CommunitySherpa – Personal History

Author: Alecia Pirulis

It is very satisfying that we just released CommunitySherpa at the NAA conference in Las Vegas. Getting an idea to market is always thrilling. In my career, I have gravitated to innovation, but this introduction was particularly fun as it has pulled from so many experiences.

Back in 1995-1996 I lead a project for Digital Equipment to use the internet to create a distance learning platform for their roughly 30,000 sales people. It was a cool project in part because the technology was new, the people on the team were smart (a bunch of Alta Vista engineers among them) but most importantly it was cool because of the surprises. First of all, the engineers communicated everything on a rudimentary discussion board. It was extraordinarily efficient for sharing knowledge and solving problems. It was so cool that we added it to the training environment so sales people could communicate about the products they were pitching. There was a clear benefit to adding the social components to the training platform as sales people could use both the formal sales training and access the informal dialogue about the product from their hotel room, anywhere in the world.

In 1999, Dan McCarthy and I launched an online business catering to the hardcore auto enthusiast industry.We were both at Primedia at the time and we owned 30+ magazines like Muscle Mustang and Fast Fords, Import Tuner and Truckin’.When we designed the product we felt that the killer app would be vertical search of authoritative content with contextual selling.What customers loved was uploading pictures of their own cars.The “community” elements (that’s what we called Social Media in the 90’s) got the most traffic, had the most activity and were the biggest draw.

From 2001 until 2004 I spent time in the travel industry.With our acquisition of, we watched social sites like TripAdvisor generate real audience in an otherwise crowded competitive space.They were a formidable competitor (and they were/are owned by Expedia) and solved a problem that we could not address.

What have we learned about social media that has informed decisions on the release of Community Sherpa?

  • From DEC we know that having a public conversation can be an extraordinarily efficient form of communication.We expect that by providing an environment to engage and interact with residents, property managers will be able efficiently monitor the tone of their community and react to the needs of their residents.
  • From Primedia we know that people have a strong desire to share in an environment where they feel safe and included.We believe that Community Sherpa will be an environment that is relevant to residents, carries the voice of the community and will be a safe and familiar place for residents to interact.
  • From the travel industry we know that buyers seek out information created by consumers.We know how valuable that content is as a marketing tool and the risk that it brings for those who ignore it.

How cool to be able to develop a product based on so much history.Let’s hope we learned our lessons from our accumulated media history!