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Social Media Portal interview with Armen Berjikly at the Experience Project

Staff (Social Media Portal) - 10 September 2009

Profiled - Experience Project - Connecting personal stories and life experiences through social media and UGC


An interview with Armen Berjikly founder of the Experience Project


The Social Media Portal talks to Armen Berjikly from the Experience Project how social media is being used to connect personal stories between each other across the internet

ExperienceProject.com logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your full job title and role at ExperienceProject.com ?

Armen Berjikly (AR): I am founder and CEO of ExperienceProject.com as well as plant caretaker, CFO, operations, HR.  We are a small company where everyone pitches in.  I am quite pleased that I have been able to create an environment where titles are something we put on paperwork and business cards, but not something we live or die by.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about the ExperienceProject.com, what is it and what does it do?

AR: ExperienceProject.com is a large, friendly platform where people connect through personal stories about their life experiences. These experiences, like "I went to college" or "I am a Cancer Survivor" or "I remember my first kiss" , can be in the past, present, or they can even be experiences in the future. We have millions of people on the site monthly that have, at this point, shared over three million life experiences. People use the site to explore the world, get support, or share their wisdom.Armen Berjikly founder of the Experience Project

SMP: What made you start ExperienceProject.com?

AR: A close friend of mine was diagnosed with a serious condition. I built out a web community around that issue, and saw that the most important thing it was doing was connecting people who had a shared experience, and therefore a shared understanding of each other that not even family members or close friends could achieve. The 'light bulb' moment was understanding that everyone is a product of not just one experience but all the experiences that come together to make each of us who we are.  

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building the service?

AR: Awareness is always the biggest challenge.  We want more people to know about what we have at ExperienceProject.com. Over 80% of our users say the site has changed their life, so we know our product can benefit so many people, again either just as a fun place to learn more about all of life's experiences, or to help through a difficult time by reminding everyone that they are not alone.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

AR: If you can have a life experience, you are part of our target audience. Not trying to be facetious -- our site is about all of life's experiences, and the entire network benefits when someone with a different life course than the normal joins as we can then cover that much more ground.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your site / service, and how do you do it now?

AR: With my background in building online health communities, I made sure our site spoke to people who wanted to get connected to others over those types of sensitive topics. Now our greatest draw is word of mouth and people finding us through search.

SMP: What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far?

AR: The lowest moments are those inevitable times when two people in the community decide they don't like each other very much, and deal with it publicly. This is a drain on everyone's energy, but luckily I can count on one hand how much it has happened.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

AR: Every day, we watch our experience counter-- a large odometer that keeps track of how many life experiences have been shared-- tick up and we know that those are real people that are having a good time with the site, and likely connecting with people that can make their lives a better place in some small (and sometimes large) ways. The absolute highest moments are when we receive the daily 'thank you' notes from our users that credit the site with helping them in some way.

SMP: Now that you are established, what do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?


AR: Our biggest opportunity is that the world of experience is obviously vast, non-static, and growing at an increasing rate. We want to be synonymous with the word, 'experience' and know that we can be the place for people to share, connect or explore any life experience, whether it is happening now, in the past, or is an aspirational goal in their lives. Our biggest challenge is that ExperienceProject is a massive place, but it's also a very wonderful community. Growing always imposes a challenge to existing communities, and we work our hearts out to make sure we keep the site a friendly, welcoming place irrespective of how large it becomes.

SMP: Whatís the next big step for social media and networks and how does it fit into the plans for Experience  Project?

AR: Social media/networks should strive to maintain meaningful conversation as a core value proposition despite the overall trend of more brief communications. In the spectrum of social web, we started off with bulletin boards and forums, where all relationships were built off lengthy, textual relationships premised on knowledge, consistency and support. We have now reached the other end where attention spans demand sporadic, short 'burst' updates. There is a world of opportunity in using technology to link people who could absolutely make each other's lives a better place, but wouldn't have the opportunity in their daily lives to connect (or wouldn't realize they could).

SMP: Whatís going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media / technology throughout 2009?

AR: Understanding the place of 'real-time' (e.g., Twitter) communications in the grand scheme of communication, electronic or otherwise, is fascinating. It is the phrase of the moment, without a doubt, but giving it some time to see what its ultimate role to be is where our eyes are glued.

SMP: What impact is the global recession having and what do you think the best way is to manage it for businesses such as yours?

AR: The recession has certainly caused advertisers to tighten purse strings, and consumers to be wary of where they spend their dollars online. In a product like ours, where the site is free to use, a large portion of our users actually help support the site and acquire additional functionality by purchasing premium memberships.  We would have expected to see a decline but we've seen quite the opposite. People spend money more exclusively where they see value to their lives, and likewise, they understand that the global pinch can threaten things they might normally take for granted.

SMP: How does this fit into plans at ExperienceProject.com?

AR: We're careful how we spend our money, as at the end of the day, we know we have a product that is not just fun, but important and even critical in so many of our user's lives. This underscores how important it is for us to make responsible decisions to build a sustainable company, as we have literally millions of people depending on us to be around and thriving.

SMP: What are the next moves for ExperienceProject.com?

AR: ExperienceProject.com will be focusing more attention to the aspirational side of life -- experiences we want to have, versus where we initially began with experiences that we had in our past. Think 'I want to get married," or "I want to live a greener life."

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?


AR: Roasted suckling pig that we prepared ourselves. I'm currently on a weekend trip with a bunch of 'foodies' so this was an interesting treat (and we better get creative with the number of pork dishes we can come up with to eat what we've got!).

SMP: Whatís the last good thing that you did for someone?

AR: My grandmother recently passed away while I was overseas, so I travelled to the church she revered most and had them include a memorial to her in their service. I think she would have liked that.

SMP: How many hours to you work a week?

AR: I love what I do, and my job is also my hobby, so this is a tricky question. It's not unheard of to 'work' 14-16 hours a day, but I don't think of it that way.

SMP: If you werenít running ExperienceProject.com what would you be doing?

AR: I'd be involved in a consumer internet company with a charter to make the world a better place. The draw of channelling technology to fundamentally enrich people's lives, particularly those that might be isolated (think shut-ins that just a decade ago had no interactions with people but now can have meaningful relationships with dozens through the technology we daily take for granted) is my basic passion.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

AR: I went to Armenia for a wedding, and then Athens, Greece. Armenia was incredible-- it's not a common tourist destination, and itís incredibly far, so you really feel like you're going somewhere!

SMP: Whatís the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

AR: Check mail-- physical mail.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

AR: We're complements to the social web -- the Facebooks and Twitters of the world.  You can check out our current work around causes via Twitter with Experience Project's TwitCause http://ExperienceProject.com/twitcause as well as work we are doing partnered with brands around social impact and awareness like Haagen-Dazs brand's "Help the Honey Bees" campaign which you can check out at http://ExperienceProject.com/helpthehoneybees.

How about complete empathy ---- to understand what any other person is truly feeling and why would give you incredible insight into situations, and hopefully equip you to do a lot of good.

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