Name: Ami Kassar
Official Title: Chief Innovation Officer, Advanta, Springhouse, PA
Gonzo Title: Chief Blobber, Hive Leader, Community Animator Extraordinaire
Alma Mater: Ami received his BA from Brandeis and his MBA from the University of Southern California.
Previous Gigs: Before conceiving his version of the idea laboratory, www.ideablob.com, at Advanta, Ami was founder/CEO of Shop2Give.com.
GonzoBanker Claim to Fame
ideablob.com is a platform launched by Advanta Bank Corp. that allows entrepreneurs and small business owners of all experience levels to share and grow their business ideas by posting them online. Once an idea is posted, members can solicit feedback from other community members and online advisors and compete for prizes, which are awarded to the business ideas that receive the most votes from the community. “Once a month,” said Ami, “one idea will rise to the top based on the number of votes it garners from community members. The winner receives a $10,000 prize to help that idea grow.”
While ideablob.com might eventually lead community members back to Advanta on a more formal B2B basis, Ami and his team are focused on opportunities to help small businesses help each other, with the philosophy that “if it’s good for small business, it’s good for Advanta.” “I’m a big believer in social media,” said Ami. “The fact is this is where more and more people are spending their time. And, if we are not part of the conversation, then we’ll be ignoring important market segments.” What really has Ami excited, though, is that as ideablob.com gains exposure, it is becoming a home for social entrepreneurs. Ami related that in traveling the country in support of the site, he has heard many stories of young people who want to create for-profit enterprises and “save the world at the same time.” As one student at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee said to Ami, “I need to pay the rent, but I’m determined to save the world.”
Advice to GonzoBankers looking to build social networking into their business plan
“Let’s face it,” says Ami, “social media is constantly evolving and it’s hard to predict what’s going on.” Ami advised not spending too much time putting together a detailed business plan for a social media site because “it will become obsolete quickly.” Instead, “establish key goals and go forward with those, keeping in mind that with a social media site, you’ll get instant feedback that will let you incrementally add features or, get rid of things.” Ami noted that in the case of ideablob, they quickly realized that their users were very interested in getting advice. As a result, they put together a “guest advisor” program, which involves top people. Because the nature of social networking sites is that they will lead where they want to go, Ami offered this guidance: “Social media has its own ethos; you can’t force things on your user base. Instead, you need to allow them to do their own thing. After all, the key principle of social media is that it is participatory. So, embrace it.”
ideablob, blobber, what’s that all about?
According to Ami, his team was sitting around the office brainstorming the concept of a social networking site for small business. Ami said something to the effect of “idea blah, blah, blah…,” which a colleague heard as “ideablob”. That led to a discussion about the ways a “blob” is representative of an idea, which is not static but can grow and morph over time. The rest was history. Like Ami said, “To be an active blobber, just have an idea, stick with it and let it evolve.”
The job we wish we all had
ideablob stands out because of its dual online/face-to-face nature. Ami believes that social media must go beyond just the online experience. “With ideablob, we have parties,” he said. “We also have fun events for our winners. This has really helped build our brand – in a short period of time – and the level of engagement by community members.” It’s also generated a fair amount of PR exposure.
This all sounds like a lot of fun but there must be a few challenges
Ami told GonzoBanker that even though large companies have the resources to pursue concepts like ideablob, “It’s still not easy.” In the case of the financial services industry, Ami noted that there are many regulatory requirements that must be dealt with – which can tend to reduce the speed of the venture. “But if you can demonstrate the need for a project, you can certainly get things done,” he said.
As forward looking GonzoBankers contemplate social networking models, they are bound to stumble into that formidable wall known as THE BUSINESS CASE. GonzoBanker asked Ami to comment. Ami told us that the ideablob project started as an experiment and on that basis it has continued to grow and develop. “Thus far, at least some of our initial hypotheses have held true,” he said, which has helped the project remain viable. Ami also noted that there was a natural fit for Advanta Bank Corp. in this space, since it is an active and significant player in issuing credit cards to small business “Of course,” said Ami, “it also helped that the site was not expensive to launch and that Advanta is always willing to try something new.”
Lessons learned from ideablob.com
Social media is very fluid, so building a site that is easy to modify is critical, according to Ami. “You need to be able to deal with the changes and needs of your users real-time.” To that end, Ami’s team does a new release every week. “We are constantly making the technology better and better, creating a smooth and flexible platform that can be built on rapidly.”
What’s next for Ami and his team?
Ami said they’re very busy with Ideablob.com and working with their community. However, he hinted at a new initiative expected to launch soon that will allow small businesses and entrepreneurs of any shape and size to have their own cause-related marketing program.
Shout out to those who’ve helped make ideablob.com successful
“We have a small and really dedicated team that is passionate about ideablob,” said Ami. “We would not be successful without every ideablob member.” Ami also acknowledged inspiration from artist Michal Levy, whose animation art he viewed at Kinnernet 2007. Ami told GonzoBanker that Kinnernet is “200 Internet geeks like me living in a youth hostel.” Michal’s work was at a talent show there; Ami found himself wondering what would happen “if she just had a little bit of money to get to the next level, how would it make a difference to her career.” And that was the germination point for ideablob.
Ami when he’s not blobbing
Ami spends a lot of time traveling across the country meeting with fellow blobbers. When he’s at home, he likes to spend every minute he can with his wife and their two kids – Sam, who is 7, and Charlotte, who is 5. Ami also enjoys digital photography but since he works “about 100 hours a week,” it remains an informal hobby. Ami noted that even though the work/life balance is tricky, “my work life is rewarding; it’s a passion.”
Favorite movie of all time and why: Ami names TOP GUN as his favorite; “I love the action.”
Downloaded to your iPod/MP3 player lately: James Taylor.
GonzoBanker finds Ami’s entrepreneurial faith and spirit admirable. Cornerstone is proud to donate $250 in Ami’s name to www.kiva.org, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs in third world countries.
Check out ideablob on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SnWpvF9Y6k