Start-up Interview: Female Entrepreneur Jenny Buccos of ProjectExplorer.org
Providing cross-cultural education without the cost of a flight is invaluable to children across the globe. With the recent launch of Brightwide - YouTube for Social and Politcal Cinema - we look at what is offered to children in an attempt to make the world a smaller place. Here, The NextWomen talk to female Entrepreneur Jenny Buccos of ProjectExplorer.org about the strengths of being a non-profit organisation, the effects her exposure to many cultures has had on her attitude to business and wishing she had founded Pandora.com
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a small town in northern New York state, and have always had the desire to travel. I arrived in New York City in 1999 and began working at Credit Suisse First Boston. I started first as a temporary assistant, though I quickly moved up as a marketing project manager on two web-based start-up projects. During this time, I had the opportunity to work briefly in Asia managing corporate film projects in Hong Kong and Tokyo. This is where I learned the basics of global media production.
I was laid off shortly after 9/11, and decided to leave the corporate world behind. In 2003, I founded ProjectExplorer.org.
What is ProjectExplorer.org? When did you launch and what are your objectives for the next three years?
We’ve been called:
“A cross between the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel.”
ProjectExplorer.org is a US-based non-profit organisation which has produced over 175 free online videos and multimedia materials for primary and secondary school students to teach them about the world.
When I founded ProjectExplorer.org in 2003, online video was not yet mainstream and YouTube was still a few years away. I directed and produced ProjectExplorer.org’s first online multimedia program, Shakespeare’s England, which officially launched in September of 2006.
Since launching in 2006, I have seen ProjectExplorer.org’s viewership grow by over 500%. (Viewership is expected to reach 4.75 million users in 2010.) This has all been done with an annual budget of under $250,000. Over the next 3 years, I plan to focus heavily on financial sponsorship and strategic partnership. This growth will enable me to expand our online library of original multimedia materials.
Who makes up the ProjectExplorer.org team and what do they all bring to the table?
There are only two full-time staff members; myself and Ilana Fayerman. In addition to being the Executive Director of ProjectExplorer.org, I’m also the director and producer of the video and multimedia content. Ilana Fayerman is a producer and a series presenter. When not filming, she works closely with me on educator/school outreach and strategic partnerships. Together, we are responsible for the majority of the business operations and creative content.
I have a rotating team of talented photographers and on-camera presenters that join me for several weeks each year on a per-project basis. I have about 20 volunteer educators, editors, and writers who assist me during post-production phases. A key part of the ProjectExplorer.org team is the Board of Directors, which is critical to the success of the organisation. Their expertise ranges from entertainment companies to financial services, from the non-profit world to the technology sector and I constantly look to them for counsel.
What were your start-up costs? Did you launch with any grants or sponsorship already in place?
The first project was almost entirely launched with donations from friends and family. I was able to secure an accommodation sponsor for the Shakespeare’s England series, which greatly reduced production costs. All other expenses were covered on my credit card, which took several years to pay off. Altogether, I produced that first project for under $25,000, thanks to some very generous volunteers.
Do you think you would have enjoyed the same success had you not been a non-profit enterprise?
I’ve been able to collaborate with world-class museums and some very high profile people. Since ProjectExplorer.org is a free educational resource to anyone in any country, every location and celebrity has waived film and appearance fees because of our educational mission. I’ve even been given access to archival images and news footage to incorporate into the video no cost. I strongly believe this generous, unrestricted access is only due the fact we are a non-profit.
Have you always thought about running your own business or did your background in marketing for two web-based start-ups introduce you to the world of enterprise?
I have always wanted to be my own boss. I’m a complete workaholic and while I had the creativity and drive to run my own business, I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without my corporate experience. The business savvy I learned at Credit Suisse provided me with the necessary skill set needed to create compelling proposals, land strategic partners, and attract financial sponsorship.
Do you make use of social networking or does your target audience not respond to it?
ProjectExplorer.org uses both Facebook and Twitter to share video content and news. I’ve found Facebook to be extremely beneficial in reaching a wider audience of educators, parents, and even sponsors who are able to stay up-to-date on current projects as we travel the world to create our mulitmedia content. While our primary audience – students – don’t usually find us through social networking, their parents and teachers often do.
Has your exposure to so many cultures had a positive impact on the way you run ProjectExplorer.org?
Learning how different cultures conduct business, and understanding how I differ as an American and a New Yorker, has been extremely valuable. For example, in Jordan and many parts of the Middle East, business takes place over tea, and in South Africa it’s easier to coordinate meetings over SMS rather than email. These experiences have helped me in these regions, but have also made me more open to understanding how people anywhere would like to be treated in business dealings.
Did you have an input on the design of the website or was it produced out of house?
When conceptualising ProjectExplorer.org, I consulted with a creative designer, but I provided guidelines on the aesthetic and functionality based on educational market research. With extremely limited funding, I learned to code the website and edit video from my tech-savvy husband in our tiny one-bedroom apartment/office.
I recently made several changes, in-house, to make the website even more accessible for our young audience. I’m now much more advanced at coding and only need the occasional help from our tech advisor when adding new content or functions to the site.
On a lighter note, name one website you wish you’d founded
Pandora.com (The Music Genome Project) which scans a massive database of analyzed music to suggest new artists and songs based on the harmony, melody, instrumentation, and rhythm of listeners’ favourite songs. I love exploring new music and could spend hours on this site.
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