StageofLife.com – making the world a better place, one story at a time

Name of your company?

Stage of Life LLC – www.stageoflife.com

What is your product or service?

Everyone has a story to tell. Operating under its tageline, “Rewards for Life’s Journey®,” Stage of Life® is a grassroots project that courts and features writers, bloggers and regular people sharing their wisdom and stories across ten key stage of life milestones. It’s a broad spectrum, anti-niche concept developed so that users can quite literally “grow old” with the website, developing loyalty and repeat visits across their various life transitions between high school and retirement. The hope is that if users find benefit from StageofLife.com during one life stage, they will return in another (and/or virally share news of their experiences with loved ones in a different life stage).

At its core, StageofLife.com is non-partisan with a mission to make the world a better place, one story at a time. Teens, college students, Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, and Baby Boomer generations all come together within the portal to share experiences in one of ten life stages: high school, college, on my own, wedding, married without children, having a baby, home ownership, raising a family, grandparenting, and empty nest/retirement.

Our hope is that cross-generational story telling will weave a network of wisdom from which all can benefit.

As part of this story sharing experience, we also designed a program within StageofLife.com called, My Life Rewards®. This area of the site gives coupons and discounts from national merchant brands and sponsors who want to help consumers save money based on their stage of life.

Other specialized content on StageofLife.com allows users to share and archive their life stories; includes free lesson plan ideas and writing prompts for Language Arts teachers; provides monthly writing contests for teens, students, moms, etc.; gives customized news feeds, quotations, resources, and statistics for each stage of life; and helps writers to promote their blogs…and much more.

Why did you start your company?

We wanted to build a website that would stay relevant throughout someone’s entire life – a site you could quite literally “grow old” using.

Now, the problem is that “Marketing101” tells entrepreneurs to build a niche site. Something specific. Something that makes SEO easy and gives you high rankings for a few keywords. This is why there thousands of websites just about babies, or grandparents or teens.

We didn’t want to compete in that space.

Our goal was to build a website experience that once users got involved, they could come back again and again, no matter what stage of life they were in, leaving or entering.

In fact, with each life stage transition, people naturally look for advice, wisdom and knowledge. We help satisfy that need by providing both user-generated stories coded to each stage of life and introducing national merchant brands relevant to each specific life stage.

How was it financed ?

Founders, Eric and Joe Thiegs, self-funded the launch of the company with no angel, VC, corporate or outside equity ties.

Date officially launched?

The site went live in beta form in April 2009, and formally launched in 2010.

How many people are currently working on StageofLife.com?

We’ve been lucky. While in start-up mode, lots of people gravitated towards our mission of making the world a better place through blogging, memoir sharing and story-telling.

Out of that collective desire, we now work with

  • 3 staff responsible for marketing/partnerships
  • 1 college intern
  • 1 curriculum consultant for tailoring the StageofLife.com experience for teachers, educators, and parents
  • 24 editors spread out across the ten life stages
  • 150+ featured bloggers/writers hand selected by staff/editors for “feature” placement on the site
  • 2,600+ writers/bloggers who have signed up on StageofLife.com to share an essay about their life. This particular group is growing each month as more and more bloggers look to StageofLife.com to a) promote their blogs and b) join a free community with a mission to make the world a better place through story sharing.

What is the best advice you never got?

The best advice we received was advice we decided not to take.

When we were writing the business plan, we shared an early draft with a marketing guru who said, “You’ll never get StageofLife.com off the ground. You can’t build a website about ‘life.’ I would highly recommend that you break your idea down into 10 different websites – one for each stage of life.”

Initially, we walked out of that meeting a bit discouraged.

We understood the issue. Putting an effective SEO strategy in place on this idea was going to nearly impossible. Our keyword map is all over the place (as you can imagine with ten stage of life sections to accommodate).

But it didn’t make sense to us to try to compete with better funded and more established niche sites.

Instead, while we realized that SEO challenges would be paramount, we came back to our goals of building the world’s largest collection of cross-generational stories and helping people save money throughout their entire lives.

Marketing gurus be darned – we decided to ignore that advice and push forward our with our original concept. We would build a website about life and individually find people who would want to get involved, contribute and help us make a difference.

Looking back, we’re glad we did. We’re still a relatively unknown site in the grand scheme of things, but beams of light are finding us.

  • TIME.com wrote about us. Traffic spiked.
  • Mint.com and Kodak Gallery approached us separately about stepping in as corporate sponsors. Traffic spiked.
  • GetSchooled.com, a non-profit initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, talked about us. Traffic spiked.
  • KARK, the NBC TV affiliate in Little Rock Arkansas, asked us to host the writing platform behind a TV news series about teen issues in Arkansas called, “Arkansas Teens Matter.”

