If you’ve ever Googled a medical condition or a new symptom that you’ve experienced you know that the search results leave much to be desired. When Nina Lorez Collins posted about symptoms of perimenopause on Facebook, she saw that many women in her network were looking for a space to talk about the same symptoms that she was experiencing. The conversation flourished into a Facebook group of over 30,000 women looking for answers and support through all stages of menopause and aging.
As the What Would Virginia Woolf Do? community (now The Woolfer) continued to grow, it tested the limits of Facebook’s product and support and Nina found herself looking for alternatives. She faced the realization that she could not sustain the group as a free community. It needed dedicated resources and income to continue operating at the same level. If you’re looking to launch or move your community to a paid model or debating changing community platforms, Nina offers lots of suggestions on what to consider as you’re negotiating with new platforms and keeping your community in the loop.
Nina and Patrick discuss:
- Recognizing the product limitations of community platforms, along with your community’s product must-haves
- The emotional, financial, and product hurdles that come with moving from one platform to another
- How Woolfers stepped up to help those that wanted to join the paid community but couldn’t afford it
On feeling used by Facebook (3:44): “As we grew, [Facebook] would occasionally reach out to us [because] they were interested in featuring us in videos or they asked us if we wanted to join their subscription pilot when they started it. We had ended up saying no. Every time we tried to reach out to them with a question or for help with something, we wouldn’t hear from anyone. They would direct us to their big Facebook groups for people who are managing groups, but it was so impersonal, and I started to feel a little bit used. Here we were directing all this traffic and having all this intense engagement and we couldn’t really get an answer from anyone.” -Nina Lorez Collins
Facebook’s propensity to silently take features away (4:21): “[With Facebook Groups], we would lose features. We had the topics feature for a long time, which we really loved and used and then it disappeared one day. Dozens of times, we wrote to Facebook and couldn’t figure out where it had gone and couldn’t get an answer. The lack of ability to communicate with these people who were essentially hosting us was impossible. … It started to feel increasingly over time like there was so much we couldn’t control, and it didn’t make sense. I started to feel a little bit like we were slaving away for this machine that we couldn’t manage the way we wanted to.” -Nina Lorez Collins
The pros and cons of breaking away from Facebook (22:05): “A friend said to me, ‘… I’ve come to be addicted to Facebook. I’m not feeling addicted to the [new community] app, so I have to remember to check it.’ I thought that was interesting. On the one hand, we’re relieved that we’re breaking our addiction to Facebook, this thing that we resent. On the other hand, it is like second nature to all of us. I mean, they’ve made it very smooth. While our app has a lot of the same features, it’s different.” -Nina Lorez Collins
Thoughtful Woolfers addressed the barrier of joining a paid community (28:40): “We were very concerned about people who might feel that the cost [of joining the paid community] was prohibitive and we immediately had lots of Woolfers offering scholarships. We did create a way for members who wanted to sponsor people and for people who wanted to be sponsored. We’ve to date, I think, sponsored 280 women. [They] have gotten into the app for free through the generosity of other Woolfers, which is awesome.” -Nina Lorez Collins
About Nina Lorez Collins
Nina Lorez Collins is the founder of The Woolfer, a community for women over 40. The Woolfer started as a Facebook group called “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” and has recently migrated to its own platform and app.
Nina has written a book, What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt to Age Without Apology, which came out in April 2018. She’s a graduate of Barnard College, has a Masters degree from Columbia in the field of Narrative Medicine, and has a long professional background in book publishing, both as a literary scout and then as an agent. She has four nearly grown children and lives in Brooklyn.
- Nina Lorez Collins on Facebook
- The Woolfer
- The Woolfer Facebook page
- What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt to Age Without Apology
- The Grown and Flown Facebook group
- Mighty Networks (formerly known as Mighty Bell)
- Why Paid Apps Could Be the Future of Online Communities (via Tech.co)
[0:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[0:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for listening to Community Signal. Our guest is Nina Lorez Collins, founder of The Woolfer, a community for women over 40 that recently moved from a 30,000 plus strong member Facebook group to a paid app. We’re talking about software choices, costs, and the pain points of moving from a free group to a paid community.
If you can’t tell, I’m on day nine of some sort of illness and my voice is not to be trusted and I sound a little bit different. Sorry about that, but I’m never sorry to thank our Patreon supporters, including Marjorie Anderson, Rachel Medanic and Maggie McGary. We’re grateful for your support. If you’d like to join their ranks, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Nina Lorez Collins is the founder of The Woolfer, a community for women over 40 that started as a Facebook group called What Would Virginia Woolf Do?, and has recently migrated to its own platform and app found at thewoolfer.com. She’s written a book, What Would Virginia Woolf Do?: And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt To Age Without Apology, which came out in April 2018.
