Austin’s Besomebody Finds Market in Individuals’ Passions

Kash Shaikh wants to help people make money by pursuing their passions. His vehicle for that mission is a startup called Besomebody.

Shaikh spent 10 years at Procter & Gamble, working on social media campaigns for everyday household products sold by the multinational giant. But it was doing the same for GoPro where he says he realized the power—and marketability—of passion.

“That’s where I saw the vision of the potential to build a brand, not starting with a product or service, but with content and a community and grassroots experiences,” he says.

Austin, TX-based Shaikh started using “#besomebody” as a personal mantra on Twitter in 2009. Two years later, it morphed into a blog run with his brother. And now, Shaikh is building an online self-improvement network that encourages people to follow their dreams, and make money from them, by buying, selling, or trading skills related to their passions.

E.W. Scripps Company (NYSE: SSP), the media company based in Cincinnati, sees the potential. It invested $1 million in Besomebody earlier this summer.

The startup currently has about 50 people signed up for the site’s beta. Shaikh says he hopes to have at least double that amount by the launch in October, which will coincide with an inaugural Besomebody weekend conference in Austin.

“Once I knew we could get funding, and from a media and content distribution company, we could focus on building local communities,” Shaikh says.

So far, Shaikh says Besomebody has a community of 4 million people in 180 countries. I spoke with him about Besomebody’s origins and his plans for creating his community. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: How did Besomebody start?

Kash Shaikh: I’m from Houston, a University of Texas-Austin graduate. Right out of school, I spent 10 years at P&G. I led social marketing for Old Spice, Tide. I got to understand how to build big brands at scale. The coolest part of my job was the last two years, when I was creating social marketing for developing markets in South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and eastern Europe. From 2009 to 2011, I was on the road internationally 80 percent of the time, visiting 43 countries, launching products. On the personal side, I was turning 30, trying to figure out what my purpose was in life. I had a breakup and I was trying to get back into the gym. It was a reflection point in life.

During my traveling, I was inspired by the experiences and people I met. I started writing about what I was feeling and experiencing and shared it on Twitter. I started #besomebody as a personal mantra to push and motivate myself. I got a bit of following from sharing these. The more real and raw and honest and vulnerable, the better the posts started to do.

I realized there’s a power in words, something about this term, “be somebody,” that connected with people all over the planet. They would attach what they were inspired and motivated by and it organically grew into this community of people. I would have people writing in saying I inspired them to chase his dream of being photographer. I thought there was something there so I was trying to figure out what it was.

Then I thought, I’m full of shit. I’m encouraging all these people … but I hadn’t even done it yet. So I resigned and moved back to Texas. The only other full-time employee is my brother. In the past 15 months, I traveled around the world three times on a spotlight people campaign. I went on a college-speaking tour from UT to Miami to Yale in a 1,500-mile loop around the country.

X: Tell me about the website. What is on there so far? How many buyers/sellers?

KS: We haven’t launched the platform yet. We’re connecting [people] offline. For the next couple of months, we’re looking into how much are people willing to pay for experiences. We want to ensure that the best in the city are on the platform. We’re focusing on four specific categories: art, music, fitness, and adventure.

We have multiple revenue streams. The apparel line we’re creating from scratch. We’ll have events and experiences, including Besomebody weekend in Austin in October when we’ll unveil the mobile platform as well. Our production company will create content and video around the world.

X: What is your revenue model?

KS: We’ll take a cut of around 5 to 10 percent. Uber and Airbnb take about 20 percent.

X: This seems like a very intangible “product.” How did you convince Scripps to invest?

KS: I spent $350,000 of my own money traveling around the world building a community. I could’ve spent a tenth of that on a mobile app. We’re tapping into the share economy, monetizing the unused capacity of your passions. That’s why we raised $1 million without a product.

There is one kid that wants to learn what you’re good at, that the traditional education system isn’t enabling them to learn. There is no single platform that connects them with experts to do that. That’s the premise of our model. This is the next economic revolution, the “passion economy.”

You can discover people across the street or state that share your passion. There’s nothing at scale that does that right now. They decide what to teach and the marketplace dictates the value.

Once we prove it here in Austin, we’ll scale across the world. Nobody is inspired about sitting in front of the computer. We’re connecting with people within the community; this is not an online classroom.

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