Axioms Applied by Arkad Baxton
Few entrepreneurs exemplify the range of businesses harnessed by Arkad Baxton. A year ago, he shared his Arkad’s Axioms that outlined his successful strategy. He alluded to a bigger plan, but enigmatically kept his cards close to his vest. Now, his plan not only has visibility, but controls a growing momentum that demonstrates virtual commerce at its best. Though all of his advice from last year is as good now as it was then, he has much more to add.
1. Strategize from experience
Like many designers, I began in SL as a one-person business by making stuff and opening a store. Now diversified, each venture supports the others: production and sales supply the residents’ homes and gardens, entertainment grows the community and promotes the production. The website holds it all together, and keeps it growing. It is like a sports stadium where some people follow baseball—many like the Cubs, others the Cardinals, another group, the Red Socks. Similarly, in SL. There are clubs and designers that coexist, play against each other, compete. The stadium is where they play while the audience cheers. The arena doesn’t care who wins, it just provides the place and packs it with participants. Avatar Social Network (ASN) is the stadium to gather all in one place where people can promote, connect, and compete. Production, entertainment, and audience, all can mingle there, using it’s features.
Supervising this infrastructure takes most of my focus now because it is the most visible and public part of my enterprise. I wouldn’t be surprised if others copied the concept. The best business is always original, while healthy competition never hurts.
2. Cultivate the talents of others
Though my businesses keep expanding, there is a limit to how much I can do. When my Priority List gets to be too many things, I delegate tasks that others can do as well. I hire folks to do certain jobs so I can focus on things I don’t wish to share or trust to anyone else. It’s like having a family. You have to fix the car, which is usually the father’s job—unless the mom is a better car maniac. So the dad fixes the car, mom shops for groceries, the kids take out the garbage and clean their rooms. Similarly, with ASN, there are daily tasks to moderate website content. Others can do that too, with the right training. Fixing bugs, problems, dealing with issues, can be done by those that understand the engine and the code. Plus, moderating isn’t an easy job and needs a lot of tolerance.
3. Build network connections
Social media is part of everyday life; people can’t exist without it, like phones a few decades ago. Having more ways to communicate and share than just in SL makes the community stronger. Yet avatars need a network that is specialized. ASN is unique in two things: 1. No real life information is needed, so members can connect with their fantasy alter egos without being penalized like on Facebook or Google +. Real life related content is not prohibited, but FB already offers that. 2. Member activity and content is rewarded with credit that can be exchanged to other virtual currency. That makes ASN the first virtual world related website to do this.
This network also ties together the other growing virtual worlds, and why it is called the ‘Avatar Social Network’ and not the ‘SL Social Network.’ When members can’t access SL or log in, they still can connect with friends through this website. ASN is designed to survive SL’s closing, if that happens.
4. Set clear rules
ASN removes cyber bullies, trouble makers, vulgar people, drama queens, etc. We will remain strict about this. The internet is loaded with meanness. Many hide behind account names and are braver to hurt others with harsh behavior because they are not face-to-face. In Facebook, it’s ridiculous how people defame each other, post their dirty laundry, truth or not, just to gather pity from others. ASN will not allow that. We have a report system and prompt actions are taken.
Fortunately, ASN has a very decent community. And now, signup is limited to invitation only—friends can invite friends, which eliminates spammers and limits any random trouble makers.
5. Give incentives for participation
To earn some shopping money is one reason people sign up to ASN. But maybe only 30% of the members actually care about that. The other 70% they like to express themselves. Sharing blog entries, showing off their products, and posting about their events, all open topics for discussion.
6. Respect communication styles
My biggest managerial challenge is handling people. English is my second language, and while I do my best to adopt to American understanding, I misunderstand, and am misunderstood, often. To know the language isn’t enough. Socialties are different. What is normal to one country’s resident can be offensive to another’s.
People can get offended by the smallest things, where there was nothing meant to be offensive. The same statements can be said in many different ways, but can be understood differently. For example, an Italian is more direct to the point, while an American small talks first, and uses ten times more words to say the same. In most European countries, people don’t use “How are you?” the way English and Americans do. I am European, and go straight to the point. Some find that rude; I find it productive. When I want to know how someone is, then I contact them about that only. I don’t say “How are you? I would like to ask a favor.” It’s a cultural thing. It’s not bad or good; it’s just part of society.
7. Account for emotions
It is hard to get things done when someone is having a bad day. For example programmers can be really moody. When they have a good day, they are amazing. When they have a bad day, they just makes promises, while nothing gets done.
When managing a lot of projects, emotions are hard to coordinate, especially when involving many people. The rule of thumb (which I forget sometimes but am getting better at remembering) is “Respond to the context, not the tone.” For example, a member might encounter a website problem and send in a ticket that says: “This crap thing doesn’t work— fix it!” The Admin must learn to ignore the tone, and focus on the content of the problem. It’s very hard. People can be really disrespectful.
And, while every problem should be handled with tolerance, members need to respect and accept that ASN Admins are the judges. Their word is final.
8. Determine market need
Members need a place where they won’t get insulted or defamed. And, they need a network that is so diversified that every member can find something to connect with. Blog articles get attention, members discuss stuff on the forums, play games, create contests, upload photos, videos, share life moments on main feed, and so on.
The ultimate goal is to include other worlds residents. A few of the other grids are growing nicely and taking advantage of SL’s high prices. Many designers have moved to other worlds already. SL’s future is blurry, and this is why ASN is not just another SL related website.
9. Cross promote
Leveraging the customer to more than one product works well. In fact, production has higher sales as ASN grows. AP has a page and a banner ad on ASN, which is like the horse before the carriage that carries the production and entertainment business.
AP’s presence has also grown on the stock market, getting more investor attention. Listing with the stock market helps. You can run a business from your own pocket, but over a certain size, it is optimal to have investors. Don’t start a business if the goal isn’t profit, at some point, or it is not a business, but a charity, hobby, or passion. The best business is to combine all of these approaches. I donate a significant amount of money every year to church or charity.
10. Build position in ratings
ASN automatically shares directly with Facebook and Twitter. Outflow is one of the most important things in marketing to keep awareness of activity. Without that, you will be forgotten. It’s like this: You are a farmer and dig a hole in the ground. Dump in a bucket of water. This fills up the hole, and you walk away. The next day, go back, and what you see? An empty hole. The ground sucked all the water up, so you have to dump in another bucket, and another, and another. Keep doing that to keep the hole filled, so your animals, or whatever, can drink. With one billion users on Facebook, it’s really hard to overflow the hole.
The other reason to frequently post in Facebook, Google, and Twitter is for search engine ranking. The number of members on the website are close to 1,000 now, but the page views, by members and non-members, are about 700,000/month. I don’t use Facebook on personal level, but I find it a powerful tool for marketing.
My real life is very private. I don’t put myself out there online because I like to have control over what I share with whom. For example, if I want to be evaluated by an health insurance company, they ask if I smoke. I say no, which is true. But maybe I have photos at a party with a cigar or cigarette. If I had those photos posted, the insurance company can use those photos to give me a less accurate or unfair quote. Same with companies where you apply for a job. They make conclusions based on things you post. I like to enjoy my life without some bureaucrat making statistical conclusions based on posted content.
ASN asked for no real life information, just rezz date. This also eliminates adult content, for websites without requiring real life birthday information can’t have any adult content. And, let’s face it, we don’t need such content, the internet already has way too much of it.
—Arkad Baxton, entrepreneur and owner of AP Products, Prim Mall, and Avatar Social Network (ASN)
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