A Q&A with Directly.me founder and CEO Rocky Mirza. The London-based startup, which offers a ‘monetized social network’ where users can get paid by people to connect based on their contacts and expertise, launched out of private beta in early July.
SUB: Please describe Directly.me and your primary innovation.
Mirza: Directly.me is an ecommerce site and social network to help market and sell your personal knowledge, information, and experiences, and to make money because of your connections. We are creating a marketplace of ‘you’ where members can monetize their two most valuable assets—their contacts and their life experiences. With experiences, the idea is that the things our members have had success with in their professional lives, someone else may be going through right now, and may pay to access other members’ experiences and knowledge.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Mirza: Our target market is global, and target users are professionals between the ages of 20-and-36, but since everyone has contacts and life experiences, we are already seeing members joining who are in all age groups.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Mirza: You can pay and directly contact anyone. This pay-per-message side may be competing with Facebook pay-per-message and LinkedIn’s subscription based InMail, which allows people to contact those you don’t know.
Our marketing and selling your life experiences side of the site may not have a direct competitor, but could have indirect competition from ‘infopreneurs,’ who normally gather and sell electronic information. We may also compete with those who write on different subject matter and mainly earn their income from Google AdSense.
SUB: What differentiates Directly.me from the competition?
Mirza: Facebook sets and charges a fixed pre-determined amount per message—person ‘A’ pays to contact person ‘B.’ Money goes to Facebook and message lands in the person B’s inbox.
Directly.me allows the members to set their own contact price. Members can set this pay-per-message amount in two different ways. They can select a minimum amount, ranging from $1-to-$999, or they can set the price as ‘PayWhatYouLike ‘and the person contacting you decides what they want to pay.
Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, up to 80 percent of the money from the paid message goes to the recipient of the message, and the other 20 percent is shared with Directly.me and the person who gets the recipient to come and read the message.
Facebook and LinkedIn only allow you to contact people already on the site, Directly.me allows people to contact those who are members and also those who are not yet members. To contact a non-member, you decide the price and a bounty gets created. This bounty is placed in the marketplace for bounty hunters so any site members who know the person can inform him and earn cash rewards for making the connection.
Messages on LinkedIn and Facebook also come with lot of noise. Since Directly.me is a paid platform, there is no noise, and since the person has paid to contact you, you know their intent is serious.
LinkedIn and Facebook keep the money from the paid message. Directly.me shares it with the recipients and site members. When you join, in less than a minute you can list—protect—your contacts from LinkedIn and Facebook, and as long as you are the first to protect anyone, when someone pays to contact that person, you automatically get a commission.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Mirza: We actually wrote the entire idea and mailed it to ourselves by first class mail; so if there is ever a dispute about who came up with this first, we can open the unopened letter as proof. Our version of patent, I guess. We then decided to create a ‘boundary-free’ website, so people can pay to contact members and anyone else, and the community will help get messages through.
We wrote mathematical models to try to determine contact prices for people but realized it wouldn’t be efficient. In the end, we went with the idea of setting your own price.
We wasted some time trying to create a perfect system, but in the end the majority of the things we developed we took out to keep it simple and get it out in the market. We will add additional features in the future.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Directly.me? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Mirza: A personal introduction is the best way to meet someone, but you first need to find someone who knows the person you are trying to contact, and it requires a time commitment by all parties involved. Also, there are consequences when things don’t go well. We wanted to use the power of the introduction but ‘technofy’ it with a ‘pass through’ model that takes away any consequences. You don’t need to ask anyone for a referral, simply place a bounty and those who know the person will let him know for their own benefit.
Being able to contact people for what and who they know can open new doors very quickly. No need to look for contact details, simply decide on who you want to contact, pay a price you think is fair, and send your message. Instead of trying to get to the person on your own, the community will help you do it. The other feature that excited us is allowing people to create simple ‘headlines’ that highlight their life experiences, which others can pay and get access to.
Contacting anyone directly was from the outset an ‘aha’ moment, but it was when we figured out what people will contact others for life experiences, leads, information, etc. that we had a second ‘aha’.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Mirza: Since the site is about you, your contacts, your knowledge, your life experience, Directly.me fits well with ‘Directly contact Me.’
SUB: You launched out of private beta last month. Why was this the right time to launch?
Mirza: We were developing for so long, in the end we just wanted to get it out in public and put it to the test. Since being out, the site is improving quickly. Nothing is more valuable than feedback from real users.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point? If so, how much have you raised and who are your investors?
Mirza: We are in talks and will disclose more in the near future.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Mirza: The biggest challenge before launching was to actually launch. The biggest challenge now is to be able to tell the world what we are doing and iterate as fast as you can to make sure the feedback loop is accommodated. When we launched, we focused on people being able to create their life experiences, and now the focus is on discovery of those experiences and discovery of interesting people who you can contact right now to solve your current issues or to get advice.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Mirza: Up to 80 percent of each paid message goes to the recipient or sold life experience goes to the owner. Five percent goes to the person who got the recipient to come read the message. Five percent goes to the person who was the first to ‘protect’ the recipient, and ten percent comes to Directly.me
SUB: What are your goals for Directly.me over the next year or so?
Mirza: Our goal is to challenge the status quo by helping people monetize their two most valuable assets: Your contacts and your life experiences—and become a marketplace of ‘you.’
Directly.me – www.directly.me