One by one, we are finding smart partnerships (or they are finding us), to create a high-quality, high-content experience on StageofLife.com for our readers/users/members.

So if StageofLife.com doesn’t have a niche…what is your focus?

StageofLife.com is filling the content void of Facebook and Twitter users who want to share or extend more of themselves outside of a set character or word limit.

As a part of this, we’ve developed some high profile writing contests. One of which, our writing contest for high school students, is a part of our national public relations campaign as we provide a summary white paper about teen trends based on the learnings we garner from the teen writing contest.

The site also focuses on helping writers. We do this by giving them an opportunity to…

  • …promote their own blogs managed independently on WordPress, Blogger, etc. by guest writing for us
  • …or participate in a free, easy-to-navigate and community-centered platform without having to maintain their own blog (which can be a time consuming and solitary effort if the readership is not there).

What almost killed your business in the start?

Launching a non-niche, SEO-hobbled idea based on people sharing stories was nearly start-up suicide.

We launched the site and waited. Would anyone share stories? Would anyone participate? More importantly…would anyone find us?

At first the answer was no. But we stuck with it. We did everything in our power to spread the word about the site through as many free and grassroots means possible and soon the stories started to flow into the site.

What is the one thing that you did right?

We focused on the content.

Stories. Information. News. Statistics. Videos. Quotations. Resources. Shopping Recommendations and Discounts.

We took all of this content and then tailored it, packaged it and presented it in each of the ten stage of life milestones…and built it all within one website.

On StageofLife.com, a Grandmother can not only share her stories about her grandchildren, but she can check out the high school stage to get an idea about what’s important to her teenage grandson. A single man living on his own can blog about the dating game but also get ideas about the best jewelers from which to buy an engagement ring BEFORE he asks his girlfriend to marry him.

It’s this cross-generational surfing and viewing of stories/information that makes the website so sticky for its readers (and for the merchant sponsors participating on the site too obviously).

Where did the artwork come from for the website?

We worked with an independent artist and commissioned our own art for the launch of the project. We wanted something original that drives an “organic” and non-corporate brand.

The design of the site was then centered around the art to set a tone that was positive, upbeat, fresh, homemade, inclusive, community-friendly, and authentic. In fact, as a part of this, if you take a look across the ten stage of life headers, the artwork was mandated to include variety of races: High School (White, African American), Wedding (African American), Married Without Kids (Hispanic), Raising a Family (Asian).

This was done, again, to build an inclusive tone that says, “all walks of life are welcome here” no matter your religion, race, politics, or sexual orientation.

Everyone has a story to tell, and from the thousands of blogs and stories that have been submitted to StageofLife.com, we now have conservative, liberal, gay, straight, white, black and nearly every other type of writer/blogger you can imagine participating in the project.

It’s truly a non-niche, melting pot concept (which has a tendency to sometimes ruffle feathers as the site does not cater to a particular demographic…but that’s a part of life too.)

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

Quitting a day job.

Our founder, Eric Thiegs, had spent over 15 years working in the partnership marketing industry for large and small branding, loyalty and partnership marketing agencies. However, when he quit his job to run StageofLife.com full time, it was a leap of faith. With no guaranteed income, the personal adjustments that his wife and two daughters (ages 1 and 5) made were intense. But their family was behind the idea and haven’t looked back since.

Are you currently in the black or red?

Black.

By the end of 2011, traffic to the site is expected to increase 197% from 2010. With that traffic comes more opportunity to work with our sponsors, advertisers and corporate partners that drive our revenue.

What would make your business more “Successful?”

We need to continue making smart alliances and partnerships.

We can’t rely on SEO so instead we focus on relationships with other organizations. We’ve done this with world class partners like LearntobeHealthy.org, MyHero.com, Carrie Cunnington (a life coach in Minneapolis), GetSchooled.com, Mint Education, Walnut Row, Simpatico the web series, and many others!

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

You know what, anything is possible in this world, but ideally, we’ll continue to run it ourselves.

One of the key reasons for this answer is that while StageofLife.com started as a B2C idea, in the last year, we fulfilled a portion of our business plan which was to create a B2B application that provides partnership marketing consulting for national brands and affinity organizations looking for loyalty or membership platforms.

So now, Stage of Life LLC now not only works with over 2,600 bloggers writing for the B2C website project, but also services half a dozen B2B clients ranging from NYSE traded banks, international airlines, national non-profit foundations, loyalty agencies, and more with partnership marketing and membership program building.

Our rewards platform, loyalty program components and other B2B services can be viewed on our corporate site: http://www.stageoflife.com/corporate/

 

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