She’s a graduate of Barnard College, has a masters degree from Columbia in the field of Narrative Medicine, and has a long professional background in book publishing both as a literary scout and then as an agent. She has four nearly grown children and lives in Brooklyn.
Nina, welcome to the show.
[00:01:34] Nina Lorez Collins: Hi. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:35] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. Was What Would Virginia Woolf Do the first online community that you had started or managed?
[00:01:42] Nina Lorez Collins: Absolutely, the first. I didn’t really even know what I was doing, I barely knew what groups were. It grew out of purely a moment where I really enjoyed Facebook and had been like an avid Facebook user, and I had a conversation on my regular page where I made a joke about perimenopause. I said that, “Do you know that impending sense of doom is an actual documented symptom of perimenopause on Google?” I thought this was really funny. In the ensuing conversation, a bunch of my female friends were laughing and joking about it and we said maybe we should start our own community.
About a week later, I was alone in a hotel room and wanting to talk about aging, and I don’t even know how I knew Facebook groups existed. Anyway, I started the group purely just for me and my girlfriends. Even though I liked Facebook, I’d never done any group chats or chat rooms or I’d never been part of a community.
[00:02:37] Patrick O’Keefe: How strict is the women over 40 line? How do you verify that?
[00:02:41] Nina Lorez Collins: Well, it is strict but we do make exceptions. If you’re a woman who’s gone into early menopause, for example, we’ll let you in. There’ve always been people with my assistant, for example, who’s been with us now for a little over a year, she’s 25, and the different people we work with, marketing people or people who might want to learn about us, we definitely let people in. We do not allow men at all. I guess for the rare exception, there may have been one or two times when we’ve let men in for a brief period of time for business reasons to understand what we’re doing, like when we were figuring out how to leave Facebook.
[00:03:16] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a funny way to explain it. We just had to let them in temporary for business reasons, business is conducted, they’re back out. You started the community in 2015 as you mentioned, as a Facebook group and it grew. As Facebook groups grow, the problems with the tool and the limitations that it has, in my experience, become more and more glaring to where Facebook can even become a bit of a hindrance. What were some of the areas that really frustrated you about how Facebook groups scaled?
[00:03:42] Nina Lorez Collins: There are a lot. One of the biggest frustrations is as we grew, they would occasionally reach out to us to maybe invite us to, not audition, but at different points they were interested in having us maybe featuring us in videos or they asked us if we wanted to join their subscription pilot when they started it, we had ended up saying no.
Every time we tried to reach out to them with a question or for help with something, we wouldn’t hear from anyone. We’d have to go, they would direct us to their big Facebook groups for people who are managing groups, but it was so impersonal and I started to feel really a little bit used.
Here we were directing all this traffic and having all this intense engagement and we couldn’t really get an answer from anyone about Facebook about anything. Then we would lose features. We had the topics feature, for example, for a long time which we really loved and used and then it disappeared one day. Dozens of times we wrote to Facebook and couldn’t figure out where it had gone and couldn’t get an answer. The lack of ability to communicate with these people who were essentially hosting us was impossible.
Then the other problem was just more of an administrative problem. Facebook is a flat landscape. Originally we started as What Would Virginia Woolf Do, but over time we grew something like 37 subgroups. We had a couple of admin groups, we had subject groups, regional groups. In order to manage them, each one, even though we called them subgroups, they were really just additional groups, so we’d have to work in and out of them. There was no way to manage everything as a whole and that was just really time-consuming.
Like if we wanted to change the cover photo on one group, we had to change it on 37 groups. If we were making an announcement…Actually, that’s another problem. We found it incredibly frustrating because of a Facebook algorithm, it’s very hard for us to know who was seeing what and so we overtime grew a whole kind of empire strong. We have a podcast, we have a website, we have a newsletter and often when we would survey our members, we’d find that they didn’t know. Many of them had no idea we had a podcast because there was no way for us to make sure one particular message was going to everyone in our community.
It started to feel increasingly over time, like there was so much we couldn’t control and it didn’t make sense. I started to feel a little bit like we were slaving away for this machine that we couldn’t manage the way we wanted to.
[00:05:55] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting you mentioned how they wanted you to be a part of their videos and whatnot. They have tried to make some inroads I think, with people who manage groups, but it’s very, in my opinion, superficial. I live in Hollywood and if I walk down Sunset, which is a block away, they have ads on a building down here, the Sunset-Vine building, some language like, “Have you met your group?” Or “Have you met your collection?” whatever it is.
They have bus stop ads in New York City, I believe.
