. We’re also just shy of 100,000 questions answered in the first month. We went from seeing them on stage at TechsStars to seeing our partnership live on Open Forum within just a few months, which was a great experience,” says Roen.
Last month, American Express made a sizable investment in Clickable, a New York City search engine marketing software and marketing startup that powers its business apps “SearchManager” and “YourBuzz”.
The two have had a healthy working relationship for the past couple years. In June 2010, Clickable and OPEN Forum launched SearchManager, a solution to help businesses simplify their search and social advertising, and improve performance. Since the inception of SearchManager, they’ve helped thousands of businesses launch and improve their advertising campaigns across Google, Bing and Facebook. This summer, they launched YourBuzz, a “full-service platform targeting local, small business owners with tools that help them establish and manage their online presence, shape the conversation about their business and build customer relationships through a variety of social networks and directories”.
YourBuzz’s initial partners include: Bing, Citysearch, Facebook, Foursquare, Superpages, Twitter, Yahoo and Yelp. Working closely with these partners, Clickable and OPEN Forum have created a consolidated platform that maximizes the strengths of each network.
American Express even offers YourBuzz for free to small businesses. “We believe in the power of a freemium model, and by giving away valuable utility to customers, we are empowering, educating and growing with customers until they are ready to allocate marketing budgets that they know will achieve business results,” says Clickable’s David S. Kidder.
Contently is another TechStars company on OPEN Forum’s partnership list that we wrote about last month. The New York City based startup has launched a beautifully designed platform to empower and connect quality writers with brands– and put an end to content farms in the meantime. “I think they’re a really interesting company and they provide the ability to go deeper with stories focused on education and connections amongst the business owner community,” says Roen.
Currently, content farms pay writers about $.02 cents a word or $10 a job. To stay a cut above the rest, new reporting jobs on Contently start at $.25 cents a word, and some go as high as $2 a word, which is nearly unheard of by today’s blogging standards. To deliver quality content, and avoid SEO spamming writers, Contently only works with journalists and bloggers who have credentials that include “major publications and well known blogs”. Co-founder Shane Snow says that its network of freelancers already includes writers from Boston Globe, Gawker, LA Times, New York Times, and Wired.
Just last week, OPEN Forum started leveraging Contently’s pool of journalists to publish content on its site. Contently’s pilot with American Express was announced at TechStars Demo Day with about a dozen articles now published. One such article can be found here.
“OPEN Forum is a pretty forward-thinking, entrepreneurial division of Amex. Their eagerness to hear innovative ideas from startups gave us the opportunity to pitch and then work with them without already having had 10 other Fortune 500 clients under our belt. It’s rare to see that in a big company. But it’s smart, because as they’ve helped us grow our business, we’re helping them stay on the bleeding edge,” says Contently’s Shane Snow.
This weekend, OPEN Forum is kicking off its partnership with General Assembly, one of the 5 coolest coworking spaces in New York City. GA is New York City’s most impressive coworking space, located just around the corner from a number of notable investors at 902 Broadway in the Flatiron. The 20,000-sq ft “campus,” which opened in January 2011, was immediately booked to its 100-seat capacity.
OPEN Forum says:
By building a close relationship with the best and brightest in the New York tech community, we’re able to provide new, powerful and innovative tools and education to entrepreneurs. General Assembly’s community of entrepreneurs, designers, technologists and educators will work together with small business owners to develop solutions to the challenges they face in today’s dynamic business landscape.
To kick-off the collaboration, American Express OPEN and General Assembly will host a two-day hackathon designed to reinvent how small businesses utilize local technologies. As part of the hackathon, OPEN Forum, will open its APIs for the first time
GA boasts an event space that holds 200, which will be the location of OPEN Forum’s first ever Hackathon. “Based on where things are heading right now, we think we’ll be able to meet some entrepreneurs, make connections with business owners and learn about what else is coming,” says Roen of the event. AMEX will be sponsoring several prizes for apps geared towards local business owners.
Business owners will also have an opportunity to attend a class titled “Broadcasting Your Brand: Digital Tools for Small Businesses” at General Assembly in conjunction with the hackathon. Roen says that OPEN Forum will continue to collaborate with General Assembly to push education opportunities with a series of events and mentorship programs for members and local businesses.
With this last partnership, it’s clear that New York City’s entrepreneurial community has caught the eye and earned the support of American Express, which will continue to be a serious boon to the success of startup companies in the future. It’s a mutually benefitting move by American Express to hook young entrepreneurs early whether with support, partnership, or in the case of Clickable, with significant cash investments.