They know how to get the answers to all your questions.
You’ve got questions – ProConIt has the answers.
Sorry, indecisiveness is longer an excuse now that ProConIt.com has launched. Created by young entrepreneurs Matthew Hills and Cameron Hamilton, both of Northern Virginia; ProConit helps users “analyze and evaulate any subject and achieve useful results so they can make better decisions.”
Using ProConit is like having a panel of people ready at your whelm to provide you with insightful opionions to your questions.
Breaking piggy banks and depleting the savings account is how ProConIt got started.
See how Matthew and Cameron came up with the idea for their new website and why they believe they are filling an unttaped niche.
And when you are finished, make sure you ask them a question. ProConit loves questions.
Please give us a bit of background about your business?
Matt: It all started a couple of years ago when I was trying to evaluate the pros and cons of taking on a certain project at work. I was drawing it out on paper, and thought “why can’t I do this on the web?” So I searched online and could not find a way to do it. I started thinking about the applications of the pro/con format on the web, and further realized the implications and possibilities with the dynamic social media sites that were on the rise. I got together with Cameron and we discussed a possible product and how it could be useful. We discussed various product features, thoroughly researched our idea, and checked for similar products . Once we had a core idea we liked, and were confident it was unique, we decided to move forward. From this came ProConIt.com, our social media website and community where users can evaluate any subject in the pro/con format, incorporating crowdsourced arguments and weights, which we call ‘Procons’. We designed Procons to be simple, dynamic, and embeddable, so they can be used by anyone, from large media companies to individuals.
Can I get a bit of background from each of you?
Matt: Ever since I was young, I was interested in computers. In high school, I even had a job taking computers apart and fixing them. I always had an interest in internet technology and how computers work. I grew up in the Springfield/Burke area. I then went for my BA and took an interdisciplinary route with part computer science at the engineering school and part regular BA courses. After that, I worked in software development and IT management.
Cameron: I went to Thomas Jefferson Science and Tech. I went on to study electrical engineering, and then changed to economics after 3 semesters, after which I went on to graduate with my Bachelors Degree. I then worked at a small software firm where I did M&A and capital raises. Then I moved to The McLean Group, where I still am today, to work my day job. I do government contracting working an in acquisitions.
Matt: I would describe it as a user generated content/social media website, but we have also coined the new term ‘social evaluation’ to describe it, since we see it as relatively unique in the world. Currently, we are following the ‘dot-com’ style startup. The site is free for all users. We want to perpetuate the idea and own the format, becoming pervasive on the web, where other companies and websites look to use us and our architecture. Right now we are focused on increasing our user base and content value. Later our goals are to monetize based on various ideas and projects.
Cameron: Our goal is to have applicability to a number of companies and industries. It is important to see how both general potential users and the paid advertisers and corporations are using the site. This helps us build a knowledge base and allows us to understand how the site is being used, as well as showing us what kinds of features will benefit people and help get them the most value out of the site. We believe in the next 3 to 6 months, we will have completed gathering this information, and will be able to put into effect the next stage of our plan, which is to begin gathering revenue.
Where did you get the start-up capital you needed to get started with ProConIt.com?
Cameron: We smashed Matt’s piggy bank! Honestly, though, we both put in a lot of our personal savings, and time. We have also found key partners in a local legal firm, as well as a local software firm, which helped us get the site built and patent the trademark filings. We have one outside angel investor. Hopefully, this will carry us through the start of a capital-finance raise in 2011.
If you had unlimited funding tomorrow, what would you do differently?
Cameron: There are several areas we would look at. There are the features and functionality we would like to continue to develop, as well as software development. There are marketing efforts we would like to spend money on. We would also like to hire some software developers and some people internally, so we can develop the infrastructure of the company and have paid employees. We would love to create a company where we didn’t have to outsource so much.
Matt: This is an interesting question. I believe that if you sat either Cameron or myself down, we could talk for hours about different product enhancements and ideas we would like to further develop. That basically results in an enormous wish list. We know that putting lots of features and functionality into a new product right away is not necessarily the best way to go. I think there are definitely some tweaks we would make to the product, but the main thing now is to see if we can really get the idea across and get to the heart of what we are trying to do. If we had the money, we would definitely put it towards marketing efforts and advertising; trying to get more people directed to the site.
What are your goals over the next 5 to 10 years?
Cameron: The answer to that, for me, is to see this become a successful business. To do that, it means we are delivering value and services to our customers, and that we are working with people to share information and help them make better, and more informed, decisions. If we make money along the way: great. Whether it is a small independent business, or a platform that reaches around the web in 5 or 10 years, doesn’t matter.
Matt: Our 5 year goal is to build a successful, sustainable internet-software company based on the Procon format and the idea of social evaluation. We would like to become as recognized as social networking, where people instantly understand what it means, understand the value of it, and enjoy it, just like they do facebook or twitter. The ultimate success lies in our business becoming sustainable, whether we are a small company or a tech giant doesn’t matter as much to me, as long as we can build something interesting and useful.
What motivates you to keep going when times are tough?