[00:06:19] Nina Lorez Collins: Yes, I’ve seen them.
[00:06:20] Patrick O’Keefe: They had this idealistic piece of it but it’s like, you could take that and you could maybe be the spotlight for a little while, but it’s almost like some sort of a bad bargain. It’s a little bit of a spotlight and then you’ll just go back to having to deal with the same frustrating tool tomorrow.
[00:06:34] Nina Lorez Collins: Well, it’s an interesting debate. There’s another group that’s in our space called Grown and Flown which is much bigger than we are, than we got on Facebook, and they kind of took the opposite. They really got in bed with Facebook and seemed to really like it. I don’t know where it will go for them but there was that moment, I think, in 2018 when they approached us about doing their subscription pilot, and I had to really think long and hard about it and we ultimately said no, and I wondered if I was making a big mistake like would it be smarter strategically to go along with Facebook? Now, I’m glad we didn’t do that but only time will tell whether I was right. We’ll see.
[00:07:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Gosh, managing 38 groups, what a nightmare. I think it’s only gotten worse. We use Facebook Groups for my day job and when I joined the company, Facebook allowed you API access to your analytics data in the groups. We had a third-party contractor that I knew that we worked with, to extract data and a little bit of data that we can get, which was always very small. Things like active members, members that posted, that sort of thing and then when they made their GDPR changes, they cut that off.
We stopped that contract obviously and our data ended there and so from that point, my team’s basically hand-counted a lot of data, which is, suffice to say, not a good use of my team’s time and just pretty lame, on the whole. I like to say and it’s not even like a sarcastic thing, but I’ve been managing communities for a long time and in 2000, I used a software called phpBB 1 which is still around and people use it, but it’s not as popular as it once was. phpBB 1 came out in the year 2000. I turned 16 that year, I was managing online communities and I installed it and I used it and I learned how PHP worked and all that stuff.
The tool that I had then, the administrative tool, it was stronger. It’s not a joke, it was stronger than what Facebook Groups gives people now when you go to the manage panel. It’s ridiculous, there’s nothing in there.
[00:08:20] Nina Lorez Collins: That’s really interesting to hear. It does support the feeling that I had certainly, like, I didn’t know that, but there’s just this feeling that they’re essentially kind of using all these groups for their benefit and we’re not really getting much out of it.
[00:08:33] Patrick O’Keefe: I love that you mentioned that your features would disappear and crop up with no warning. It’s ridiculous how often that happens. One of my favorites is when Facebook decided that Facebook Pages could join groups and for us, first of all, we never allow people to do that with like a profile they pretended was a page because people used to do that. They used to create a profile and use a company name against Facebook terms, but we always made them use a name for the trust of the group. When Facebook said that pages could join groups, they turned it on and the way we found out was pages were in the queue to join the group and we turned it off and it’s come back on.
I don’t know by what measure that’s happening, but it’s happened at least once where mysteriously it’s re-enabled and then the person on my team who manages the joining process for our groups will say, “Hey, there’s a page in the queue.” It’s like, didn’t we turn that off? I think we did. I could search a Slack conversation and find it and be like, “Okay, we did turn that off.” It’s just so incredibly frustrating how they miss just very basic communication. Forget asking me what I think, forget my feelings, just tell me it’s happening.
[00:09:37] Nina Lorez Collins: Right, exactly. I completely agree. It’s interesting now that we’re on a new platform that it’s not perfect, there are problems. There are things we’re trying to figure out but we keep reminding both our members and ourselves that it wasn’t perfect on Facebook either. [chuckles] Things were disappearing, there were features we didn’t like. Things that were always changing. It’s similar, but at least now we’re in a space we can control.
[00:09:58] Patrick O’Keefe: Right. Facebook is a pain, they changed things without telling you, they ignored you. When did you start to look around for alternatives?
[00:10:04] Nina Lorez Collins: Very early on actually, in the first like six months, we started talking to Mighty Networks, at the time they were called Mighty Bell, I’m not sure if they changed yet again. I liked them, but wasn’t sure and then basically decided to stay on Facebook, I’d say every year. I started the Facebook group four years ago and I would say every six to 12 months, I would look at Mighty Bell, and then decide I shouldn’t do it. It was only in the last year that, because I was also starting to talk to possible investors and VCs and the idea of like, should we go to an app, should we not, and people were very divided.
We got a lot of advice that apps were not the way of the future and it would be stupid, and we spent like a year and a half really trying to explore every possible way to make this group sustainable, to monetize it, not even necessarily to really have it make money, but to cover the expenses of managing it. Finally, we just decided that what we have, that the heart of what we have is community. It is people wanting to talk to each other and that ultimately, they were going to have to pay for it but there was no other real way. We were doing affiliate sales and sponsored content and events, but nothing was really bringing in enough money.
