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After testing a new social network idea within the music industry, Rebekah Campbell saw a wider reach for the newly created social search platform, Posse. Now, with the backing of some illustrious web personalities, more and more people are putting together their posses.

It doesn’t take much to imagine where the internet is taking all of us. Interactive gaming, Near Field Communications, augmented realties: there’s so much that can be done just with the smartphones we all carry around. It seems that the only limit to what we can do with the internet in our pockets is our imagination. So what are people imagining?

Rebekah Campbell, ex-band manager and now tech entrepreneur, has had an idea which might change the way we do one thing: search. Though the Yellow Pages have long been relegated to the recycle bin, people are still looking for local businesses to serve their needs. But more and more we’re asking friends for recommendations rather than choosing at random from a Google search. Bringing a twist to the phrase ‘social search’, it is the basis for her site, Posse.

Neighbourhood Watch

Working in the music industry in the early noughties, Campbell realised that the traditional methods for advertising gigs weren’t bringing in the numbers. To combat this, she thought the best way to get the word out was through the networks of the fans themselves. “I initially raised a bit of money from friends to build a prototype version of the site. It did well – we sold about two million dollars worth of tickets.

“But there were issues with integrating with lots of different ticketing partners, because we didn’t sell the tickets on the site. Then at the same time, we discovered we could do the same thing for shops. We went out to speak with retailers, and they seemed to really love the idea and seemed to have almost a bigger problem with promotion than the bands did. And it’s a much bigger market. So we thought, even though this is working, let’s take a gamble and go into retail, see if we can make it work.”

After doing some research into the main pressure points for businesses, Campbell and her team discovered that the most popular way for people to find new restaurants, cafes or yoga studios, was to take a friend’s recommendation. “We’d say, ‘If you were going to Manly for dinner, and you needed to find a restaurant, how would you find one?’ And everybody said ‘I would call my friend who lives that way and ask them for a recommendation’. People have their own collection of favourite places, and they also want to be able to see their friends’ favourite places at any time. But nobody had put those two ideas together.”

So enters Posse, the online neighbourhood that allows you to add real world businesses to your virtual streets and, via Facebook, connect with your friends so their streets can become part of your neighbourhood. Advances in the future will hopefully include the ability to follow celebrity streets, so everyone can visit Scarlett Johannson’s favourite burger joint next time they’re in New York.

Not limited to Australia, Posse aims to have people list their favourite places – be it shop or restaurant or gym – anywhere in the world. “If you add somewhere that’s not in our system yet, it will trigger a notification for us. Every day, we have a list of about 200 stores that people have added that we don’t have. So we then contact those stores, say someone’s added you as one of their favourite places in the world, send us your logo and photo, and we’ll list you on the site. And because it’s free, we end up getting about 90 percent of the stores that people have added sending through their details.”

By applying a search bar to the whole thing, Campbell’s team have created a new way for people to search for exciting new places to visit: searching among your friend’s favourite places. “It’s much better searching like this,” Campbell explains, “because you’ll get socially relevant results, rather than searching something like Eatibility.com. Who knows if that’s going to be to your taste; it’s just what the person reviewing it thinks, and they may be not in your demographic.”

The 34 year old regularly uses Posse herself to find what’s she looking for. “Last time I was in Palo Alto, near San Francisco, I was looking for a yoga studio. I looked on Google, and I found one that looked like the most popular one. It turned out to be a retiree yoga place. Everybody was 65+, so it wasn’t really what I wanted. But then I searched on Posse, and one of my friends who lived there had added a yoga studio. I found it, and it was exactly the kind of thing I was after.”

Tips from the ‘hood

After getting the idea together and consulting the initial round of investors, Campbell quickly realised that there were a few skills she’d need to brush up on before she headed out in the world to approach the big players.

“I would advise every entrepreneur to go and do a public speaking course because you go to so many of these events and people have great ideas and great businesses and then they don’t get investment because they’re just really awkward when they stand in front of a group of people. They mumble and they show graphs with lots of words on them, but if you can get up there and tell a really engaging story and be passionate and deliver it in a way that’s compelling just puts you so far ahead of everyone else.”

