Three years ago we (aka Good Hood) set out to build Europe’s leading platform for social neighbourhood networks. Since then more than one million users have signed up (and verified their name and address) with nebenan.de in Germany, MesVoisins.fr in France, ViciniMiei.it in Italy and Tienes-Sal.es in Spain.

Our users help each other, share & exchange goods & services and organize activities together, for the benefit of their local communities.

The platform is free to use for private residents. As a result, Good Hood as a company has made zero revenue so far.

This is about to change. As of today, we start our journey of monetizing the platform with the distant goal of breaking even one day.

We have thought long and hard about how to do this. In the beginning, the only thing we knew for sure was what we did not want to do. We did not want to cater to the de-facto standard of social network monetisation. That is, to build an algorithm based “machine” that hooks users to spend ever more time and attention on the network in order to collect as many data points about them as possible.

We knew this established model would not work for us for 3 main reasons:

  1. The core goal of our platform is to make it easier to get to know and interact with your neighbours in real life. This means less time spent in the digital ether and more time spent in the here and now (as in physically meeting real people). It is diametrically opposed to the “attention economy machine” mentioned above.

  2. We do not want any algorithm to filter reality. Our neighbourhood feed is a chronological news feed of what the people living around you post into it. As simple as that. No algorithm decides who gets to see what and who doesn’t. Period.

  3. We dislike the fact that purely advertising based social networks leave the user with no choice. Surrender to the “attention economy machine” or delete your account and stop using the network altogether. There is nothing inbetween, no other option, no “third way”.

As a result, we decided to leave the beaten track. We went back to the drawing board with the intention to reinvent this from scratch.

Here is what we came up with:

Step 1 (as of now): We ask our users to support us with a voluntary monthly payment of their choice (starting at €1, settled monthly, cancelable anytime). You get nothing special in return (no premium features, no special superhero-status…) but the warm feeling of supporting your local neighbourhood network to “exist” in the first place.

I can’t think of any company that has tried this before.

We receive very positive user feedback on a daily basis. This is due to what I call the “product-inherent social impact” our platform creates when neighbours start using it. At the same time users urge us to stay clear of those notorious “attention economy” mechanisms.

It will be very interesting to see what percentage of our users put their money where their mouth is and open their wallets to support the idea financially, how much they chose to contribute on average and how long they keep their financial support going. We are about to find out!

Step 2 (near future): We invite local businesses onto the network. They will be able to present themselves, build their reputation online and reach out to residents in their local area of trading. Yes, this is a form of advertisement. But it will be based on proximity only, not on data points gathered behind the scenes from user behaviour, movement profiles and other intransparent sources. We will built it in a way that users will be able to understand how it works and why they see a certain offer from a local business owner. It will empower them to proactively support their local dealer.

Step 3 (and beyond): We have more great ideas coming (e.g. involving city councils and other public players). But those are too far out and not palpable enough to dive deeper into them yet. Stay tuned!

The journey to profitability is a long one and will certainly not be easy. But every journey starts with a first step. While many unknowns lie ahead of us, one thing remains crystal clear. 

We are committed to find ways that enable us to run, improve and grow our neighbourhood platform in a sustainable (read: profitable) way while at the same time staying true to our core principle: 

We do what is best for the local community. 

 

This article was originally published on August 30th, 2018 for Medium.com. The author, Christian Vollmann, is the founder of GoodHood.eu — the leading European social neighbourhood network. Vollmann was awarded the title of German Business Angel of the year in 2017, and he is a father of three.