Once we decided we were going to make it a subscription model, then it seemed obvious to go to an app. So I’d say it was in the last six to eight months, we started talking to various platforms and we ended up really liking these people at TopFan the best. Mighty Networks was our second choice and we liked them too. They have two different models, I’m sure you know, you can kind of do where you’re a group on their platform or you can do a branded platform, which is what we decided we wanted and then we were speaking to them we didn’t quite feel like we were going to get enough personal attention in developing it.
We felt like the relationship seemed like it was going to be we’re going to get more one on one with the people there at TopFan so we went with them, even though it was slightly more.
[00:11:53] Patrick O’Keefe: Did you find TopFan on your own?
[00:11:55] Nina Lorez Collins: No. We found them actually– One of our moderators is digital streaming executive in LA and she met the guy at TopFan, I can’t remember how and she introduced us months ago, maybe back in March. We spent many months talking to them and talking to other people and then we signed a contract in August.
[00:12:13] Patrick O’Keefe: I’m just curious, what sort of name has popped up on your radar. TopFan is where you went, Mighty Networks was number two. I was curious, obviously working through a network, were you Google searching, what were the names that popped up?
[00:12:22] Nina Lorez Collins: We were really getting recommendations. Sometimes people would write to us on Facebook and be like, “I run a group too and I’m thinking of going to–” It was everything from Slack– I’d have to ask Sydney to write the names. There were all these things that we looked at online that just didn’t feel good enough. We also talked to fancier people. We talked to people who were like, “We’ll build you an app, and it’ll cost $250,000 and cost $100,000 a year to maintain.” We were like, “No, we can’t do that.”
So we kind of narrowed it down basically, there was like the places that wouldn’t really be our own thing like Slack, it’s a different way of using it and then there were the super customized versions and we decided okay, let’s try and find an essentially black coffee or someone who delivers a basic app that we then adapt. From there, we narrowed it down to just TopFan and Mighty Networks and made the choice. I’m sure there are other people that we didn’t even know to talk to. It was all kind of word of mouth and a lot of conversations with people.
[00:13:17] Patrick O’Keefe: What’s the cost of TopFan? Is it a revenue share or do you pay them sort of as a vendor? Or how does that work?
[00:13:22] Nina Lorez Collins: It’s both, a little bit of a revenue share and a little bit of a vendor. I think because of the terms of my contract, I’m not sure how explicit I should be, but there was an article about our move on something called Tech.co recently. Basically our costs for the first year are around $100,000 for build and maintenance.
[00:13:39] Patrick O’Keefe: Got you.
[00:13:39] Nina Lorez Collins: Then for a little bit of rev share in there.
[00:13:41] Patrick O’Keefe: Forget the specific number. Part of it is a rev share, it’s not like all like a sum cost you have to make or like, you’re going to be in trouble.
[00:13:49] Nina Lorez Collins: We pay flat fee for what they delivered for an app and then I’ve paid some extra money for features that we really felt we had to have. A lot of Facebook-like features, I anticipate that going forward, there’s going to be a fair amount of money that’s going to get sunk back into custom development. Some of the things we had to pay to adapt right off the bat where we wanted the ability to approve posts, which their basic model didn’t have.
We purposely paid for increased and darkened and font size. We paid for their basic model had a 300 character maximum count for posts and comments which we can’t have because our members write often very long things. Although on Facebook, they sometimes write really overly long posts, which we would reject. What we’ve built is a 2500 character maximum. We’re paying for extra features that we want and then we’re paying ongoing maintenance, a monthly maintenance fee for them to just maintain the app and service it and then they’re getting a small revenue share out of all the income we bring in.
[00:14:51] Patrick O’Keefe: I know if they’re listening and they probably will be I would say some of those things should be included TopFan. Just make sure those small customization tweaks you should be including some of those things.
[00:15:00] Nina Lorez Collins: Yes, we’ve been fighting back with it every step of the way, particularly because it turns out, while TopFan has been great, I do think as often happens in these things, they kind of unfolds in certain ways. I don’t think they’ve taken a Facebook group off Facebook, there are other communities who you probably know are things like big country music fans and big sporting companies, and teams.
I feel we’re making their product much, much better. I mean, it’s been a very intense launch. They’re working really, really hard with us and we really like the product, but a lot of these things we should have had from day one. It was hard doing the contract, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, right, which often happens, so certain things we just really didn’t realize, like the character count thing or anyway, it’s been a learning process.
