DEMO start-ups tap into ambitions, generosity

Let’s meet two innovative online networks -- NotchUp, which is designed to help you improve your lot in life, and Good2gether, which is designed to help you help others. Both made their debut last week at Network World’s DEMO 08.

Let’s meet two innovative online networks -- one designed to help you improve your lot in life, the other designed to help you help others. Both made their debut last week at Network World’s DEMO 08.It shouldn’t shock anyone that the first company, NotchUp -- the one that promises that you can get paid hundreds of dollars just for going to a job interview -- created the louder buzz.

But the second, Good2gether, which aims to let nonprofit organizations tap into the vast audiences of major media sites for volunteers and donations, has already built significant momentum toward success.

NotchUp founders Jim Ambras and Rob Ellis tell me that 15,000 people a day are signing up for the pilot test of their new eBay-like employment service -- based solely on word of mouth prior to last week’s DEMO debut. The founders are convinced employers will pay hundreds of dollars directly to job applicants who they would like to interview, in particular to those premium candidates who are not actively in the job market.

They’re also convinced that once job seekers start getting paid for interviewing that they’ll never go back to giving away their time. Almost 100,000 have signed up for the pilot, says Ellis, including "10,000 or so software engineers working mostly for top companies." Some 1,000 companies have registered, he says, including "about a dozen Fortune 500 companies plus essentially every large technology company."

The viral deluge initially overwhelmed the NotchUp site.

"We were prepared for 1,000 people, not 100,000," says Ambras, adding that they’ve subsequently beefed up their back end.

Here’s how NotchUp works: Register, create a profile and set an initial interview price (Notchup recommends $200 to $500). "Once you’ve created your profile, companies will search it and make you paid offers to interview if you have the skills and experience they’re looking for," says the company’s site. "Accept the offers you’re interested in, go to the interviews, and we’ll collect the money and transfer it to you."

Haggling over price is allowed.

Ambras and Ellis swear they’re prepared to protect the privacy of job seekers -- although they caught some initial heat at DEMO on that score -- and protect employers against "professional interviewers." An eBay-like reputation service will help weed out those who are looking for a quick buck rather than career advancement.

"The hard part of finding great people and hiring them is getting them in the door," Ambras says. And, since recruiter fees can hit $30,000-plus for a hire making $100,000, he believes employers will see NotchUp as an economical alternative.

Now back to Good2gether

Nonprofits such as the Red Cross and American Heart Association always need help finding do-gooders, in some part because their static Web sites attract few visitors.

Do-gooders often need help finding the best outlets for their energies and contributions, especially when the headlines are filled with news of disaster and hardship.

Media Web sites such as Boston.com and SFGate.com certainly need help engaging readers, finding cheap/free content and generating revenue -- but they have the online eyeballs nonprofits cannot attract.

And, finally, brand-name corporations need help making themselves look more like do-gooders and less like robber barons.

Good2gether is stepping up to help by connecting all four parties -- and turning a buck for itself in the process, of course.

At the risk of sounding like a goody-goody, this meshing of needs and deeds just might work, provided Good2gether can deliver the back-end search and content-management capabilities that founder Greg McHale showed me during our chat. The reason is that all of the needs are genuine, the specific organizations mentioned are already on board (as well as a host of others we’ll get to in a minute), and only one of the four groups is being asked to pony up any cash: those deep-pocketed robber barons, who can stand to part with a buck or two.

McHale, whose previous venture called cMarket assists organizations in running online auctions, has been crisscrossing the country recruiting nonprofits and media partners, the latter of which he says will include the New York Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Philadelphia Inquirer. In sum, Good2gether has six of the nation’s top-10 media markets represented from the jump, and McHale expects to have 10 of the top 20 by year’s end. Additional nonprofit participants include the National Audubon Society, Earth Share, Best Buddies and more than 100 others, he says.The ultimate goal, besides that turning-a-buck business, is for Good2gether’s network to present tightly targeted, geographically appropriate do-good opportunities to would-be volunteers and donors at a moment when they are most likely to act: when reading about an emergency need or worthy cause at one of the media partner Web sites.

For example, on a story about, say, the major fire that recently took out a city block in Lawrence, Mass., a box listing opportunities for the public to help would be automatically generated by Good2gether’s network and placed alongside the article. Links would take readers directly to Good2gether’s site, where they would find not only the details needed to act upon their charitable instincts but additional links back to appropriate news content on the media partner sites. Stories about medical research, educational issues, the environment -- anything that readers might want to get involved in -- get their own specially tailored box of links from the network.

Those deep-pocketed corporations would sponsor the link boxes (at which point I’ll stop calling them robber barons), both to associate their brands with worthy causes and to present brief messages that alert readers to ongoing good deeds performed by the company and its employees

McHale’s company will take a cut of the sponsor fees that the media partners drum up.

An April rollout is planned.

And the potential points of failure appear obvious: Will the robber barons perceive and receive enough bang for their buck as they operate in an economy teetering on the brink of recession? (McHale wasn’t ready to name any sponsors.) Will the media partners derive enough revenue and readership service from those sponsored link boxes to justify the devotion of such valuable online real estate? Will the nonprofits deliver the goods by keeping content updated, relevant and compelling? Will do-gooders respond appropriately? And, of course, can Good2together get the whole network up and humming.

If all this happens, good deeds get done and Good2gether makes money.

If not, well, nice try.

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