A Q&A with MemberPlanet founder and CEO Rob Hammond. The Torrance, California-based startup, which offers a cloud-based management platform for group leaders, announced the closing of a $2.5 million Seed funding round along with its public launch in late September. It was founded in 2011.
SUB: Please describe MemberPlanet and your primary innovation.
Hammond: MemberPlanet is a cloud based ‘functional network’ that provides all of the communication, finance and administrative tools group leaders need to be more productive and engage their members more effectively. MemberPlanet provides groups the capability to handle virtually everything they need in one place. This includes email campaigns, surveys, payment processing, database management, event registration, group text messaging, calendaring, discussion boards and event-based photo sharing.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Hammond: We like to say we are looking for leaders. These can be leaders in the community, schools, and churches, or coaches of soccer, baseball, or football. Leaders come in many forms and we are looking to help them all.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates MemberPlanet from the competition?
Hammond: Constant Contact, Survey Monkey, PayPal and Evite are all competitors of our individual tools. However, we are different in that we built MemberPlanet organically from the ground up, specifically for groups—this has ensured that each of these tools works in unison together. MemberPlanet is the first functional network in which group leaders can manage multiple groups from one location and in which group members can view all their groups from one place.
SUB: You just completed a $2.5 million Seed funding round. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Hammond: We have been very fortunate to have early adopters of our platform that provided us feedback from very diverse viewpoints. This allowed us to develop the platform to be valuable for groups of virtually any size. The funding comes at a particularly good time for us to focus on growing our user base and expanding into mobile.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Hammond: The funds will be primarily used for mobile development, user acquisition and operations.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for MemberPlanet? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Hammond: The inspiration for MemberPlanet was gradual and built over several years as both a volunteer and technology entrepreneur. As a volunteer, I was continually asked how we could use technology to assist various groups. The best available tools only provided a single feature, and thus multiple accounts across the web were needed. This was fine for someone who was tech-savvy and had a lot of free time; however I knew there had to be a better way to involve more group leaders and be more productive.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Hammond: The first step was asking questions and learning about the leadership structures of as many groups and organizations as we could.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Hammond: Everyone on the planet is a member of one or more groups, so we felt MemberPlanet was the perfect fit.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Hammond: We will be seeking additional funding to fuel our growth in both our current and new markets. However, no dates have been set at this time.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Hammond: There have been a number of significant challenges we have faced in building a platform with so many tools that need to work in harmony together. The most significant challenge has been in regards to the decision-making process associated with our technology roadmap. We have an amazing user base of highly engaged and passionate leaders. Each day, we receive great feedback on what function or tool we should be focused on next. However, consistently making the right decision on which tool will make the biggest difference to the most groups is a constant challenge but one that the entire team participates in and enjoys.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Hammond: We have some very interesting revenue models as we build out the platform, but have initially focused on payment processing and subscription-based revenue from our current users. Our payment processing matches PayPal for most transactions and we have a freemium-based model for our subscriptions.
SUB: What are your goals for MemberPlanet over the next year or so?
Hammond: Having just exited our private beta with over 4,000 groups and 1.3 million users, we are looking to build off our current momentum and make MemberPlanet the perfect complement to every group’s social network.
MemberPlanet – www.memberplanet.com