[00:15:42] Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve made a substantial investment in this product. I have to imagine that when you actually flip the switch, no matter how good of feeling you had about it, no matter how many members you talked with beforehand, and sort of the general optimism there was sort of a gulp moment, right? Where you were like, okay, got to flip the switch. Talk about that moment and then how have you gone so far, as far converting members over to your community on TopFan?
[00:16:05] Nina Lorez Collins: It was really scary, you’re right. I mean basically, for the last year, I’ve been grappling with do I just shut down the community? Or do I invest money and make this – [crosstalk]
[00:16:14] Patrick O’Keefe: Right, because you’re at the point now, where it’s taking the amount of your time where investment-wise of your time where it’s like, I need to draw money from this, or I need to be able to pay people for their time to take it off my plate. One or the other, right?
[00:16:25] Nina Lorez Collins: Right, and I was already paying someone. I started paying someone about a year ago, and we have many, many mods who work for free. I was spending money and feeling like I really had to stop. I couldn’t keep spending money endlessly for the entertainment and edification of thousands and thousands of women. I was spending all my time, so either it has to become a business or I have to shut it down. Then shutting it down really felt hard because the women are really attached to it. I’m really attached to it, we’ve created this special thing that we all love.
I decided to make this leap. We really didn’t know what would happen. We spent months and we did the contract. We built the app, we did a beta and I had to be fully aware that we might flip the switch and no one would join. It was very scary, but I have to say the day we announced it on October 15, I didn’t know how I would feel and I felt immense relief. We had done some pre-talking to people, we had done a SurveyMonkey in the community saying if we did this at this amount of money, who would go, and in that survey, something like 30% of the women said they would come with us, but everyone had told us that we’d be very lucky to get anywhere from five to 15% of the women to make the move.
I mean, obviously going from free to paid is a huge leap, but yes, the day we announced it, I felt liberated from Facebook and that’s been consistent. I feel really, really good that we left Facebook, it was just– I felt I was on a treadmill to nowhere and now we have a thing that we own that we’ve created and we feel we have an actual product, and it’s gone I think really incredibly well knock on wood. I mean, we’ve got a long way to go, but we have I think 3,600 paid members right now and 5,200 total registered so there’s a gap of a little under 2,000 women who have registered for the site but have not yet paid for membership.
That’s, 15% of our membership. We had 31,000 women on Facebook when we closed and it’s only been three weeks since we made the announcement. Now our challenge, of course, is how are we going to get people who weren’t in the Facebook group to join the app? I mean, we have many challenges ahead, but we feel good.
[00:18:27] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, it’s interesting because I think in a different way, you’re going to have to tap into the– I mean, how did you get people to join the Facebook group, right? People talked about it, people told each other about it, I mean, this group so of course, the commitment is, as you said, is bigger even making people pay, I don’t know, my girlfriend works at Netflix, and I pay them $12 a month and it’s still a thought. [laughs] People complain online and we’ll see about say, unbundling a cable just a to draw from that example, like they used to pay cable this but now I’m signing up for Netflix and Disney+ and Amazon and all these things are adding up and everything is an incremental build these days.
On some level, you compete with everything I think these days, you’re competing with everything that charges a monthly fee-
[00:19:00] Nina Lorez Collins: Yep.
[00:19:00] Patrick O’Keefe: – which is interesting, I guess, in some way and when people do give you their money, then it actually means something.
[00:19:06] Nina Lorez Collins: Yes, no, I completely agree, but in a way, we felt, first of all, we are offering it monthly, but overwhelmingly, I think, only like five people have chosen the monthly option, and they’re all doing the annual, which is $35 a year, but we have a discount right now for $20. Ultimately, I felt like they’re going to have to pay for it and if they value it, they will and if they don’t value it, they won’t and then we’ll know. Because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing something that isn’t actually valued. [chuckles]
It does feel kind of gratifying to feel the women who have come with us really understand what the value is, and now it’s my job to make sure it keeps being valuable. If it’s not, they shouldn’t do it, right? That’s the challenge.
[00:19:42] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve talked about sort of the tech side of it a little bit, what have been sort of the biggest pain points outside of that right, the points around sort of communication, education, getting people to sign up, we’re such creatures of habit-
[00:19:55] Nina Lorez Collins: Yep.
[00:19:55] Patrick O’Keefe: -and Facebook, for better or worse, in some ways worse, we know they do things to sort of addict people, or at least they have in the past to the platform. You get used to what a norm is on Facebook and how this works and how we click here, and where do we go, and getting people to try something different, it doesn’t matter what age group its for, but getting people to try something different, there’s a learning curve. What have been the main pain points in dealing with people so far?