Mistakes made early on in the piece have also taught Campbell about how to manage the future of a business before it even starts. “I made a classic founder mistake, which was I gave away some shares at the beginning to a couple of people who didn’t do anything. I don’t know if you’ve seen The Social Network but it’s one thing you regret. You learn from it but you’re kind of stuck. You want to be able to give more shares to people in the future who have done the hard work, but you can’t. I would say to people to learn from my mistake. For example, say someone is going to do the technology, don’t say here’s 20 percent you do the technology. You have to say you do this and we’ll invest over time. So over two years you will earn 20 percent of the company if you achieve these things, that would be the way I’d do it.”

Community creation

Having the assistance of experts in the field has been invaluable for Campbell and her team, as they have sourced funding and developed the site further. One particularly fortuitous meeting with a Silicon Valley guru has really helped Campbell along the way. “I made a few mistakes at the beginning,” she admits, “but I met a guy called Lars Rasmussen, who was the Google Maps founder, who’s now at Facebook. He got really excited about the idea and offered to help, and he ended up joining the board and helping me put together the team.” When Dynamic Business asked more about this fortuitous meeting, and what other mentors Campbell might have, she laughs. “There’s not really anyone else you need after you have Lars.”

Campbell credits her team with the achievements they’ve reached so far and has a solid plan in place to ensure she continues to get the best out of them. “I think the thing with this one is that it wasn’t just my idea. The music thing was my idea, but this has been a whole team effort. Everybody on the team has had a part in the idea. It wasn’t about having an idea and saying ‘go build that’.

“Also, every three months we go away for two or three nights and we focus on what we do next. Then everybody understands what goals we’re focused on and why, and they’ve all had input in the ideas.”

She also values the guidance she’s received from her peers in the internet start-up field. “I’ve got my own, not really a community, but my own friends who I spend time with. Pip Jamison from The Loop and Melanie Perkins from Canva. They don’t know each other. They’re just both friends in similar situations to me.

“I found it lonely at the start because everyone giving me advice was much older than me and male. But now I’ve found a couple of female friends doing similar things it’s great to be able to share stories and get support from them. When you’re going through this it seems like all the challenges you face must be unique but when you find friends doing the same thing it’s amazing how similar everyone’s mistakes and challenges are!”

Visiting Silicon Valley

Despite being Australian-based, Campbell has needed to visit Silicon Valley on numerous investor seeking and networking trips. Most have resulted in her sourcing much-needed funds or making great contacts such as Rasmussen, but she has also learnt a little about how the tech entrepreneur scene in the famous Valley works.

“It is kind of weird. It’s like this weird little ecosystem. It’s a quiet little town but it’s a perfect little town. There’s loads of venture capitalist funds, every person in the town is either an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist,” Campbell explains. “It’s funny. I was sitting in a cafe doing this pitch and I had my PowerPoint deck open and I looked around and there were five other people all with their PowerPoint decks open, all talking to some guy in a suit. All guys. Everybody was just pitching their idea.”

Though it hasn’t fazed her, Campbell has noticed the gender bias in the tech world. “I think I noticed it a lot more in the beginning because it’s so different from the music industry. In music there’s not much of a difference between women and men but in tech there’s hardly any women engineers. If you look at our office, we have guys who are the engineers and women who run sales and marketing. It’s odd. In terms of investing we’ve got more than 40 investors now and not one woman. All men. Same with the board. I’m not sure why, I think the guys I know who are investors it’s like they move in circles. It’s them and their group of friends and they’re interested in technology and they talk about new companies and that’s the culture of their friend group, whereas I don’t know if that exists so much in women friend groups.

“I think that will change as this generation of women get older. Lots of my friends are interested in technology. But people my age don’t have the money to invest in companies yet but when we get to the next stage of life we probably will. I will, for sure. I think it will be really fun.”

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Rhiannon Sawyer

Rhiannon Sawyer

[NB: Rhiannon Sawyer no longer works for Dynamic Business]. Rhiannon Sawyer is the editor for Dynamic Business online. She also looks after online content for Dynamic Export. She loves writing business profiles and is fascinated by the growing world of homegrown online businesses and how so many people can make money in their pyjamas.

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