Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Interview: Ryan J. Blair, Founder, PathConnect
My interview today is with Ryan J. Blair, the former CEO of SkyPipeline, a broadband wireless ISP. Ryan sold SkyPipeline to NextWeb last year for $25M, and is launching a new company in the social networking space.
BK: What's PathConnect, and how does it fit into the social networking world?
RJB: PathConnect is the world's only online community, designed to make goal setting and mentorship a fun and interactive experience for its members.
We fit into the social networking world because we employ social communication components and tools. Not only do we connect individuals via friends, relatives, and acquaintances, but we also connect people through common interests and similar goals. Our first release enables our community members to message each other based on publicly stated goals and interests. We purposefully designed our community for people that are passionate about individual growth and who seek to contribute to others.
BK: What's your own background, and why did you decide to found PathConnect?
RJB: I am a young entrepreneur (27), last year when I sold my company SkyPipeline.com I was asked if I would speak at local high-schools and universities to share with students my story. I spoke to our future leaders about the recipe I used to become successful....goal setting, great mentors, focus and empowering beliefs. To my surprise it turned out that the content that I spoke of was unique and exciting to them. I was inundated with requests for help and advice especially when they started airing my lectures on a local television station. A video of the lecture is on www.pathconnect.com/media.htm. From the lectures I started receiving 100s of emails from community leaders, educators, parents, students...you name it about how what I told them inspired them. Many asked if I would review their goals and provide them mentorship. I wanted to help them all, but I couldn't so I developed tools to make the process more efficient. Those tools got me thinking....maybe there's a business here? So I did my home work to see if there was anything like it on the market, I spoke to everyone in the industry about their current offerings and their future product plans. What I found in the process was the vast majority of the self-help educational industry was antiquated in their use of technology. So I pulled together 4 of my super-start engineers that I worked with at past companies and I founded the company.
BK: Can you describe the technology behind your concept, and what it does?
RJB: Our technology is more advanced than anything ever produced by the self-help educational industry. Our mission is to pioneer the fusion of technology with the psychology of human achievement. The self-help educational industry is behind the times. The tools we've created so far are just the start of our product development pipeline.
The company's community software enables users with similar goals and interests to collaborate with each other. Members have the ability to search other member's publicly stated goals and message each other. Many of our members are even using our portal for task management as well.
Our users are able to set due dates on their goals, get reminder emails and request mentorship on any of their goals. We have created a very unique process for facilitating our mentor program. We have two types of mentors. Peer and Certified. Peer Mentors are those people wanting to help their peers in an area that they have experience or advanced knowledge in. For example if a member is looking to build a classic car, a peer mentor in the network may have already achieved this goal or is in progress on it, so that member could provide valuable advice to their peer on how to accomplish such a goal in the shortest time possible with the least amount of obstacles in the process. This would connect the paths of these two individuals and the collaboration would accelerate the accomplishment process.
The concept of peer mentoring is foundation of PathConnect's mentoring program. In addition to "Peer" mentors PathConnect also has a Certified Mentor Category. These are expert mentors in a subject. They are super-star entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, and highly accomplished professionals that are wiling to contribute to others their experiences and gifts.
Generally, members must earn their way to a PathConnect Certified mentor by achieving both subjective and objective goals. The mentorship competitions will launch in our late September product release. For now if you are interested in either becoming a peer or a certified mentor please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The mentorship is done online in the PathConnect community using the goal setting and goal commenting tools. The mentor process only takes a few minutes per month and will make a major difference in a person's life.
BK: How is PathConnect funded?
RJB: I have and will personally fund the company through its proof of concept phase. Having come from a venture backed company I decided to self fund until I could prove a significant valuation. We may seek VC at some point, but for now it's not necessary.
BK: What's the business model for PathConnect?
RJB: We work with advertisers, affiliates and sponsors to generate revenue. We do not charge our users anything for the tools that we provide. Our goal is to challenge the standard fee-based self-help industry, because I want our tools to be available to millions of users not just those that can afford it. We will make the fee-based "self-help" software programs, web portals and books obsolete.
BK: How receptive do you see people are in terms of "mentoring" people and helping others out?
RJB: Psychologically I believe every human being has a desire to contribute to the lives of others. Unfortunately in our busy work oriented society we don't have the time to fulfill that basic need (many parents can't even find the time to set goals with their own children). That's where PathConnect's community and tools provide a service to our society. Our tools make the traditionally time intensive and inconvenient process of goal setting and mentoring much more time efficient and much more fun and interactive.
Through word of mouth we have attracted about 100 mentors so far. These mentors range from professional athletes and artists to successful entrepreneurs and business people, but we need more! If any of your readers would like to contribute please have them email email@example.com.
BK: Finally, where are you in terms of launching your service?
RJB: The beta service launches tomorrow September 15th. We have several new features in the pipeline over the next few months. The root services, Goal setting, collaboration and mentorship are up and running now.