Cameron: It might sound a little crazy, but what drives me is the idea of providing a valuable service without costing consumers a lot of money. This is a tool that can provide better information and improve business and individual decisions. Our original idea was to do the research and build a tool that will help people evaluate things better and make better decisions. That all said, I don’t believe there is anything out there that does this, and I really believe we can do it and make a difference in people’s lives. That is what excites me and motivates me when times are hard.
Matt: I agree with what Cameron said. For me, it’s the end intent that keeps us going. A lot of what we want to change is how evaluation and arguments exist in media and the Internet. Currently, it often seems like whoever yells the loudest or gets the most attention is the one who ‘wins’. We wonder, “are these the arguments that people really believe?” What motivates me is that ProConIt could change this and become the recognized way for understanding the real ideas and arguments that resonate with people. We feel that if enough people express their opinion in the Procon format, the most valuable arguments will come forward. And that’s the whole idea behind social evaluation. Large amounts of people come together and opine on a topic, vote on the best arguments, with a socially evaluated result, or ‘winner’. Fringe and extreme arguments are cast aside, and we get to the actual ‘why’ and real value of what people think. This possibility is exciting, beneficial in so many ways, and certainly keeps me motivated.
How do you generate new ideas?
Matt: Our new ideas come from a variety of angles. We get feedback from users, and look at what we can add, feature and content-wise, to improve our product and show people what it can do. Right now, in terms of new ideas, we are developing a strategy to drive traffic to the site, get more people involved, and increase our presence on social networks. We try to think about different ways to leverage social networks with our product, besides just the obvious—posting content and such—then we implement the best ideas we find. And that’s the whole idea behind ProConIt. We constantly evaluate our ideas at the grass roots level.
Cameron: Sometimes we discuss a hot topic of the day. We feed the discussion this way in the hope that our users will eventually truly own and be responsible for the content. The content will be user driven.
Matt: Cameron makes a great point. One of the main features of our product is that it is embeddable as a widget. Anyone with a blog or website can create a Procon and embed it on their site to improve their content offering. This allows our users to create new ideas and topics, benefit from what they create, and makes us the managers of the framework.
How do you define success?
Cameron: There are several different definitions of success for us. The minute someone logs on and is helped, we are successful. We are then validating the product. Also, by building the business and building a successful framework, we are successful.
Matt: When I look around, there seem to be lots of opinions about what defines success for an Internet startup, and they all seem to be different. One person may come up with a new idea, and lots of people follow it, resulting in success. But I would like our success to involve creating something brand new that has never been done before. In that vein, the ultimate success is for our idea to create a sustainable business and become widely adopted, with lots of people using our framework for new ideas of their own.
Is there a formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Matt: There are lots of articles about the patterns of Internet startups and entrepreneurs. I found that a lot of them follow very different paths or formulas, and each will claim their own as the right way. The truth is, they are all the right way, for that time and person. The world of Internet entrepreneurship is tricky, as things change so fast. You can’t necessarily follow someone else’s path, because it has already been done. I think it’s more about having certain qualities and not being afraid to do something new. Attention to detail is key. If you hear objections from already successful Internet entrepreneurs because your idea has never been done before, or doesn’t follow a conventional formula, you are likely on the right path. Successful Entrepreneurs might talk about what the ‘next big thing’ is going to be, but the truth is no one knows, or else they would do it, and it will instead come out of left field, or some college kid’s dorm room. At least, that’s my take on the world of Internet entrepreneurship.
Cameron: There are two overriding principles. The first is to believe in your product or service. The second is that is takes lots of work. You need the work ethic.
Matt: Yeah, hard work is definitely a part of it. But so is luck. You have to do your research.
What three pieces of advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?
Cameron: First, do your homework. Find out if there is a market for your product or service. The second is to plan for what you want. How are you going to fund it? Are you going to quit your current job? Just remember everything is going to cost more than you planned for. The third thing is to be flexible. Don’t be too locked in to your path. You need to listen to feedback and be ready to adapt your plan for new ideas and things that may happen. Be adaptable.
Matt: First, have a plan. It can be lofty and ambitious, or focused and narrow, and you can change it if you have to, but always have a plan. Second, be fearless. Don’t be afraid to try new things and do what you feel you must (within reason, of course) to be successful. Third, make sure you take interview training and know how to give a good interview. It’s not always easy to be confident in the spotlight and be able to talk about your product or service.
Are there any companies or individuals that are inspirations to either of you?
Matt: There are lots of individuals and companies that are inspirational, especially in the world of tech and the Internet. These individuals are great success stories, and command almost cult-like followings. Inspiration is a great thing, but I try not to get too wrapped up in one person over another. From Nikola Tesla to the Google guys, I find inspiration in almost any innovative and successful tech story, large or small.
Cameron: There are a number of people I admire in the way they have tried to solve problems over the internet. What we are trying to also do is make it easier, faster, and better for people to solve their problems online. I admire other companies that have solved those types of issues online.
Connect with Cameron and Matthew – ProConIt.com
Website – http://www.proconit.com
In Their Own Words – http://www.proconit.com/page/about
E-Mail – email@example.com
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