Final Project

parents online logo

Parents Online logo by Zack Lee.

Synopsis

This semester, I developed an entrepreneurial business plan under the instruction of Dr. Amy Schmitz Weiss, professor of Journalism Intrapreneurship and Entrepreneurship (JMS 527). In its final product, I am proud to share the highlights of my business plan entitled Parents Online. Parents Online empowers parents, teenagers, and teachers with resources to confidently navigate social media in a safe and enriching way. It does so by providing trusted information, advice, and customized tools through a blog, Parents Online Weekly podcast, bi-monthly newsletter, and Thoughtful Thursdays Facebook Live chats. Additionally, it offers workshops, panel discussions, and consultations at schools and organizations. Unlike its competitors CyberWise, Screenagers, and Common Sense Media, Parents Online takes on a personable, responsive approach – whether it means engaging with users on social media, responding to questions through Thoughtful Thursdays, or bringing speakers to your location. Its sleek and simple user interface gives customers the instant gratification of tools they can use right away – versus competitors requiring multiple clicks and strenuous time commitments before gaining value. Parents Online believes in getting straight to the good stuff. It believes in making resources more concise. It believes in the abilities of parents and teachers to make positive differences in the lives of teenagers growing up in the digital age.

Developing the plan

Here is an overview of the journey to Parents Online. I must note it was not an individual effort; it is a string of stories, relationships, encounters, and immense support from colleagues, SDSU faculty, family, friends, and acquaintances I have met along the way. For them, I am truly grateful.

Guidelines

Numerous guidelines led to the fruition of the Parents Online business plan in the form of reading material, completing assignments to aid with the business plan, and most importantly, learning the art of the business model canvas. I was also instructed to create and maintain a blog to document the process.

In addition to weekly selected readings by Dr. Schmitz Weiss, our core textbooks were Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur and Entrepreneurial Journalism by Mark Briggs. Both of the textbooks acted as helpful guides in developing a business model – whether your model is based on multi-sided platforms, free as a business model, or anything in between, they have assistance waiting for you.

Major assignments, which I considered guidelines for the business plan, included an entrepreneurial observation assignment (where we, as a class, attended SDSU’s first-ever sensor journalism conference), several drafts of the business model canvas, competitive analysis (analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of my three major competitors CyberWise, Screenagers, and Common Sense Media), and a community engagement strategy (researching and analyzing my target market and planning how I will draw them in).

The business plan itself provided additional guidelines. I was provided a business plan template to complete, sections including “Executive Summary,” “Description of Business,” and “Marketing” with several subheads below each. I followed the guidelines of downloading the business plan template from Blackboard (SDSU’s course managing website), incorporating my competitive analysis and community engagement strategy into the document, and filling in the rest of the sections based on the business model canvas. I submitted the Parents Online business plan prior to its deadline of 6:40 p.m. on May 1. I will follow up next week on May 8 with a business pitch of Parents Online to my professor and peers in JMS 527.

Challenges

I faced numerous challenges throughout this process: self-doubt (how could a college student be credible to parents?), competition (my competitors are outstanding), and focusing on the wrong outlet (I was determined to create a Parents Online YouTube channel). With the guidance of my professor and peers, those doubts turned into affirmations and new ideas:

  • How could a college student be credible to parents? Schmitz Weiss helped me with this one. I realized it is not about your age, it is about how hard you work. She reminded me that there are successful entrepreneurs as young as 12! Additionally, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard University dormitory room.
  • My competitors are outstanding. True – but so is Parents Online. I am yet to find a media literacy blog and podcast by a college student, offering a fresh take on the topic and simple user interface. I can achieve the same quality of content as my competitors, and present it in a more concise way.
  • I was determined to create a Parents Online YouTube Channel. As I said in my “Spring Cleaning” blog post: “I realized my heart was set on creating a Parents Online YouTube channel because it was my favorite social media platform… I decided to put my YouTube dreams on hold and consider podcasts, instead. According to Pew Research Center’s ‘State of the News Media 2016,’ the percentage of Americans who have listened to podcasts in the past month has increased steadily since 2013… Perhaps, YouTube will find a way into my plan in the future. But for now, my priority is serving my target audience in the best way possible.”

