Tuesday, March 1, 2011
J.R. Johnson On Critical Mass and Communities
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Today, Lunch.com (www.lunch.com), the startup headed by J.R. Johnson, announced a move to allow other sites to host and show content via a new Lunch Network effort. We caught up with J.R. Johnson, founder and CEO of Lunch to better understand the move and what it means, as well as what the firm has learned. J.R.'s last firms were VirtualTourist.com and OneTime.com, which he sold to Expedia.
Describe what you've done?
J.R. Johnson: Essentially, we built Lunch to be the source of the highest quality user generated content out there, all built on top of our similarity network. It really provides the most relevant reviews, because when you're looking for reviews, you want them from someone very similar to you. That's kind of the foundation we've built this on. Then we rolled out a communities product which lets people create their own community using the Lunch platform. A lot of the feedback we got from those users was that community was a killer, we love these communities, can we put them on our own site, on our own blog, can we skin the community so that it's in our own look and feel, and can we put all these features on our own site. So that's what the Lunch Network is. The Lunch Network allows anybody to take that is Lunch, anything that is communities on Lunch, and have it on their own site, on their own blog, in their own look and feel, so users will stay on their sites, will stay engaged with their brands. Most importantly, it now gives all of their users and readers to not only read content on the site, but they can engage, interact, and create content. And, that content will have long term value to the publisher who is using the Lunch community.
So is this a white label view of the Lunch content?
J.R. Johnson: It's different from a traditional white label because if you look at a normal white label, you're just taking the functionality and you're just taking the software. When you become part of the Lunch Network you get the added benefit, which is a huge benefit, of the content. Because the hardest part of community is getting the critical mass of content. The way we've set up Lunch Network, is that when you set up a community, you can piggyback on top of all the content within Lunch already, to give your community critical mass. For example, if you come in and want to set up a movie community, we already have a lot of great movie reviews. You're going to have a critical mass of content in your community right away. That way, when someone comes into your community and starts looking at what's going on in there, there is already content, and already activity going on within the community. Yes, it's a white label solution in terms of being able to take all that technology, but it goes so much beyond that, because of all the added benefits, which is really the toughest part of building any community, the critical mass of content.
So how are things building up on the site, and what areas are you finding the most interest on the site?
J.R. Johnson: It's had a great response so far. In the books area, we've had a great to books, in videogames, is another area we've had a great response. The environmental area, green living sites, has seen a lot of great response there, and movies as well, where we have a tremendous response as well.
What do you think the new feature will do for you?
J.R. Johnson: Overall, the idea is we want to get as many people online and thinking critically, and contributing content in a meaningful way. Everything we've build with Lunch helps them to do that: to think critically, contribute content, and now we have potentially thousands or millions more places where they can do that. That just moves Lunch farther along the way of having the best, the most, and most reliable content across any UGC site out there.
Finally, what's the biggest thing you have learned from the experience so far with Lunch?
J.R. Johnson: It's kind of an overall lesson, which is to listen to your customers. Listen to the folks who are using your product. This is something that they have been telling us loud and clear from the beginning, is that they want the Lunch community on their own URL. So, we built it, and it's here. If you want to boil it down to one lesson, is keep your ears open.