By Rhea Cortado
Seshn is about people. Founder Brandon Winnie follows up his previous new media venture—the actionprofiles.com social network that was acquired in 2008—with Seshn, a network and service that builds websites specifically for athletes.
One of Winnie’s first breaks was cold calling Shaun Neff after hearing scuttlebutt that there was a snowboard headwear company brewing. Winnie offer his design, web development and marketing services and went on to become Head Designer at Neff. He has consulted for companies in digital media and social media advertising. He originally started Seshn as a blogging community in 2008 and it has now evolved to focus on building websites for athletes to broadcast their story, in their own words.
A short list of the athletes that Winnie has on board for Seshn encompass a cross-section of generations, styles and sport discipline: Paul Rodriguez, Nyjah Huston, Mikey Taylor, Sean Malto, Kolohe Andino, Evan Geiselman, Stevie Bell, Aaron Biittner, Simon Dumont, Jossi Wells, Jen Hudak, Kaya Turski, Sarah Burke, Corey Bohan and Rob Darden.
We caught up with Winnie to find out more about his plans for Seshn in 2012 and why it’s a step up from blogs and the current social media mediums.
Your opening statement is, “Built for the Influencers, Creatives & Trendsetters… Finally, a network where individuality is key.” In more detail, what is the big picture of what you want Seshn to be and what kind of users you want to be on Seshn?
At Seshn we strongly believe in people that are passionate about something. It’s those types of people that actually change the World. They inspire and motivate others to push the limit of what’s possible and they also set the trends which other people follow. They are truly the unspoken leaders of the World and these are the people that we want to become tight with. As the World is converting everything over to digital format, we realize our lives are also a part of that process. So we are focusing on the people that understand the importance of this digital change and we want them to be a part of the revolution with us.
What were some of the shortcomings you saw in other blog/website hosting platforms (i.e. something like WordPress, etc) that you saw that you could do better?
First off, for the past decade, in order to get a really great custom website built has been extremely expensive and it’s something that the general public would never spend money on even though most people that have a passion for something want a website for themselves. The price has to drop very sharply and become affordable to the average consumer in order to create a viable business.
When I was brainstorming the business model I took a look at what some of the other website creation services were doing and where they were failing. I noticed that none of them were really branding themselves as a company that catered to everyday people. Most people want something simple, easy-to-use and also creates a great experience for them. Apple does this very well.
At the same time, none of them were really nailing the data portability & style portability side of things either, which is huge. For example, some of the services allow you to create a website and make it look pretty cool, but if you ever want to peace out and go somewhere else, they make it extremely hard to do so. This usually ends up with users getting extremely frustrated and can negatively effect the business. Think of it as moving from your current home to a brand new one, but you have to leave all of your furniture and personal belongings inside the house. That would suck.
The great thing about Seshn is we are built on top of WordPress. WordPress is by far the largest content management system in the World and it’s about to take over the web as the software-of-choice when it comes to creating websites. It’s also open source and customizable. I decided that we would shape and mold WordPress to our own simplistic style and really focus on the user experience first, as the default version of WordPress is overly complicated for the user. We give users the comfort of knowing that if they want to leave us at some point in time, they can take their home and everything in it to a new hosting company and still keep everything intact.
What is the price range to have a site developed?
We aren’t publicly releasing prices on custom sites developed by our team at Seshn at this moment in time. However, we are working on a new subscription-based service to be launched soon. It will allow anyone to go to Seshn.com and create their own home on the web for free. They will then have the opportunity to add on to their site as they go along and can shape and mold it as they see fit. Personality, originality and style are very important to us as it is to anyone who participates in action sports, so we are laser-focused on making sure our users will be able to bring their personal style to life with their Seshn site. For premium users who want a fully established website on our network, you will see monthly subscription options somewhere in the ballpark of $10-$30/month.
Who can get on Seshn at this point? /How can you get on it?
Currently we are in a closed private beta until we open up to the public later this year (2012). We are working very closely with some of the top athletes, creative heads and other influencers in different industries at the moment and these people will be a huge part of our network going forward. For everyone else, you will just have to wait until we open up. We are getting close though!
What is the timeline of when you will be rolling it out on a wider level of users? Will it be an “invite only”/ must be approved basis?
