The family business

My brother, John, and his business partner, Steven, have been running the web-hosting company Modwest for nearly 10 years. In 2006 they launched Grupthink, a free-for-all discussion platform, and just recently, the professional version of Grupthink that allows businesses to create their own branded feedback communities.

It’s been interesting to sit on the sidelines all these years watching my brother grow from rudderless grad student to big-time entrepreneur and business-owner. He’s not only gainfully employed, but he gainfully employs other people—and that’s really something. (I’m sure he’s been just as amused by my career arc from punk rocker to financial dude.)

Now that we’re older and more settled, our professional interests have converged and it’s become apparent that the timing is good for me to do a little consulting for Modwest/Grupthink. It’s all very pro-bono-loosey-goosey right now, but I really like what I am seeing in both business lines.

modwest-logo.jpgModwest began in 2000 as a scrappy startup in Missoula, Montana, positioning themselves as a lean, open-source-supporting alternative to the bloated juggernauts then ruling the industry. When others crashed and burned, Modwest rose from the ashes. By 2002 they had tripled their customer base and have been on an upward trajectory ever since, upgrading office space every few years. (They now own space in the historic Wilma building in downtown Missoula.)

I’m consulting for Modwest to figure out how to grow their business to the next level in an increasingly competitive field. The biggest thing Modwest has going for it is its unparelleled customer service—which makes my job pretty easy, because empires can be built on that alone. (*cough* *Zappos* *cough*)

grupthink-logo.jpgGrupthink began in 2006 as an offshoot of Modwest (all social networks need a web host, after all) with its highly addictive and fun feedback community at At Grupthink, you can create a “topic” in the form of an open-ended question (e.g. “What is the greatest love story of all time?“, “If you could make anything illegal, what would it be?“) and then the community takes over to provide their answers. Answers can then be ranked, commented on, flagged for being particularly funny, insightful, obscene, etc. The best topics take on lives of their own, inspiring more topics, comments, links and so on. It’s crazy and fun and like the wild west of social networks—the platform is so flexible that literally anything goes, with the community itself responsible for most of its own moderation.

Early on it became evident that Grupthink had the potential to become a powerful tool for businesses. In 2007, co-founder Steven Sundheim was invited to speak at an MIT innovation lab where he
caught the interest of an innovation leader from a well-known consumer-products
company. (Name withheld by request.) They began working with that company in 2007, creating a private,
customized version of Grupthink that powered online focus groups. That collaboration led to further refinement of Grupthink’s business applications, and now any company can start their
own, Grupthink-powered communities at

The challenge for me and for Grupthink is that it’s such a great product, with so many potential uses, it’s hard to know where to begin. Their current clients range from the aforementioned consumer-products company using Grupthink for online focus groups to a site for hardcore gamers,, where fans of the Guild Wars videogame can make their voices heard. I see opportunity for Grupthink in the SaaS space—small to mid-size businesses with a large, decentralized customer base. Once Grupthink builds a little steam there will be no stopping it. So we’re looking at where to focus our energies first, where to spend ad dollars, and so on.

Exciting times, and I’m thankful John and Steven are allowing me to be part of it. 

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