[00:20:19] Nina Lorez Collins: It’s fun talking to you because you so completely understand everything we’re dealing with. Yes, when we were in beta, at one point, I posted a joke, I said something like, there’s a joke to be made somewhere in here about teaching thousands of menopausal women how to use a new app. We’re, for the most part, women over 40, in our 50s and 60s, and it’s really, really hard to learn a new technology. There are a million pain points and to your point, kind of psychological, just the idea of adding. A lot of people have said, I don’t want to have another app on my phone.
A lot of people have said, I’m still going to be on Facebook all the time because that’s where all my friends and family are, you’re adding this extra step and I resent it. A lot of people were just mad at me for charging money because they feel it’s unfair. They’ve had it for free. They love the way it is, why should I charge money? On the other hand, I was overwhelmingly super surprised how supportive women were and how much they got it. A lot of my friends during those first two weeks called me and said, “Are you okay? Women are flipping out on the Facebook page, and they’re being so mean to you.” I was like, “I am fine.” We expected the response to be so much harsher. Women really get it, they know how hard we work. We’ve been really slaving at this.
I’d say the big pain points are technological, actually one of the things that we didn’t anticipate, and it’s a little bit something we fought TopFan for, although we like them and it’s been mostly a good experience, we had a lot more customer service issues in the first two weeks than we anticipated, and if one of my mods hadn’t stepped up to help, I don’t know that I’d be alive right now. The first 10 days, we had thousands of women emailing us and complaining and writing and they couldn’t figure out how to download it. They couldn’t figure out how to pay, and we’ve now pretty much ironed out, we now understand what the customer service issues are and we’ve made changes.
Now that’s feeling more under control but that was hugely unexpected, I had no idea that was going to happen and it was really stressful for about 10 days there. A friend that comes out the other night, and a friend said to me, I’m loving the app, but I have to say, for better or worse is you just said, it’s not addictive in the way Facebook is. I’ve come to be addicted to Facebook. I’m not feeling addicted to the app, so I have to remember to check it, and I thought that was interesting. On the one hand, we’re relieved that we’re breaking our addiction to Facebook to this thing that we resent. On the other hand, it is like second nature to all of us. I mean, they’ve made it very smooth. While our app has a lot of the same features, it’s different. Just like anything.
[00:22:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, I would embrace that and trumpet it. I would have an article on your homepage tomorrow, that, we want you to live your lives and to get stuff outside and breathe air once in a while.
[00:22:47] Nina Lorez Collins: I completely agree. Personally, I am feeling so much calmer, it’s amazing. I mean, I’m super happy about it.
[00:22:53] Patrick O’Keefe: One other challenge you mentioned to me before the show was, “Managing member emotions around our recent change.” You talked about that a little bit, I think with the reaction that you received positive, negative, a mix, and more positive than you thought you would. This is interesting because you’re resolved in your change, right? I feel like, in talking to you, it wouldn’t have mattered necessarily, not that it doesn’t matter how people respond, but just that you had reached a point in your life with this community where something needed to change. If people liked it, loved it, hated it, your life still needed to change professionally, at least and your time needed to change so something had to go.
[00:23:29] Nina Lorez Collins: Yep.
[00:23:29] Patrick O’Keefe: That was happening, whether it’s shutting down, it’s going to someone else’s hands, it’s being sold, it’s launching an app, whatever it is, it’s changing.
[00:23:36] Nina Lorez Collins: Yep.
[00:23:37] Patrick O’Keefe: There’s, sort of a resolution that comes with that, but still, actually, these are people you like, people you built relationships with. I think it’s an interesting way to put it, managing member emotions around our recent change, what does that look like?
[00:23:48] Nina Lorez Collins: It’s been hard and I appreciate you asking, which is like a therapy session, I’m loving the phone call. It’s been really draining because ultimately, I’m at the top and I’ve made all the decisions. Even my moderators, I mean, they were crying the day we closed down the group but it has been a really emotional roller coaster. This community has, I wouldn’t have stuck with it. When I started it, I wasn’t looking to start an online business of any sort. I’ve only done it because it’s been such a compelling experience and such an organic, interesting business but the whole experience has been wild, but so there’s a lot of emotional investment in it for a lot of people.
I have I feel pretty good boundaries in general emotionally, so I’ve just had to be really clear, this is what I need to do. I’ve thought about it long and hard, this makes sense. I wish people well who don’t want to come with us. I’m very grateful to people who do.
One of the core beliefs of the community, in general, is transparency and emotional honesty, so I think my members appreciate how thoroughly honest with them I’ve been about the decision about why about the money. We did hold a Facebook Live pretty much every day for the two weeks of the transition.
