Circlebox is a web startup that I founded a couple of years ago. Hard to say exactly when, because I’ve been thinking about it for several years and have been actually writing code and using it myself for about a year and a half. I’m still honing my elevator pitch – this is the longer version. I’ll start with some examples of the problems it’s designed to solve.
Scenario #1: Headcount and $10
One of the earliest examples I can give is of coordinating a Cub Scout campout. The pack leaders needed to know who was going. At the pack meeting, we got a lot of “let me check our schedule with my wife and I’ll email you”. Because there are multiple leaders, not everyone emails the same person, so the leaders keep emailing revisions of an Excel spreadsheet back and forth.
We also needed to collect $10/person to cover hot dogs, hamburger patties, buns, mustard, etc. At the meeting, nobody has their checkbook with them. At the campout, a few people remember to bring checks, but most people (of the people that pay) bring 20 dollar bills straight from the ATM so making change is a problem.
We looked at some existing websites, but couldn’t find anything that was just right.
What about Evite?
Sites like Evite would handle the head count, but not collecting the money. In addition, Evite is really targeted at one user coordinating an event. If you have multiple coordinators – you could share your password, but only one email address will get the notifications.
If you are a group leader for multiple groups, it might be OK to share your password with John, since John helps you run the Scout pack, but what if you are also the baseball coach and want to coordinate events for that. John isn’t affiliated with the baseball team and really shouldn’t see the contact info for the people in that group.
What about PayPal?
Sites that would collect money mostly used PayPal. Not only is PayPal kind of expensive to use – I couldn’t even get our Pack set up with PayPal.I’ve had a personal PayPal account for years. When you are setting up a PayPal account for an organization, you have to say what kind of Business Type you are. “Non-profit” was the closest match. Apparently to PayPal, that means “charity” because now they wanted our 501c3 paperwork to prove that we were OK to accept donations. But I didn’t want to accept donations, I wanted to collect $8 for hot dog buns.
In my day job, I worked with accounting software and was familiar with ACH processing (how the gym automatically drafts your monthly membership fee from your checking account). Since we wanted to collect money from people that we already knew in the real world (and would take a check from) – this seemed OK (and the transaction fees are significantly cheaper).
PayPal’s sweet spot is paying for a guitar amp that you bought from a guy in Seattle on eBay. Since you don’ t know the guy in Seattle, you might need some recourse from PayPal if doesn’t actually ship the amp. Since we’re only exchanging money between people that already know each other in the real world, we don’t need that level of protection and the less expensive ACH funds transfer works perfectly for us.
- Designed for multiple user accounts to administer the same Circles (groups) and for one user account to be able to administer multiple Circles without sharing passwords and emailing spreadsheets back and forth.
- Will handle electronic invitations and responses to events, including allowing Circle members to pay online via ACH.
In other group that I help run, I remember the treasurer saying “I’ve got a good list of who hasn’t paid, but I don’t really have a good way of emailing them individually. BCC won’t work because different people owe different amounts. I really need to be able to email individual statements.”
- Will let you email subsets of Circle members like “only those who haven’t paid” or “only those who haven’t replied to the invitation”.
Several years ago, I served on the governing board for our local youth baseball league. I had been on the board for a couple of years and I knew that this was when we normally started meeting, but I hadn’t heard anything. When I finally talked to the president, she said “we’ve had 2 meetings and wondered where you were.”
Turns out, someone had entered my email address incorrectly on the first email and all communication from that point on had been “Reply to All” from the original email. I never got any of them.
There’s also a flip side to this issue. My kids are involved in Boy Scouts and the local council asked for volunteers to come to a meeting to discuss how they could better use technology. I thought “there’s something I can help with” so I went. When I got there, there were about 50 other guys there and the conversations I heard there were of the “my hard drive is bigger than yours” type. I quickly decided that they could make it without me. Unfortunately, I had put my email on a sign-in sheet which the leader then forwarded to everyone who attended.
Because these were technical types, just about everyone of them made their own personal distribution group from the list and the conversations began. There were many back and forth emails to the group and I had no way of getting my email address off of everyone’s list.
- Will let you subscribe, unsubscribe and change the email address where you receive notifications.
- Is “self-serve” so the group leader doesn’t have to make these updates for the group members
More to come, but this should give you the general idea of Circlebox.