Thursday, February 7, 2008

Helping Yourself to Social Networking...Tools To Life

After a brief chat with Devlyn Steele a.k.a "Coach Steele", I was compelled to dig a bit deeper into the business of self-help and the potential that exists online for this market. Devlyn is an extremely successful life coach and founder of ToolsToLife.

ToolsToLife originally launched in 2002. But the Cold Fusion platform and relatively slow connectivity was not as supportive to Devlyn’s vision of self-help online as today’s Web 2.0 tools are.

ToolsToLife is a social networking platform that allows users to register their profiles and then go on to sign up for a long list of programs that includes breaking addictions, dealing with depression, improving relationships and receiving motivational guidance.

The site offers a selection of coaches that specialize in their fields. The programs are delivered through video and have a number of structured steps to follow. Users complete steps on a daily basis for a specified time frame based on the program they have joined. It also provides a number of gadgets and gizmos to make the experience of self-improvement richer. Most importantly of course, are the targeted support group environments.

While checking out the site, I was surprised to discover that there were no existing sponsors or ads rotating through the site. Being a media junkie, I was dumbfounded by the potential ad energy on the site and I asked Devlyn (a few times) about the business model. Devlyn maintains that the site is not meant to generate revenue. All the courses are completely free and there are no current advertising partners on the site.

Devlyn’s vision is to “change the world”. He makes this clear on a YouTube video while strolling down a beach. On our call he positioned the network as a completely philanthropic endeavor.

I must be evil, because with all of this potential to do good and change lives, I snuck a peek at a 2006 Marketdata Enterprises study that showed the Self-Improvement Market in U.S. to be worth an estimated $9.6 Billion.

As you delve into the various sub-sectors, you quickly get a glance at the wickedly long vertical tentacles of this industry:
  • The weight loss sector (as a whole) according to Marketdata Enterprises, is worth $58 billion.
  • Smoking cessation was estimated by Decision Resources Inc. to reach $1.7 billion by 2007 (up from $450 million five years ago).
  • Paul Gordon Stolz’s Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities book (published in 1997) refers to a “$24 billion motivational industry”.
I’m all for changing the world. I think the tools provided on a network like this could change many lives and bring a lot of happiness and peace to the users. But I’m convinced that this type of network has an enormous power to generate revenue. Think of all the widgets that could find distribution through leveraging outside social graphs.

Some would argue that this type of network should be kept as a safe haven for individuals looking for self improvement. The reality is that subscribing to any social network compromises privacy and opens the door to marketers. This particular brand of socializing is particularly sensitive in the world of media.

Whether its research, direct response or contextual ad driven revenue, time will tell if the obvious ethical issues can and will be circumvented to capitalize on this staggering market.

Then again, maybe I'm just trying to peel layers off a green onion.

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