ASHEVILLE —Doss Church and Jim Nimblett knew they had good product to sell in the online universe of social media platforms, but in February 2011, they were struggling to find their market.
Church and Nimblett had formed Galaxy Digital two years earlier. Church’s background in advertising sales and marketing, as well as his tinkerer’s mentality, fit well with Nimblett’s expertise in building large-scale social networking sites. Their idea was simple – find a market for a private platform that allowed any organization with a large member base to privately connect and communicate. They dubbed their platform Galaxy Social, sort of a customized version of the popular Facebook social media website.
The two teamed found early success working with a South Carolina group that wanted a virtual meeting place for high school students to connect and communicate with teachers and mentors. They were also working with some private companies, including Diamond Brand. But the workload was taking it’s toll.
“It was taking all my time, and we weren’t clearing enough cash to make it worthwhile,” Church said. “I knew I didn’t want to go out and kill what we were eating every day.”
After taking on two more critical team members – John Kelley and Nick Dionne – and floundering a bit in search of their target market, the group came together for their do-or-die winter meeting.
“We knew we had this application we can sell, but we don’t have a product. Let’s talk about our passions and go after a market we’re excited about,” Church said. “Everybody wanted to do something we could feel good about at the end of the day. Everybody had nonprofits on their mind.”
That focus, and some good timing, led Galaxy Digital to connect with United Way organizations. The company began developing and testing a product it called Get Connected, and by February of last year began rolling it out. To date, Galaxy Digital has sold Get Connected to 160 United Way organizations and other independent volunteer centers around the country, according to Church. The product is used in 38 states and, because of United Way’s work supporting other nonprofits, Galaxy Digital has about 10,000 nonprofits using its system, Church said.
Yolanda McCray, who oversees Get Connected for Georgetown County United Way in South Carolina, said the organization uses the platform as a sort of Match.com for hooking up volunteers with nonprofits.
“It allows us to connect with the community at large and sort of market the agencies,” McCray said. “We’re matching volunteers to respective agencies. That’s helping us build capacity,” said McCray, whose agency supports 28 nonprofits.
“We’re getting ready to do another kick-off with Get Connected to drive more people to the virtual system and improve our efforts,” McCray said.
CONNECTING WITH UNITED WAY
Asheville’s popular recreational soccer leagues have contributed to Galaxy Digital’s success.
That’s where Church, a die-hard soccer fan who has been playing for Green Man Brewing’s soccer team since 2003, met Kelley and Dionne. The two had been working as consultants in the real estate business, but with the economy sputtering in 2010, they were looking for something new. They joined Galaxy Digital.
“The first thing they did was bring the Billy Graham organization to our doorstep” through connections they had, Church said.
The Billy Graham Evangelical Association wanted a custom web platform for their “Dare to be a Daniel” ministry, one that would appeal to early teens and offer focused, internal communication and facilitate online training. Galaxy Digital landed the project after a meeting with Franklin Graham
Church knew the next step to growing their business was to “productize” their application, but they unsure about where to look for a market. That’s when the four principals got together and decided to pursue the nonprofit world.
Following an introduction by a company board member, Galaxy Digital began working with the United Way of the Piedmont in Spartanburg, S.C.
“They were having a problem keeping up with all the volunteers showing up at their doorstep, so they would send these volunteers out to agenices, and they would just disappear,” Church said.
About the same time, United Way issued an edict requiring its institutions to cultivate its volunteer base, Church said. The United Way knew that its volunteers were more likely to donate, and to donate more money than others, and it wanted its agencies to better cultivate those relationships. That’s when Galaxy Digital made the decision to use the custom project in Spartanburg as an incubator for its product to find, manage, track and engage volunteers. Galaxy Digital gave the United Way of the Piedmont its product in return for collaborative access and testing.
“The platform allows you to join easily – you can use your Facebook credentials to join – and then it uses your interests and begins making recommendations. Those recommendations come from all the needs entered by the nonprofits,” Church said.
In the year and a half since launching Get Connected, Galaxy Digital has one of the most widely used volunteer programs in the country, and the company is growing. Andy Gmitter has joined the company as director of training and customer success, and Lucy Rountree has come aboard as a sales executive.
“We had a hunch it would work out, but it’s extremely gratifying” to support the nonprofit world, Church said. “I thik we’ve been fortunate to hit this opportunity at just the right time.”
Yet the company still manages to fly under the radar. Employees work in an old house that has been converted into offices on Grove Street, next door to a drab Hot Spot convenience store on Hilliard Avenue.
“When people ask me what I do, I tell them I work for Galaxy Digital, and they’ve never heard of it,” Church said. “I have to tell them what we do.”
Social media platforms have had a tremendous effect on all aspects of the World Wide Web, and Church sees it moving in a direction that Galaxy Digital knows well.
“I’ve heard others talk about a trend – they’re not projecting the death of Facebook – but in the future, we’re going to see smaller locations online where people are connecting for experiences and conversations that are a lot more personal to a small group of people,” Church said. “We already know that the younger segment of the Millenial generation are less likely to use Facebook. They’re doing social things elsewhere.”
Galaxy Digital will continue to enhance its Get Connected project, Church said, and remain focused on supporting the nonprofit world.
“We’re driving positive action in these communities,” he said. “There’s just something satisfying about that to all of us. It gets all of us pumped.”
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