Echo Atlanta is planning a launch party that will include walking tours of the neighborhoods where they collected audio stories. Their “to-do” list remains full. They continue to apply for more funds to add signage around town and produce more content for the site.
Prepared by Karyn Lu and Lila King
It’s hard to believe that more than a year has passed since we won the New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant. In that time, Echo Atlanta has made steady progress toward launching a beta launch, building a platform for mobile, digital place-based storytelling in our city, and learning to become a business.
Over the past year we’ve had the pleasure of talking with and collecting stories from a wide variety of residents in the Lake Claire and Candler Park neighborhoods, from long-time residents who have found creative ways to stave off land development in these areas, to business owners and self-appointed historians, to graduate students who can enthusiastically tell you about the story of the emu in the land trust. We’ve learned a lot along the way, about how co-housing communities operate, about Civil War era ghosts, and about the corner of Candler Park that was formerly a dairy farm.
To date we have a total of 15 stories. They are all up on our beta site, pinpointed by location: www.echoatlanta.com.
Expanding our Team
As we noted in our midterm progress report, the steepest learning curve we have faced so far is on the business of Echo. In the first few months, we managed to draw up articles of incorporation, create an operating agreement, get a state tax ID number, and set up a bank account on our own. However, the task of becoming a real business and striking up partnerships with other local businesses so that we can better serve our community has been a challenging one.
Along that front, the best thing we did over the past year was to expand our core team. We added a third member to our day-to-day operations, Shannon Hubbell, who is serving as both our Project Manager and Business Manager. Not only is Shannon really passionate about entrepreneurship and well connected in the Atlanta startup scene (she co-founded two other Atlanta-based startups, Startup Chicks and Atlanta Helps), she is also a fantastic PM (also her day job) and has her MBA from Georgia Tech. In short, she is the perfect addition to our team to complement our existing editorial and creative skill sets.
The three of us on the core team have a standing weekly breakfast meeting to check in on Echo. Because of Shannon’s help, we have already gained more local exposure and started to become more involved within the Atlanta startup community through groups such as Startup Chicks and the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech. Shannon is currently helping us to formulate a business plan and to begin reaching out to potential partners in order to pursue both new funding opportunities and partnerships.
Potential Local Partners
We have created a spreadsheet of potential partnerships that we’d like to pursue in the Atlanta area, and plan to make this endeavor our top priority in the coming months. These potential partners include:
- Atlanta Beltline project
- Atlanta Planit
- Atlanta Bicycle Campaign
- Trees Atlanta
- People TV – Sidewalk Stories
- Home Depot Foundation
- Coca Cola Foundation
- Atlanta City Arts Foundation
- Dekalb Council for the Arts
- Fulton County Council for the Arts
- Georgia Council for the Arts
- Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
- Arthur Blank Family Foundation
Because Echo serves a number of needs and can be conceived of as historical preservation, civic journalism, and public art, we hope that the response in the local community both in terms of partnerships and funding will be positive, as these connections will ensure that we have the means to not only keep Echo alive but to grow the project in the coming years.
Design & Development
Our developer, Adam Varga, and our designer, Ronnie Ting, have continued to work with us throughout the year to evolve both the technical infrastructure for Echo’s voice/web storytelling system and the visual aesthetic for the site. Their work can be seen by looking at Echo’s beta site (http://www.echoatlanta.com) and by dialing into the voicemail system: 888-ECHO-ATL.
We met with Joe Manus from Art Through Labor, a local design and construction shop, who is going to be creating and installing some free-standing signs for Echo Atlanta. We spent a fantastic afternoon with Joe in his workshop where he walked us through the technology and did some quick prototyping for us (photo:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/iheartecho/3540140899/). Later on, we moved to an even more advanced prototype (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iheartecho/3564174893/). This latter version, once refined with additional information, is the one that we plan to roll out in Lake Claire and Candler Park.
Echo on Social Media
We established an account on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/iheartecho/), a popular photo/video sharing site, in order to openly share photos and videos from the Echo project. On this page you’ll find photos of us in the Art Through Labor workshop working on sign prototypes, out and about in Lake Claire and Candler Park collecting stories and meeting people, as well as photos of the team having working sessions or just enjoying each other’s company over coffee or dinner.
In the interest of openness and documentation, we also plan to establish a presence on other social media sites including Twitter and Facebook once we officially launch the project. Of course, we plan to continue blogging as well.
Next Steps: Launch Party
Now that we have a critical mass of stories collected and our beta site and voicemail system up and running, we are in the midst of planning a formal launch event some time in late October or November 2009. It will take place in a secret oasis called Mulberry Fields, formerly the site of a dairy farm and currently a community space complete with garden plots, goats, and chickens.
The launch event will take place on a Sunday afternoon and begin with a series of self-guided walking tours throughout these neighborhoods using the Echo voicemail system—attendees will be able to choose from several themes including “Front porch stories” or “Yard art.” After people have had a chance to take a walk and learn more about their neighborhoods, a party will kick off in Mulberry Fields where we will serve coffee, tea and cupcakes, and where neighbors will have an opportunity to mingle and get to know one another better. We hope to include some press at this event as well.
Future Goals: Creating a Toolkit
We want Echo to expand beyond Atlanta. Our next big challenge, once we launch here and secure additional funding, will be to apply our experience and lessons learned toward setting up a portable toolkit so that passionate members of any community can stand up an Echo system in their own neighborhoods.
- It is really difficult to devote time to work on a side project while working a demanding day job. Adding a formal Project Manager to our team helped us to manage this challenge more effectively. We’ve also learned that we must be disciplined in terms of setting up regular check-ins, assignments, and deadlines in order to force ourselves to keep moving.
- The learning curve for the nuts and bolts of starting a new business was steeper than we’d originally thought it we be, and we spent more time in the first half of the year pulling together basic legal and tax documents than we had anticipated.
- Working with like-minded friends makes for a wonderful creative environment, but good relationships aren’t necessarily enough to propel a project forward. The developer and designer we worked with both do incredible work, and we love working with them, but they’re also juggling demanding day jobs and weren’t always able to focus as intently on Echo as we would have liked. If we were to start the project over today we would probably begin with a more rigorous schedule of deadlines and expectations, and perhaps would have hired different people to do the initial design and development work.