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BigMarker.com: A Global Network of People and Communities that Meet Face-to-Face Online

http://www.bigmarker.com/

BigMarker offers a community based management platform for teams, groups and organizations to video conference and collaborate online.

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Start-Ups.Co interviewed Mr. ‘Andy Papier‘; Media Coordinator at the US (Chicago)-based start-up “BigMarker”.

BigMarker“ enables anyone to host webinars and video conferences, or join one of the thousands of conversations that are already happening.

Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Papier’ regarding the start-up company “BigMarker”;

1. What is it exactly that you do and what “BigMarker” is all about?

BigMarker offers a community based management platform for teams, groups and organizations to video conference and collaborate online. Ditch your patchwork subscriptions for video conferencing, file sharing, and member or project management, and put the time and effort spent juggling those half-solutions toward something more worthwhile. As a BigMarker member, your toolkit is instantly simplified into a single, easily accessible solution. Whether you need to better engage your members, drive your team’s productivity, or connect with a new group of people, BigMarker is the place for you. With BigMarker, Any Community can make a visible and lasting mark on the world, classroom, office, or audience.

2. When has “BigMarker” been founded? And what stage is “BigMarker” currently at?

The name ‘BigMarker’ stems from the idea that global connections and collaboration allow communities to make their mark…in a big way. The company was founded in Chicago, IL by Zhu-Song Mei in 2011. From there he sought out capital and is now backed by an angel investor.

Our goal in the near-term is to provide these global connection and collaboration tools in a way that is simple, easy-to-use, affordable, and instantly accessible to all.

In the long-term, our vision is to provide a podium to address the world, one that not only connects people within existing groups, organizations, and communities, but empowers individuals and communities to achieve truly global reach.

At the moment we have 9 team members.

3. What is “BigMarker”‘s business model and how does it work?

We believe that knowledge should be open and accessible to everyone. So Public Communities are always free – to connect you to the world!

If you need more exclusivity or more advanced features, we offer Pro Communities to power internal collaboration, and provide video conferencing that lets 3, 5, 10, or more people host conferences in your Community for the same price the other guys charge you for one.

Join for Free!
Create a free BigMarker account to browse, join, and attend existing Communities and Conferences.

Create a Free Community
+ Unlimited Members + 8GB File Storage
+ Unlimited Public Video Conferencing
50 person Conference Rooms | 3 Hosts to start + 1 for every 50 members
+ Discussion Board
+ Community Calendar

Create a Pro Community (starting at $9/month)
Pro Communities enable you to host public or private conferences, discussions,and files, manage projects and tasks, and organize into groups.

4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?

The Techies

Zhu-Song Mei | Founder & CEO
As BigMarker’s Founder, Zhu-Song is the driving force behind our vision. Prior to creating BigMarker, Zhu-Song was a Software Architect in Accenture’s R&D group (Where he met team members Dmitriy and Justin). He is a graduate from Northwestern University, where he earned three degrees (one in computer science, and two in engineering). When he’s not improving on BigMarker or dreaming up what’s next, Zhu-Song can be found exploring Chicago.

Bill Gloff | Chief Technology Officer
Bill touches many areas of the product, but primarily focuses on the community aspect of it. He’s also always working to keep us up to date with the best tools and methodologies available. Bill has 12+ years’ experience in software architecture and development. Prior to joining BigMarker, he was a co-founder at the Chicago Groovy User Group and a consultant at CityTech. He holds a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from DePaul University.

Dmitriy Feferman | Software Architect
Dmitriy (Dima) joined BigMarker from Accenture and spends most of his time perfecting our video conferencing product. His insightful perspective, however, helps the team make all product decisions. Prior to joining BigMarker, Dima was a consultant in Accenture’s R&D group and graduated from Northwestern University, where he studied Computer Science.

Jia-Long Xu | Web Designer
Jia-Long is our lead web designer. With extensive knowledge in design and incredible ability to innovate, he is continuously helping to improve our look. Based in Qingdao, China, Jia-Long is BigMarker’s nighttime creative guru.

Li Jin | Web Developer
Li does development work for our web apps, bringing a breadth of experience including Rails, C, C++, C#, and Java. She holds a Master of Computer Science from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Computer Science from Southern Polytechnic State.

The Techie-Wannabes

Justin Brown | Chief Operating Officer
Justin leads BigMarker’s day-to-day business activities including business and customer development, product management, marketing, analytics, operations, and finance. Prior to joining BigMarker, he was a management consultant at Accenture, where he helped businesses and governments solve a multitude of strategic and operational issues. He holds degrees in Economics and Marketing from Miami University.

Andy Papier | Media Coordinator
Andy leads BigMarker’s digital marketing, public relations, customer outreach, research, and support activities, focusing on providing BigMarker’s customers with the best experience possible. He also leads the BigMarker Speaker Series, which provides a podium for experts looking to share their knowledge with the world. Andy holds an MBA from Roosevelt University and a BS from Indiana University.