We announced on October 15 and closed, archived the groups on November 1st. Pretty much every day I did a Facebook Live where I was answering questions. I suppose the hardest part has been the emotions from the women who have been with us from day one and from the moderators and really, the thousand or so members who I know personally and they’ve been along for the whole ride. Some of them have been mad at us and I’m sorry, but I have to say it makes me a little angry sometimes also when people, like do they think I should work for free for the rest of my life? That doesn’t make sense. [chuckles] There’s a little bit of that too.
[00:25:29] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re an example of something that’s happened in community since the dawn of time, I think pre-Internet, is this idea that- because I help a lot of people start communities- we need more. More diversity, more communities, there’s always space. I started because I wanted to start a community about whatever sports, other things that I was interested in.
When you go looking for something and you don’t find it in the way you want and you start a community about it, one of the things that happens that’s funny I think or ironic in some way, is that you go for your hobby or your interests, or whatever you want to connect people around, in this case, women over 40, but in doing that, you find this entirely new hobby, which is managing an online community and it takes you away from that first thing. The time and you could sit on that first thing instead of talking with women over 40, you start talking about the Yankees, whatever it is. You now have this new job and I hope you like it, because it’s a time-consuming endeavor, maintaining this space where other people can do the thing that you really sought out for initially.
[00:26:24] Nina Lorez Collins: Yes, I know. That’s actually a super interesting question and it’s helpful for me to think about. I’ve actually been very lucky in that way. I’m naturally an entrepreneurial person. I had a company in my 20s that I started and then closed and the second company in my 30s, both in the literary book publishing world and then I didn’t feel very entrepreneurial for about eight years. I went to graduate school and wasn’t really sure if I would ever work or have a company again. When this started to develop, it was super compelling to me and as I said, I stuck with it and I’ve watched it grow. I’ve figured out how to make it grow and it’s been a really interesting experience.
I actually like both, it’s incredibly frustrating sometimes and I feel like I’m not a Millennial and I don’t know the first thing about online marketing, I’ve enjoyed the learning process and I do still feel like I get what I originally loved out of the community. I really do love the conversation and the connection.
[00:27:20] Patrick O’Keefe: When you make a change like this, you accept there’s some, risk might not be the right word, potential of splintering, right. You have a group of people, 30,000 people, a lot of people. It’s not unlike a small town and when you say, “We’re going to move this app where it’s going to be paid,” some people make that move. If you want to think of it this way, splinter with you, or they come with you. Some people may hate it just out of hate of change, some people may not be able to justify the costs.
[00:27:48] Nina Lorez Collins: Yep.
[00:27:49] Patrick O’Keefe: Maybe they feel like they can’t afford it, maybe they don’t have a phone that works well enough for the app. I don’t know, right? It’s all sorts of reasons.
[00:27:54] Nina Lorez Collins: All those things have happened. Absolutely.
[00:27:56] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. All these things happen, so people splinter. I don’t know, I like to think of it, when I close a community which I have in the past, or sometimes when I ban a popular member, I create a new community. I create a new community around that person I’ve banned. It’s happened half a dozen times in my life, where that has actually happened, that exact scenario. You have people who can’t make the journey with you for whatever reason, because these are, as you mentioned, deep relationships, years founded between each other with members one another that are leaving this space that they’re used to.
Did you encourage them to find a home for those people to splinter off into those groups, the people who couldn’t join you to maintain those relationships, and if you did encourage it just how so?
[00:28:34] Nina Lorez Collins: I just did two things. One is, we were very concerned about people who might feel that the cost was prohibitive and we immediately had lots of members, lots of Woolfers offering scholarships. We did create a way for members who wanted to sponsor people and for people who wanted to be sponsored. We’ve to date, I think sponsored 280 women, have gotten into the app for free through the generosity of other Woolfers which is awesome.
[00:28:57] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s very nice.
[00:28:58] Nina Lorez Collins: Then what we have said to everyone is, of course, it’s natural that some of you won’t want to come and you may want to create your own groups and that’s completely fine. Please do not use our name which is trademarked. There was one woman who immediately created a group with our name and we wrote to her and said, “We will pursue legal action, you can not use our name. This is a brand that we’ve spent four years building and you can’t use it, but please by all means go ahead and create your own group for women over 40 under a different name.”
People have and that’s fine. We really feel like, again, that’s an interesting thing also to think about. We’ve spent four years doing this and we are a community and we’re also, we have content and we have events and we are actually a brand and a company now, we’re not in the same place we were two or three years ago. If someone wants to create her own community and start from scratch, God bless her. That’s fine.
[00:29:48] Patrick O’Keefe: I know you archived the group the other day. Another scary moment to hit that button, hit the archive button? I don’t know what Facebook gives you. I don’t know if they gave you a recourse they might like delete your profile. I’ve actually never archived a group, but I have to imagine that was just like dropping a weight.
