Biznik, which operated a community of small business owners to exchange ideas, resources and referrals, is closing down at the end of this month after nearly 10 years in business.
In a message to members, co-founder Lara Feltin wrote that “customer demand has fallen short of what is needed to continue to run the business and keep the lights on.”
“This resolution was not made lightly or in haste,” Feltin continued. “The team spent countless hours over the last three years investigating ways to revitalize the business. I am at peace with the place we have arrived at and am confident that this is the right thing right now.”
Feltin co-founded Bizink in Seattle with husband Dan McComb five months after they were married, striving to create a new place for small business owners to connect. Their tagline at the time: “Business networking that doesn’t suck.”
The couple attempted to adopt a “freemium” model, charging a $10 per month membership for those who wanted premium services on the online network. However, by 2012, Feltin noted that the model didn’t work without advertising and affiliate marketing.
“As a business model, we most definitely found this to be true,” the company wrote on its about page. “The larger your free user-base grows, the more people requiring support that no one’s paying for. Mix that up with our goal to not only keep the site ad-free, but our commitment to never sell our user data to an affiliate, and a change was imminent. But it wasn’t just that the revenue model doesn’t work, we also discovered that a free plan adds ‘noise’ to the relevant content and contributions, and ultimately dilutes the value of the community.”
It ended the freemium service in February 2012, and switched to what it called a “pay-to-play-online-community,” one which they believed would create a more valuable social network.
But that switch proved challenging as well, and Feltin notes in her farewell message that the company is operating at a deficit.
To our staunch supporters who are particularly upset by this news and who’ve graciously offered to help brainstorm ways for Biznik to continue. I’m afraid we’re long past brainstorming. Biznik is operating at a deficit — revenue from membership and advertising is not covering the slimmest fixed expenses. And the application is old. It’s 4-years overdue for a major system upgrade, and it’s really inexcusable that it is not compatible with mobile devices. The mission lives on in those who were touched by Biznik.
Feltin has since moved on to a new startup venture called MyFive, a service that helps independent workers track referral partners.
Here’s the full message that Feltin sent to members:
Dear Bizniks (members, event hosts, authors, contributors, ambassadors, and free-thinking free agents),
It is with bittersweet regret and a deep well of gratitude that I announce the end of an era. I am sending you this letter to inform you that Biznik will be disbanding and on 12/31/14 the website will be coming down.
While Biznik has been a community to 100,000 “indie businesses” for close to a decade, customer demand has fallen short of what is needed to continue to run the business and keep the lights on.
Who knew we would come this far? Ten years ago this May, Dan and I sat at our kitchen counter discussing our future. Newly married and both self-employed, we were craving authentic business networking between creative, inspiring people who were interested in meeting over conversations about cool ideas and not sales pitches. What started as an experiment and a tool to help our own independent businesses, turned into a community of likeminded free agents who also craved, “business networking that doesn’t suck.” Before long Biznik took on a life of it’s own as folks joined from all over the country an even the world, responding to the call for independent business people to show up, collaborate, and work together to help each other stay in business. At one point the Biznik calendar bulged with over 50 events a week across dozens of cities.
Biznik has been a tribe to some amazingly creative people. Friendships were established, business partnerships were forged, I know of at least one couple who met at a Biznik event and later got married! When I examine my own inner circle of close business associates and even closer friends, 80% or more can be traced to Biznik.
Knowing Biznik had a similar impact on thousands of others is both humbling and deeply satisfying.
Despite the impression some people had, Biznik the company, never stopped being a small business too. The full time staff never grew beyond 4. At Biznik’s height, a one-room office in Fremont, Seattle was shared by one developer, a community director, my co-founder, and myself. A number of extremely talented marketing, design and strategic consultants (found on Biznik!) were hired when needed. We counted on the commitment and shared vision of the community to host networking events and educational workshops, and contribute a breadth of articles we all learned from.
We forwent outside investment out of a desire to grow organically, and did what we could with membership revenue and a considerable contribution from my family. The hindsight I have from all those years of scraping by showed me that you can do a helluva lot with a little!
That being said… Biznik could not have reached this mile marker without the dedication and fervor of our most loyal advisors and volunteers. More people than I can name here stepped up and pitched in considerably, but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge John Adair, who single-handedly built the ruby on rails application; Andrew Lippert, Biznik’s CTO, who improved it, expanded it, and helped it grow with the times, and continues to stand by me today; Danny Bronski, Biznik’s counsel who provided impeccable legal services, sage business advice and invaluable support; Karrie Kohlhaas, who provided strategic insights and an undying passion to see Biznik thrive; Matt Lawrence, Biznik’s Community Director who’s guided this community with love and respect — and who I am fortunate to count among my dearest friends; and my husband Dan McComb, who started this whole thing with me, had the sense to leave 5 years into it, saving our marriage, yet continues to champion me today.
This resolution was not made lightly or in haste. The team spent countless hours over the last three years investigating ways to revitalize the business. I am at peace with the place we have arrived at and am confident that this is the right thing right now.
How does this resolution impact you…
Our immediate goal is to ensure the smoothest transition possible. We will continue to operate the site until the end of this year.
On January 1st, the social networking platform will be turned off. You will no longer have a profile. You will no longer have access to the people in your network. Any articles you wrote or conversations you contributed to will no longer be accessible. If you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond as quickly as possible.
If you are a paid member, you will notice that no membership dues were collected after November 30th. If you pre-purchased an annual membership and desire a partial refund for the unused portion of your dues, I am happy to oblige. Please send me your request at email@example.com no later than January 15th. Include the exact name used on your Biznik account along with the one on your credit card (if different) and your mailing address. I will mail refund checks the first week of February. If you signed up for an annual membership in the month of November, you were issued an automatic refund on 12/14/14.
On January 1st, 2015 when you go to biznik.com, you will find a blog. The first post will invite your memories of Biznik connections. I look forward to engaging in the stories that emerge.
Thank you for sharing this experience and being part of this amazing journey. It means so much to me. I wish you all the very best!
Lara Feltin, Cofounder and CEO
P.S. To our staunch supporters who are particularly upset by this news and who’ve graciously offered to help brainstorm ways for Biznik to continue. I’m afraid we’re long past brainstorming. Biznik is operating at a deficit — revenue from membership and advertising is not covering the slimmest fixed expenses. And the application is old. It’s 4-years overdue for a major system upgrade, and it’s really inexcusable that it is not compatible with mobile devices. The mission lives on in those who were touched by Biznik. It will continue to be practiced on sites like Facebook and Meetup. That you continue to show a keen interest in Biznik’s vision touches me more than you know. Thank you.