Caryn Wille | Branding and Design Coordinator
As the leader of BigMarker’s brand marketing activities, Caryn is the champion of BigMarker’s mission and brand across all touchpoints with our users, customers, and community! She is also our daytime creative guru, helping the team to package everything into one cohesive design. Caryn is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied Creative Writing.

Joe Yeoman | Director of Partnerships
Joe leads BigMarker’s Partnerships efforts, where he helps organizations such as schools, nonprofits, and businesses achieve greater impact through social collaboration. As the team’s other creative guru, Joe also makes significant contributions to the BigMarker experience. Joe is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, and holds an MFA in Writing from Naropa University.

5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?

We try to focus on markets that are overlooked or that can seem to be less attractive to larger more enterprise interested companies. Those markets are small business, non profit, education and faith based.

What we do that’s new is combine multiple tools in one solution (one site). The primary feature being video conferencing that allows for interaction after the meeting or presentation. We also offer a public facing section that allows members and non members alike to attend a conference or meeting that interests them.


6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “BigMarker” achieved so far?

We’ve gone from four employees and 5,000 (free) members to 9 employees and 30,000 (free and paying) members in less than a year. We’ve been able to attend many awesome events and conferences like SXSW and TechWeek Chicago were we’ve been featured in editorials, blogs and on TV. Our short term goal is to have around 40,000 members by the end or the year and 200,000 by then end of next year.

We believe with the right customer referral mechanisms that we can reach our goals.

7. Who are your competitors? And what is “BigMarker”s competitive advantage over them?

Our main competitors are WebEx and GoToMeeting. Our advantage is that we can change (pivot) quickly to new needs or dislikes and we can also start personal relationships our members (were they get to have much more input in what is working and isn’t). We also have the ability to change focus (markets) much quicker if we see a change in customer response.

8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

We’ve faced many, many obstacles. The number one being what is our market and what should our product focus be. As the product developers you do not always know which direction your customer base will take you. What we’ve discovered is that our members don’t necessarily want more features but simplicity and reliability. We discovered this by doing “focus groups”.

9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?

That there are dozens of conferencing platforms. Some that only do webinar style presentations, some that only offer dial-in or audio and others that offer only classes. Also that video conferencing as a technology is still really in it’s infancy, even though we have Skype and other platforms, the technology can be unpredictable and clumsy. We think we’re making a big improvement in both areas.

10. Why are you going to succeed?

Because we all believe in the platform and technology, but most importantly the vision of BigMarker of trying to help people. Like we say on our site “Any Community can make a visible and lasting mark on the world, classroom, office, or audience—if it has the right tools.” Keeping our core essence is very important to our success: Do good, strive for simplicity, provide community with global reach with local impact.

11. If “BigMarker” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?

That’s a great question and one that is very hard to answer or predict. Everyone in the company has made predictions (some that have already come true), but I think we can become a fund raising type platform or a site that offers very limited, very exclusive and very interesting original content. We definitely see ourselves as a very friendly site that works well with other sites. So integration will be very important we believe.

12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “BigMarker” based on?

The goal to begin with was to offer free video conferencing to any and everyone around the world. Not just a social “hang out” but a place to meet people who want to share knowledge and experiences not just gossip or tidbits. BigMarker offers a platform to reach a global audience or like minded individuals that otherwise might not be able to communicate with one another.

13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?

We’ve all learned a great deal. Mostly that you have to have an open mind and be flexible. Things and ideas don’t always begin or end the way you planned them. The start-up world is very up and down. Some days are great, others not so much. You definitely meet tons of interesting people who really share the same passion and entrepreneurial spirit. You also have to be transparent within your company. The more everyone understands what’s going on the better.

14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?

I think the major obstacle we’ll have is concentrating on improving what we already have instead of trying to do new things or offer new features. The tendency in any business is to try to reinvent the wheel when sometimes you just need to clean it, or make it better. Developers nature is to build something new and cooler. That’s great, but only when there’s a need for it. If there is no need you have no customer. If you have no customer you have no business. And after all we are in the business of creating businesses.

15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?

The benefit for the customer is that we offer an affordable, easy and more emotional and personal way to connect with people you are working or connecting with. The conversation doesn’t have to end once the conference is over and you don’t have to go to another site to continue it. Our overall benefits include:
connectivity, ease of use, convenience, affordable, social or private

16. How did customers / users find out about you?

Most of our users just find us online, by searching for what we offer. We do have a marketing and business development team (four of us) who try and reach out to people and groups that we think would be especially interested in BigMarker. Those customers have been non profits, elearning enthusiasts, small businesses and faith based and political organizations.

17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?

BigMarker provides the best of social networking, collaboration, and cloud-based tools to create the perfect platform for teachers. Whether you are interested in using a BigMarker Community for Problem Based Learning (or Project Based Learning) (PBL) or Professional Development, with a single login, you can now access video conferencing, social discussions, shared documents, and simple project management tools, designed for you.

