Hey, the party?s over here - Financial Post Magazine
Julian Brass breezes in to a stylish downtown Toronto coffee shop looking for all the world like the model of a mid-20s entrepreneur convinced that the road in front of him is wide open, and understandably so. Smartly dressed and energetic, he's just returned from Banff and the nextMEDIA digital media conference where his start-up firm, NotableTV, was honoured as one of Canada's top five emerging interactive brands. "It was fantastic," Brass gushes. "I was meeting a lot of interesting people."
People who've been introduced to Brass will know that it's the second half of his statement that's the more important. Public honours are great, but it's the networking that really counts. That has been the theme that's guided his career to date and, more importantly, is now the centre of the business model for his 10-month-old Internet hub. Targetting Toronto's community of young professionals and scenesters, NotableTV is a turbo-charged take on an entertainment and lifestyle website, rich with video reports, blogs, photos, email alerts and commentaries from glamorous professional and lifestyle events.
The goal, Brass says, is to build his brand as the premier destination for hip Torontonians to find out what's going on around town, and where they should be heading to rub shoulders with each other. That audience - or network - can the be leveraged to generate revenue through advertising, sponsored content, event sponsorships and, eventually, licensing NotableTV content to other media, both online and traditional.
A commerce graduate from the University of Guelph, Brass developed the concept for NotableTV after returning to Toronto from San Francisco, where he'd spent 18 months working for Engage.com, a social-networking website for singles. Brass had been impressed in California by the sheer volume of networking events that targeted young professionals like himself, as well the ease with which information about the events moved through his peer group. When he got back to Toronto, he wanted to promote similar events in the city.
Initially, that involved setting up a Facebook group so that he could publish a calendar of events for friends and colleagues - or anyone else who wanted to join - and send them messages about anything that looked interesting. The group started with 75 members. Before long, it had grown to 700. Brass realized he had the makings of a business.
Brass launched NotableTV in November of 2008, financing it with savings and a loan from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. Determining that online video would be the centrepiece of his website, he spent the next five months bringing together his company's core freelance team and creating content, finally going live in March.
Today, in addition to running the company, Brass serves as its public face, hosting videos, conducting interviews and figuring prominently in all aspects of the website, developing a personal brand to focus the company brand.
After five months, he says the company is doing well. He won't discuss financials, but he will say that NotableTV is revenue positive. He adds that he is negotiating a syndication deal with a major online portal. And with a growing number of brands, such as Bombay Sapphire, Escada, Questrade.com and New York Fries, coming on board as content partners, you may be seeing a lot more of Brass around.
Brass tactics: Networks
1] FOCUS. FOCUS. FOCUS Building an audience for a networking website requires that entrepreneurs have a clear concept of whom they are trying to talk to, and how they want to talk to them. Create a strategy and stick with it. Modern technologies offer myriad clever bells and whistles to engage an audience, but business owners mustn't become distracted by the possibilities. "If you try to do everything, you get nothing done," Brass says. "Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's all about executing."
2] CREATE BUZZ - OFFLINE Your audience may use your website as a main point of contact for your brand, but don't ignore opportunities to have them interact offline as well. Events can be especially effective, Brass says. For example, NotableTV has recently begun hosting networking parties that have attracted hundreds of its members. In June, it also partnered with New York Fries to raise funds for National Kids Cancer Ride, calling on NotableTV's membership to meet at downtown New York Fries locations, with proceeds going to the charity.
3] QUALITY BEATS QUANTITY "It's good for your ego when you see new people joining your network," Brass says. "But I know every time I send out an e-mail, I'm going to lose a couple of people." The process, however, is critical, he adds. The value of a community hinges primarily on the quality - that is, the level of engagement - of its membership. An engaged membership is going to be far more appealing to sponsors and partners than a community that doesn't act on the information it receives