Over lunch at Cafe Amrita on the Upper West Side, neighborbee founder, Anthony Lobosco and I met to discuss the vision for supercharging what was a simple blog with content about New York City neighborhoods into a hyper-local social community. A place where neighbors could freely post what they love about their communities and well, what they don’t love so much. Lobosco, a Fordham alum and telecom industry sales executive has had his share of stress as a New York City co-op owner. He believed that if people could just have a place to publish information down to the building level in major cities, it could be a transformative in many ways. And, oddly enough, we share the same first names. We’re both of Italian-American descent. My wife’s business has a bee in the name: Melibee Global. And, our wives first names are Melissa!
I had recently launched Digital Strategy Works, my digital strategy and WordPress consulting company out of my Bronxville apartment after spending one year at a web development agency in Farmingdale, NY. My wife and I had discussed my driving from Bronxville to Farmingdale everyday. While I spent some nights at one of the founders houses on Long Island, the 3-hour round-trip drives were taking their toll on my health and our relationship, so we decided that I would leave my job and take a risk on my own business.
Since 2003, I’d been publishing my music blog, Netmix.com on WordPress. Over the next 6-years, I engaged with the WordPress community, helping others with their issues in the WordPress.org forums while building my knowledge of the platform. As WordPress grew, opportunities to build WordPress sites for others started to come in. In the summer of 2009, about 9-months after I’d left my job, I signed an agreement with Anthony to build Neighborbee.com. I would project manage the site and hire developers in Boston for the build.
Anthony and I began to spend many nights drawing up the information architecture and business requirements documentation for the site. We used an office at Fordam University’s alumni association in Columbus Circle. I can’t recall how many nights we spent working out the documentation for the project, but it’s safe to say it was a lengthy process. We found that we got along quite well. Anthony was a solid client who understood the task at hand. I don’t think either of us knew what we would be in for, but with his vision spelled out and my ability to partner and drive development, we set forth on a path for success. That path was a 3-year journey, which finally came to an end, or should I say, new beginning, over the last few weeks. After 3-years of development, we finally launched neighborbee.com. In those 3-years, Anthony moved to Stamford and I moved to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, back to Chapel Hill and then to Winston-Salem. Anthony and his wife also had not one, but two babies! Imagine working full-time, building your start-up and having two children at the same time. Makes me exhausted just thinking about it.
Of course, Anthony and I could not do it alone. WordPress developers Jeffrey Marx, formerly of the Journal News in Westchester and CBS Local and now at Gilt Groupe and Michael McNeil, a student at UNC Chapel Hill who both have contributed a great deal to the growth and success of Digital Strategy Works, spent countless hours perfecting, cajoling and moving neighborbee in the right direction. While we’d started off with the web shop in Boston who shall remain nameless, given the negative experience we had with them, Jeff and Michael brought the right mix of experience, passion and creativity to the project.
We’d also gone through a couple of designers, but couldn’t seem to get the visual experience down to a web 2.0 look and feel, but Anthony brought on Chris Antonelle, a web graphic designer in NYC, who added the right mix of colors and style and brought it all together. We would have been finished last year, but we all agreed to let Chris do his magic and we’d implement the solutions. What you see today is the result of that effort.
Lastly, we needed someone to deal with content. While the neighborbee Dev team are gifted in their own ways, it was important to find someone who could shape the editorial voice of neighborbee as well as enhance our social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter. Anthony turned to Elance and found Julia Crenshaw-Smith, a freelance marketing and editorial consultant who we brought on to give neighborbee it’s, well, honey – if you will. Julia turned the site’s prior content into usable material to seed the network. Now, it’s up to the users of neighborbee, who can join with their zip code or address in NYC-only, to explore their neighborhoods and seed their hives with honey.
Yes, all this was done while working nights and weekends over the past two-years. I’d taken a job at UNC Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication in July of 2010 to build out the digital presence of a $4M gift-funded newsroom to teach students digital journalism, social media and audience engagement. Through November 2011, I pitched in to manage the continued build out and revised graphical user interface. After a scandal at UNC, which saw my boss get canned for carrying on a relationship with a student resulting in a downsizing the program, I found a new opportunity at Market America in Greensboro, NC, where I am leading product development of an online music platform for artists, Getconquer.com. While the work that I am doing by day is very important, neighborbee has become – for me, a labor of love and dedication. The project is so important for many reasons, as it can really open up communication in neighborhoods and go into buildings, which local news organizations simply cannot cover.
Yes, it’s going to take a village. A village of bees, that is, to get neighborbee off to the start it so deserves. We’re looking forward to that user adoption and providing ways for users to really engage the site. The next step is obviously mobile and we have plans for that as well. And, we’re starting to build out funding strategy, putting together our pitch deck and submitting our application to pitch at New York Tech Meetup sometime soon!
So, without further adieu, I present the home page of neighborbee.com below. Let me know what you think by posting a comment here on my blog.