Opportunities

parents online presentation

Presenting my Parents Online study with co-investigator Daisy Figueroa. (Photo by Matthew Stroup)

I found myself pursuing and receiving opportunities I never imagined possible through working on my business plan. I attended a local film screening of Screenagers, a documentary themed on growing up in the digital age. I met parents who were interested in the topic at the event, and discovered a great audience. I interviewed Caleb Eames, parent of three and fellow colleague at SDSU, to find that he loved the idea of Parents Online. I also met and shared my business idea with Adam McClane, co-author of A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, and Chris Jennewein, Times of San Diego editor and publisher, both of whom gave positive feedback and guidance on my idea. In addition to the people I met, I had the opportunity to dive into a research project, also entitled Parents Online, in my Quantitative Methods in Mass Media Research class. My study revealed a significant, predictive relationship between parent self-efficacy and their child’s experiences with bullying. I had the opportunity to present this research at SDSU’s third annual Research Power Hour, joined by faculty, alumni, and representatives from the Navy and Marine Corps.

Entrepreneurial/Intrapreneurial Mindset

Before stepping into JMS 527, I had very skewed ideas of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship as distant concepts in the business world. I was curious how such concepts could apply to journalism. After meeting SDSU’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center director Bernhard Schroeder, I realized the entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial mindset is a spirit or attitude one has towards life, not just in their current project – it is a lifestyle you live and breathe. Furthermore, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship is for everyone. Entrepreneurship means maintaining a constant mindset of design thinking, being willing to change, and ability to adapt and solve problems before anyone else does. It involves discovering a new way of doing something, or creating something that does not exist. Intrapreneurship occurs when this innovation happens inside a large organization. When it comes to the media industry, the entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial mindset can make a real difference in how news is consumed, how people learn, and beyond.

I used several tools and resources to create my business plan. I researched my target market through Pew Research Center, numerous subreddits, Facebook groups, podcasts, and competing businesses. Additionally, I learned how to create and maintain a professional blog on WordPress. Through utilizing these tools and resources, I learned to embrace curiosity. I did not brave the journey into subreddits and Facebook groups until the second half of the semester simply because I did not even think to do so. I now realize the only way to hear my audience’s voice is to go find it.

It was a privilege learning about my target market, especially the parents. I understand parenting is a vulnerable topic to get involved in. After speaking with numerous parents at Screenagers, I realized they trusted me with their concerns involving their children’s safety online. I also learned the core reason why many parents care about social media – they care because their children care. This alone gives me faith in this new idea of growing up in the digital age – there are good people watching out for our teenagers. It solidified my passion to help in any way I can.

I determined my business model to be multi-sided platforms. It was an easy choice because of my customer segments: parents, teenagers, and teachers. Multi-sided platforms bring together two or more distinct but interdependent groups of customers; the platform creates value by facilitating interactions among the difference groups (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). This is exactly in line with the mission of Parents Online – to facilitate discussion among parents, teenagers, and teachers.

The ethical considerations I had to keep in mind were the fact that, while I am a hard worker, I am still not in a place to teach parents about parenting. I made sure to communicate this message in my business plan. Rather than presenting myself as a “parenting guru,” which I am 100% not, I am becoming an expert in aggregating resources and making them available to the community. As for legal considerations, I kept in mind the protocol for featuring articles on the Parents Online blog from outside sources. All articles in the Parents Online blog will either be original content or featured articles with permission to be shared from the author with attribution and without compensation.

As my journey in JMS 527 comes to a close, this is just the beginning for Parents Online. I hopeto launch my business plan May 2018, after graduating with my master’s degree from SDSU. Until then, I will embark on my thesis involving parent and teacher media literacy in order to become a more credible founder for my business. Additionally, I will continue reaching out to influencers in San Diego, sharing my ideas, and getting feedback from parents. I will continue following social media trends, my competitors, and reevaluate my business plan every two months prior to launch (and after).

I thoroughly enjoyed working on my idea this semester. My favorite moments were the times I met people I hoped to serve. I will never forget sitting down at the Screenagers event, looking around, and seeing hundreds of parents and teenagers sitting together in the audience. This was the first time the reality of my business plan hit me, and just how important it was to me and others. While I am striving to help parents who are online, my mission is to improve their experiences with their children both on and offline.

I will also never forget the day I presented my research study, Parents Online, at the Research Power Hour. At the end of my presentation, Caleb raised his hand. Before an audience of 50 to 60 people, he expressed how my research and business plan have positively influenced him as a parent. He shared his decision to allow his oldest son to join social media, how they are using it together, and thanked me for the work I am doing. I am motivated now more than ever to continue.

I will end with a quote I cited in my first blog post this semester, because it still holds true:

In Entrepreneurial Journalism, Mark Briggs (2012) says, “This book is for people who love working on their ideas, who see that ‘work’ as something they get to do, not something they have to do” (p. xxii).

I am still one of those people.