By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth
With the unprecedented growth and undeniable success of the Blogosphere, Rupert Murdoch paying $580 million dollars to purchase MySpace, Facebook’s valuation resting comfortably in excess of $1 Billion dollars, and venture capitalists tripping all over each other to fund social networking companies before the ink is even dry on their business plans there is little doubt that social networking is at the forefront of today’s business climate. I recently had the opportunity to interview Penny Power, the founder of Ecademy. Ecademy, founded in 1998 is not only one of social networking’s pioneers, but having in excess of 80,000 members in more than 100 countries worldwide and operating in the black, Ecademy is also the leader in social networking for business. In the interview that follows you’ll have the opportunity to hear the inside story on social networking and one of its hottest companies.
Mike Myatt: Tell our readers a bit about your backgroud?
Penny Power: I am 42, born in 1964, I have been married for 16 wonderful years, my husband and I work together, which is a dream come true. We have 3 children and live in the country side in Southern England. During my pre-children years I worked in the IT Industry as a Sales and Marketing Director. My childhood goal was to be in a vocational career, helping Cerebral Palsic children but that was ruined by lack of qualifications, how ridiculous! My belief in life has always been about helping others and making each day better for those I come into contact with, I have learnt that this can be achieved in any environment, not just in the caring professions!
Mike Myatt: What was the vision behind founding Ecademy?
Penny Power: In 1998 Thomas Power became a self employed worker, choosing to do so to focus on his passion toward the Internet, Thomas became a well known speaker and writer in Europe. Due to Thomas’ natural networking ability he had thousands of people that became his advocates and also needed his help in the exciting period of the Internet Boom. I suggested to Thomas on the 7th February 1998, whilst having lunch with all the children, that I start a place on the Internet where his contacts could all get to know one another and he could share his network with others. It was a hobby, a vocation and a joy, at this time it was not a business idea! Thomas came up with the name Ecademy whilst on a flight to speak in the US.
Mike Myatt: Social Networking is obviously much more than a business for you Why?
Penny Power: Ecademy’s funding bricks are based on passion. We say that I am the heart of Ecademy, Thomas is the brain and Glenn Watkins, who has been with us from the start, is the Nervous System, he is our CEO. The members are the pulse. When we first began I contacted the first 1000 members and got to know them. Thomas already knew them and Glenn built the site around their needs. Ecademy has always been about subscription. Ecademy cares deeply about the experience that the members are having, they are our customers, they feed us and they matter. We believe that Social Networks have a social responsibility, that the owners should look after them, protect them as much as they can, and ensure that by them being part of the network, their lives advance in some way, emotionally or financially, there must be a gain. Ecademy is a subscription based network, a member can only be a Guest for 14 days, after that they must make a commitment and become a paid subscriber. This allows us to ensure authenticity, which in itself, protects the members from fake identities, and it also ensures that those that do join are committed to being part of the community and contribute. We teach Relationships First and Commerce Second, that is true networking, not spamming or growing a contact list.
Mike Myatt: What would be the benefits a new member could expect from joining Ecademy?
Penny Power: It depends what they want. To begin they create a great profile of themselves that begins the process of building their reputation. The tools on Ecademy have been written to allow members to experience networking from whatever angle they choose. Members can join clubs and be part of a small network, maybe more intimate and focused. They can Blog, in order to raise their profile and share their knowledge with the community and outside Ecademy through the 60 minute Google Indexing we do with content. They can advertise in our MarketPlace if they just want to do push marketing or source a supplier. They can attend offline meetings, if they prefer face to face. Basically, if they are a professional person, who wants to get known and is willing to share their knowledge and create a great reputation as a good person Ecademy can provide the tools. The most important point is that we believe life is about giving in order to receive. The best Networkers are the ones that truly live by this value and by helping, they are needed, and by being needed they are respected, and this leads to advocates and business.
Mike Myatt: How is Ecademy different than other social networking sites?
Penny Power: There is a difference between networks and communities and there is a difference between contacts and relationships. Members say they belong to Ecademy, rather than they use Ecademy. They know we care about them, they have the tools to tell us if they are ever upset by another member’s behaviour, such as spamming, abuse, Scams, blatant selling, all these things put the power into their hands. Ecademy’s role is to provide an increasing Network Size and whilst doing this create the environment to allow safe social interaction and trust. We take this very seriously. It is my role to ensure that Ecademy feels good every day.
Mike Myatt: What inspired you to write “A Friend in Every City”?
Penny Power: Thomas! This is his 6th Book on the subject of Networking. He travels the world and has been so thrilled to have ‘A Friend in Every City’ he goes to. The world is getting smaller, and the need to learn and share thoughts across the globe is becoming easier. We believe in creating random friendships, that build you as a person, teaches you more than you could ever read and helps you to have empathy with the world. When Thomas travels, and many of our members share the same experience, he stays with members, he gets collected from the airport, he learns about the places he goes to and he makes friends, It makes him feel safe and it takes away the loneliness and isolation that staying away from your family can give you.
Mike Myatt: What has been the feedback from readers of “A Friend in Every City”?
Penny Power: We have had some wonderful stories from them, we have heard that the book has opened their minds and their hearts. We have heard it has taught the reader a great deal about social networks and we hope that as a result, those that read it learn how to utilise all the excellent social networks that exist on the Internet
Mike Myatt: Now that you’re a published author what advice would you give those considering writing their first book?
Penny Power: The most important thing to me about everyone’s lives is to discover why they exist, the unique thing that they have that makes everyone that they come into contact with, feel better for meeting them. Once you know what this, capture it, share it and live by it each day. Get into your flame and learn how to make that work for you, in your heart and in your pocket. That means emotionally with relationships and financially – in business. Then write about this. Share it one to many.
Mike Myatt: Who are your favorite authors and why?
Penny Power: Do you know, I do not read! I learn everything from people. I read Celestine Prophecy in 1997, and I guess that inspired me to create Ecademy, but, I am fortunate that Thomas is an enormous reader, infact, when we got married, I pledged, in front of the vicar, that I would never stop him from reading! He gives me so much knowledge, and I then interpret it and learn from it.
Mike Myatt: If you could offer our readers one piece of advice what would that be?
Penny Power: Be yourself, be proud of at least one thing about yourself, and connect with your heart not your brain! Skills are now ten a penny (English phrase!) but what is in your heart, your passion and your talent is unique. I believe that people remember people in their hearts, they are motivated to bring back a memory of you, only if you have made an impression of you in their heart.
Mike Myatt: What’s next for Penny Power?
Penny Power: Well now, firstly, let me explain that thanks to Glenn, our CEO, Julian Bond our CTO, Thomas, and our members, I have still been able to be a full time mum! Apart from 5 hours on a Wednesday, when our Fairy God Mother arrives, I am with the children all the time. They go to school obviously, and this allows me to do a lot of work, they also sleep! So I can work then. Ecademy as you can probably tell has been a huge journey of risk, discovery and joy. I have ideas for the future, and they reside around making Social Networks safer for Children, BUT, if I told Glenn and Thomas this, they would probably lock me up, Ecademy is quite enough and we all love it.