Depending on when some of the platform pieces are in place by our engineers it could be spring/summer before we open up to everyone. We are still in talks with how we want to roll out the launch. It may be invite only for the first few months. We are taking all the necessary precautions so that we can scale the business effectively to keep our users happy. The last thing we want is for people to be bummed and then go out on Twitter and Facebook and put us on blast. This day in age you can’t afford to suck in business, so we are doing everything we can to not suck. We care deeply about making sure our users are backing us at all times.
How did you come to focus on athletes as the first on board?
I think the main thing was the need that most athletes have for this stuff. Spending the majority of your time shredding and traveling doesn’t allow you to be great at building websites or knowledgeable with new technologies that exist. It’s important for these athletes to build a name up for themselves and the best place to do that these days is online. However, you need to have a plan and a strategy. If you just go out and wing it, it’s going to actually damage your personal brand and your fans perception of you. Seshn is bridging that gap for the athletes and keeping them in the loop with all things digital.
I have had a passion for action sports since I was little. The freedom of expression and the style behind it is what got me hooked. I realized that I would never go pro in some of the sports I participated in, so I always wanted to have that connection with the athletes. I worked hard to build up my skills and technical knowledge so that one day I could put it to use working with the people and industry that I loved.
A few months after I brought Seshn back to life in 2010, my old friend Eric Bork, reached out to me after seeing what I was up to. After some long conversations about where we thought the industry was headed we decided to partner up. Bringing Eric on board has been huge for Seshn, because it has allowed us to align ourselves with some pretty key influential athletes that will help us gain some early traction and build up the Seshn brand. Previously working at Ogio for several years, Eric comes from a professional Skateboarding background and has worked very hard at building relationships within Skateboarding. I knew that we had to do things the right way and make a significant time & resource investment into Skateboarding from the beginning.
Skateboarding will always remain a big part of the culture of the Seshn brand for as long as we exist. Skateboarding is the essence of the human spirit’s drive to overcome adversity and trials. It has definitely come a long way from being completely shunned back in the day, to becoming the cool thing to be a part of these days. To me, Skateboarders are an example to humanity. Do what you love no matter what, work hard at it, don’t give up and you will come out on top in the end. If more people had the determined mindset of a Skateboarder, I think we would all live in a better World. If Seshn can influence people to do what they love and to share their passions with the World through the web, I think we can have a positive effect on a ton of people.
Though athletes can be considered “brands,” what are some of the specific needs that athletes have for their website that are different than other types of sites?
I think a lot of athletes out there have a story to tell. They have a long history that has shaped who they are today. Let’s face it, these athletes do not become pros overnight. It takes a ton of determination through blood, sweat, tears and plenty of injuries to get where they are. It’s important that an athlete can show their fans through their website where they come from, where they have been, where they’re at now and where they are headed in the future. Twitter and Facebook are so honed in on the current status that it’s hard to focus on the history or story each athlete has to tell about themselves. These other networks also do not provide enough branding opportunities through design either. A website is considered the athlete’s home on the web. A place for them to showcase their style, talent through media, achievements, history and personality. Its hard to get all of that through a magazine ad, video part or their Facebook page.
There are a lot of different ways that people can choose to interact and blast their information (facebook, tumblr, blogs, instagram, twitter, mobile apps and so on, etc…), how does the Seshn platform take all of these avenues of information distribution into account and to the next evolutionary level?
We view all of these services as tools that we all have as a way to create and push content. They are great for that reason, but none of them give you ownership in them. With Seshn, we are focused on empowering the people to own their identity and personality online and to be in the position to monetize it potentially. We do this through providing them with ways to integrate current tools and services out there with their website that they own. We try to educate the athletes we are working with currently about technology trends out there and how things come and go. If you look at what happened to Myspace, you will see that no social network is safe. People always move to the next best thing. Facebook was that next best thing and now people are looking to move past Facebook and rid themselves of the complexity behind it. It’s important to realize that these services be used as vehicles to help get your content out to your fans through. You will never own part of these social networking services so tread lightly when using them and make sure you are dedicating more resources to your personal brand instead of their brand.
How Seshn an improvement upon what’s out there already?
Seshn is going to re-define personal website creation and branding online because we are focused solely on people. People who create, influence and set trends. Because of our experience in action sports and our relationships with the athletes, it allows us to work with the ideal end user and build social proof that what we are doing is working and is going to change the way people showcase their content online.