What does a club of divorced women, fans of University of Connecticut football, parent teacher organizations, a teacher’s union, and a church choir all have in common?
They all use Wiggio to create private workspaces where their members can interact and exchange information, hold conversations, manage event calendars, to-do lists and exchange files. As I performed my research for this project, I was not satisfied with just interpreting what I could see when I went to the Wiggio site. I suppose I could have compared the tool to other tools on the market like Basecamp or Google Apps. However, I felt something was missing. The more I learned about Wiggio, the more I wanted to delve into the behavioral patterns of their underlying community of users. When I learned that Wiggio was based in the Boston area- a short 1 hour drive from my home in Nashua New Hampshire - I decided to reach out to their founder Dana Lampert to see if he would be willing to meet and allow me to interview him about his company. Not only was I surprised at how quickly he responded, I was impressed that he was willing to give me an hour and a half of his time. So I journeyed down to Boston, and we met for lunch. Dana was very impressive, highly articulate, and exuded a passion about what he and his team at Wiggio are striving to accomplish. We spoke extensively about his product and his community, how it was built and how it grew, and over our four hours of conversation, I learned a great deal.
Wiggio has experienced phenomenal growth over the last two years having signed up over 500,000 new subscribers to their site. The technology was designed by students for students. While higher education (i.e. college students) represent approximately 75% of their user community, the other 25% have adopted the site as home to their group workspaces for a variety of reasons. Wiggio began with very little capital, and having raised just under half a million which they have had to make last until this year when they closed on a new round of financing. Since the company does not generate any revenue from their product – in other words, they offer the service for free – they did not have any money for formal marketing and business development efforts. As such, the only exposure they have been able to garner in their target market has been through the word of mouth. If you consider that they have amassed over half a million subscribers in two years, which averages to over twenty thousand users a month, that is impressive by any standard.
Growth of the scale that Wiggio has enjoyed is not traditional. There are very few viral ideas that actually receive the level of adoption that Wiggio has enjoyed. With no real marketing effort, you have to ask how their users find out about the service, and why do they use it? I expect to address both questions in great detail in my paper, but will attempt to encapsulate what I have found out here.
Wiggio’s subscriber base has grown primarily through the word of mouth. Albeit, if anyone has seen the movie “The Social Network,” which is about the growth of Facebook, you will know that in the early days, they promoted the site to college students one university at a time, and as students signed on, they told their friends who signed on as well eventually becoming a self-growing, self-marketing community. This is the same method that Wiggio has used to seed their user community, relying on the students who use the product and who like it, that they they in Dana’s words, “turn their friends on to it.” Well, I would have to say that his strategy has worked. However, what of the other 25% of the community I referred to earlier? Granted, you would expect that the 5% of that which makes up k-12 would make sense, but the other users? A divorce club in Iowa? Parent Teacher Organizations? (Which, by the way, Dana says is one of their fastest growing adopter profiles.) Why would they use it? What makes Wiggio so special? My conclusion is that Wiggio is successful because they refused to allow certain features to creep into their solution. It is clear to me that Dana and his team are very clued in to the motivation of their community. They feel as though that groups of students who are tasked with team collaboration as part of their school effort, would get frustrated with the lack of flexibility of the more traditional solutions that the Universities would provide, or were left to their own devices, which often results in chaos during a group work effort. Dana waxed eloquently about how the students would get frustrated because there would always be the one or two people in the prototypical three to seven person team that would miss meetings or not be prepared, and would blame the lack of communication between group members as the cause.
Dana recognized that most of what caused this was the fact that either the students did not want to use the University imposed systems because they were tracked and assessed by the institution as they used the tool, or they were too rigid in their capabilities and forced them to learn newer complex tools in place of the traditional tools they used daily. At the other end of the spectrum, Dana saw that tools like Google Apps perhaps executed on tasks effectively, but were still too loosely coupled and were not conducive to small team collaboration where there was one space specifically designed to the purpose of project or topic oriented workspace management, which incorporates the ability to easily exchange and share information across team members. Taking on the task of trying to solve this problem in a way that he and other students would appreciate, he designed Wiggio; and from its success over the last two years, I would have to say Dana and his team have got it right. Wiggio is a perfect balance of combining the tools a team needs to collaborate successfully, while not imposing too many restrictions or institutional controls (i.e. NONE) on its users. The workspace is clean and makes the job of sharing information, calendars, meetings, documents, and conversations a very simple task. Creating a group is quick and effortless, and you can begin using it in seconds. Everything has been designed to make collaboration easy, offering one or two steps to accomplish your desired task, and then you can move on to the next thing.
So to what can we attribute the success of Wiggio? Their community. The students, or other groups, for that matter, who use Wiggio would not be using it and recomending it to others unless it met their needs, and was a product they enjoyed using and found valuable enough to share with their friends.