[00:30:00] Nina Lorez Collins: It was a weird feeling and there were some tears shed, not by me but by some of our moderators. I mean the truth is, when you archive a group, you can unarchive it instantly. That’s a funny feeling too. The only way you can make it completely disappear is if you remove every single member, including yourself. We did completely disappear. One of our admin groups that we no longer needed, we’ve archived like 35 groups and fully closed I think two. We will probably over time fully close all of them, but we’re going to really give it a while. We want people to be able to go in and search for things. The way it works, and I’m sure you know this, when you archive a Facebook group, anyone who’s still a member can go in and search, they just can’t comment or post.
Anyone who’s not a member will not be able to find the group when it’s archived. So we also created a dummy What Would Virginia Woolf Do Group that in theory, if people find it, they can see where we’ve gone.
[00:30:52] Patrick O’Keefe: I saw that one, smart move. It worked for me. I searched for the group name.
[00:30:55] Nina Lorez Collins: Good. Well, that makes me happy because we’re getting still like 200 requests a day to join, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to all those people. We also, of course, have kept up our public page, The Woolfer page, where we will direct content and talk about the group and blah, blah, blah. We’re just starting to play with Facebook ads for the app, and we’ll see how that works. Of course, we have our Instagram.
[00:31:15] Patrick O’Keefe: Can’t fully escape them.
[00:31:16] Nina Lorez Collins: No.
[00:31:17] Patrick O’Keefe: You tried.
[00:31:19] Nina Lorez Collins: Now, I’m getting like 60 notifications a day as opposed to hundreds of notifications a day. I do feel like I jumped off a cliff.
[00:31:27] Patrick O’Keefe: From the number of members that you mentioned earlier, even with the discount, it sounds like you pretty much covered your operating costs for the first year, so it seems like you’re good there. You mentioned part of the thought here is this becoming a full-time thing, maybe paying some of those volunteers, bringing people on who can really dedicate more time and pay them for their time because it’s obviously worth money. Twelve months from now, after that first year, how do you think you’ll measure success of this? How will you determine that year or two, another 100 grand or whatever it is, right? Whatever the value is, whatever the investment is, you continue to expand, you hire someone new, whatever. How will you consider this to be successful and worth continuing?
[00:32:05] Nina Lorez Collins: Well, I think that there are two different ways we’re looking at it. One is we were talking to potential investors and thinking about how we want to grow. Investors want you to say we’re going to get millions of members we’re going to be worth gazillion dollars. That’s one possible route, right? The other route is that we build a nice community that is self-sustaining, that maybe brings in a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, we can afford to pay a couple of people and give the moderator something, and it becomes a well-oiled machine that takes time but doesn’t dominate my life and I don’t feel like, oh my god, I need to be making a six-figure salary. I’m doing a really good thing for the world and for these women, and we’re all supporting each other.
I don’t totally know yet what we want, but I would say the latter would be lovely. If we could just get to that place, we’d be super happy. I’d say for year one to year two, I think we would be really successful if we got to say 10,000 paid members, right? We’re a little over 3,000 now, and a couple really well-placed advertisers, like people we really think are great.
For example, I’m not wearing it now, pretty much all the time if you see pictures of me, I’m always bringing this thing called the La LOOP. It’s this necklace that holds my glasses. I don’t know why I’m not wearing it right this minute, but there are certain brands that we really believe align with the Woolfers. The La LOOP is actually not an advertiser of ours, but they would be perfect. If we could find a couple. Right now, the only advertiser we have is a skincare company called Pause Well-Aging, which is a great new brand that just launched in June, run by a Woolfer, and a moisturizer, hot flash spray. I think if we had maybe two or three or tops five advertisers. We decided we don’t want to do any one-off advertising. We’re only going to try and work with people who commit to us for longer periods of time, so sponsors essentially, then I think we’d be in fantastic shape. Then we could see where we want to go from there.
I’m not bullshitting when I say the community means a lot to me. I’m not interested in doing anything that’s going to sell it out. If it’s not interesting to me, I don’t want to do it. It has to remain a place that I find satisfying and where I get answers and I can participate just like everyone else.
[00:34:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Nina, thanks so much for taking time. It’s been a great conversation. I really have enjoyed it.
[00:34:20] Nina Lorez Collins: Yes, me too. Thank you so much.
[00:34:23] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Nina Lorez Collins, founder of The Woolfer at thewoolfer.com. That’s T-H-E W-O-O-L-F-E-R.com. Find them on facebook at facebook.com/thewoolfer. To connect with Nina, visit facebook.com/wwvwdbook.
For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. We’ll see you next time.
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