With visitors from over 180 countries, BigMarker teams up with your online church efforts to reach audiences and congregations everywhere. BigMarker allows you to connect every member and every effort in one place. Create an online church community using free video conferencing, discussion boards, shared documents, and the Community calendar.

Group organization tools get your team on the same page

Transform the way you connect and collaborate online. BigMarker allows you manage your entire community online and connect every team member and effort. With a single login, anyone can access video conferencing, discussion boards, productivity tools, and shared documents.

So like I’ve mentioned, small biz, non profits (including faith and political orgs) and teachers and schools have been our main focus.

18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?

Most come from the internet looking for a combination of features, affordability and simplicity. Most all of them are looking for a video conferencing platform that is easy to use and allows for either public or private capabilities. I think why most people use us is that our ethos of trying to do good comes across in our message.

19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?

“[BigMarker’s] real secret is not in its affordability or its video-conferencing platform, but in its uncanny ability to help us manage our team’s progress in between conferences. BigMarker has become a collaboration tool that makes the day-to-day easy, so we can focus more on our mission of helping developing and distressed communities become self-sufficient.”

- Tracey Patterson, President & Chief Operating Officer, Powered by Action

“BigMarker is one of those programs that was a no brainer for our staff. I did a one hour training with those interested in learning about it—and that’s it. It’s that easy to use, set up a conference, turn on a video and teach. You have to love it when the technology doesn’t get in the way of learning but instead enhances the experience for everyone involved.”

—Jeff Utecht, Bangkok, Thailand

“Because of [BigMarker], we were able to connect three very special people in our lives to be with us during a Wedding ceremony; which they were unable to attend. One was in New York, One in Florida and the third in Austin, Texas. Thank you all so very much for making this special day possible!”

—Ellen Abernathy, Aspermont, Texas

“BigMarker is a game-changer.”
—Dr. Tom Benjamin, Sydney, Australia

“A great service.”
—Shell Mendelsen, MS Career Counselor

“Again this is waay [sic] too cool.”
—Tim Bolger, Franklin Park, Illinois

“I LOVE this site. It is well designed and intuitive. As an online teacher, I will be using this a lot.”
—Sarah Ramsburg, Boise, Idaho

“I’ve been using BigMarker to conduct online meetings with volunteers and board members for the nonprofit I serve, Activate Good. It’s often difficult to coordinate in-person meetings with every one so BigMarker has been a great resource to communicate and host virtual meetings in a way that’s convenient when we can’t get together face-to-face.

I’m excited at the future prospect of using your service to host online webinars to train our nonprofit partners as well and am in the process of developing our strategy for that.”

Amber Smith Co-founder and President

And many more!!!

20. How are you going to scale?

We will scale by continuing to make improvements on site development and by using the cloud and integrating with other sites. This will definitely be one of greatest challenges going forward but one that we relish with great anticipation. Scaling is a good problem to have. Like I said before not trying to invent the wheel and using good solid code and having a great application base will help us scale successfully.

21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?

There are two particular features that our customers ask for: being able to upload/download videos and the ability to play live and recorded videos in the conference room. By offering both of these options our members will really have a much more rich experience on our site. Upload will allows for greater reach once the conference is over. Presenting videos will make the video conference experience more exciting and interactive. For instance we could have movie premiers in a conference room or you can show videos of other presentations that you’ve give. The options are limitless really.

We’re always listening to what our members want and try to always tell them what’s coming!

22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?

We are definitely going to focus on international markets, especially when we get better analytics. But we do have a large membership base in Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain. Our strongest international presence as definitely been in Italy. We already have a designer in China, so with him and the fact that China is one of the fastest growing consumer markets in the world, we are really counting on growing internationally.

23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?

I think we can get relatively big. Our goal for the next couple years or so is one million members, which we think would be fantastic. We believe we are getting closer and closer to our explosive growth stage. The last year was really more about fine tuning the product/website, the next focus will be growth. Then revenue. Then profits then conquering the world!!! Just kidding we’ll leave that up to Google. We really just want to help who we can.

24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?

At the moment no. We will be hiring another developer and web designer in the near future, but for the time being we love the size of our company and don’t want to expand until it is necessary. Some companies believe they aren’t succeeding unless they are hiring, whether or not they really should be. That being said we will be hiring at some point in the next few months so send us your resume at info@bigmarker.com

25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?

We are always looking for partnership opportunities and funding. We are very open minded and like to think outside-the-box, as a result we will listen to just about anyone concerning how they would like to use BigMarker or how we can help them. If there is any interest please email our COO Justin Brown at justin@bigmarker.com.

26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?

Make sure if you’re a developer to hire someone who isn’t, focus on product development, RESEARCH, be transparent, keep it simple, don’t try to be everything for everyone, join a co-working space, network with entrepreneurs, partner with companies, DO NOT be closed minded, prepare to pivot.

27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

The start-up world is tough. I believe some 95% do not make it. So if you don’t have the ability to go for more than a few months, wait until you can. There’s going to be some missteps along the way, and you have to have the fortitude and vision as well as the ability to listen to others to carry on and succeed.

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