When I applied to NCSSM in 2005, there were single digit applicant and alumni perspectives out there on the line. I remember a handful of threads in a LiveJournal somewhere, but otherwise it was still very “blackbox” and word of mouth. The internet just wasn’t as poppin. Could a rumor of a private social network for NCSSM generate more applications? Could public facing slices of this property literally get indexed into search engines?
Immediately after ncssm, I had a hard time finding the same level of motivation from my surroundings. I was simply not very enthused by the career or major/minor catalogs of my era, but I found myself moved by crazy stories of the people that I knew or kinda sorta knew. Could our product accelerate that awareness?
It was non-trivial to find a list of ncssm alumni, where they worked, what they did and where they lived on one page. I knew I could dig through Facebook, but even getting on Facebook started to feel like a distraction, so I often didn’t go out of my way to do it. I also started to feel a strong aversion to using public social networks in light of recent events. Those revelations were less of a surprise, but it was more that I never felt as if Facebook was a utility, like Wikipedia. Could we create that I just walked into the library, empowering feeling in a software product?
In my late twenties, I worked remotely, country hopping every 6 months or so. This was by design to focus on the project but I still found myself a victim of my own demise: in travel isolation, wanting to meet up with random people, but ideally those I had more in common with. I didn’t want to date, but dating apps seemed like the only option. Every time I would start over in a new place, I’d wonder if I could I be in the same neighborhood as several NCSSM alumni and just not know it. Fun fact: my closest ncssm friends would often show up to use their vacation days wherever I was. Is there a lever I can pull to meet more NCSSM alumni? Where do they work?
Alums are in every stages of life: they are fresh graduates looking for jobs, establishing themselves in new cities, in graduate school, starting families, starting over entirely, learning new skills to switch industries, etc. Your social life isn’t as simple as creating a Facebook page, then updating it every few years. It’s constantly in flux.
You might be at the intersection of several different buckets at any given time. I unequivocally agree that “intent matters”. I knew a fundraising themed product would immediately work but decided to go in another direction. I thought it would set the wrong tone and create barriers to entry for anyone that was in a non-donor stage of their life. In real life you don’t just ask tons of people to join your community after several years of silence, you let them get to know you first.
Once someone agrees to enter your labyrinth, you clearly define who is playing the role of Icarus. You’re the Minotaur. No, they’re the Minotaur. Run. I did not enter this life as an aristocrat. I didn’t want to make an exclusionary product for the “donor class” or keep things the way they were, so I didn’t.
Intentions tend to bubble up to the surface. It’s hard to put in years of your life into something without it becoming abundantly clear what is driving you and if it’s driving you. It’s why you say no to everything else you could be doing to hide in foreign countries and grind. One night, it’s 4am in a conference room in Berlin. You just finished performing back to back sales calls in EST, for your day-job and now you’re chipping away at a word that’s starting to make more and more sense.
At this hour, there is no one there but you and your intentions.