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No Picket Fence: a new hub for South African entrepreneurial knowledge

I’ll admit that I was skeptical about No Picket Fence, essentially a Quora for South African entrepreneurs. Like the popular question and answer site by ex-Facebook CTO, Adam D’Angelo, No Picket Fence is a knowledge market, but niched to cater exclusively for South African entrepreneurs. With a lot of functionality overlap I wondered, “what’s the point?” I’ve been lurking around the site for months now and it’s clear my initial skepticism has no merit. There’s something special here.

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Founders Michael Bouchier and Michael Cowen are candid about their appreciation of Quora. The site’s engagement format and the community quality inspired Bouchier and Cowen, both long-standing entrepreneurs, to create No Picket Fence. “We wanted to create more successful entrepreneurs in South Africa by allowing them to share their knowledge and insights through the asking and answering of quality questions, connecting, and telling their entrepreneurial story. We thought about how, along our journeys, this would have been extremely useful,” says Bouchier.

Choose a topic, ask a question and get answers from No Picket Fence’s entrepreneurial community. The best answers bubble to the top as they get voted up and members that consistently post good answers, get promoted statuses that add more gravitas to their answers. If a member answers a question for a particular topic, No Picket Fence will send them similar questions via email and anyone can opt in to receive emails for a particular topic.

Bouchier and Cowen co-owns social marketing company BrandSocial that specialises in creating niche communities around people’s passions and interests. No Picket Fence, fresh out of beta was developed in India and launched within BrandSocial in May 2012 as a niche community project.

No Picket Fence is probably more like Focus than Quora — certainly in terms of layout — but that’s almost entirely irrelevant. The entrepreneurial knowledge shared on No Picket Fence cannot be found anywhere else. There are some disparate entrepreneurial questions about South African entrepreneurship being thrown around on Quora and the closest topic I could find was a neglected one for African entrepreneurs — nothing on Focus.

There’s a small but active community on My Small Business and Business Masters but both use traditional forums. Bouchier and Cowen decided against the forum format. “Most forums are just horrible. Within 2-3 replies the thread just goes way off track. This [No Picket Fence] questions and answers style of forum keeps it on-track and highly engaging. The social sharing functionality is also highly conducive to the spread of the conversations happening in this information network,” says Bouchier.

The engagement on No Picket Fence is boosted by Google Hangout interviews with successful entrepreneurs. So far No Picket Fence has hosted interviews with people like Mike Stopforth from communications agency Cerebra, Andy Hadfield from the AngelHub backed Real Time Wine, Yola and Gyft founder Vinny Lingham, Brett St Clair from Google South Africa and Eric Edelstein from Evly. Startup incubator Silicon Cape is also active on the site.

The No Picket Fence community members, currently standing at over 1000 strong, are also encouraged to share their passions, promote their businesses and tell their stories through text, image and video content on Story Boards.

No Picket Fence is self-funded and aims to make revenue through affiliate structures, targeted advertising and allowing companies to sponsor relevant topics. Google ads currently provide the biggest source of income for the site.

Bouchier tells us the immediate aim is to become the go-to resource for current and future entrepreneurs in South Africa, helping them become more successful.

“In making South African entrepreneurs more successful it could make their presence and success felt internationally. South Africans have so much to contribute, however entrepreneurs are often a little isolated, and this information sharing, story telling could bring them out and improve their success rates,” says Bouchier.

No Picket Fence does however have ambitions to break out beyond the borders of its home country. “We will be extending the reach of the site into Africa with an initiative we’re very excited about,” says Bouchier.

Bouchier and Cowen plan to continue to build international niche community sites focused around people’s passions and interests. One such project is Cycle Diari, a niche community for cyclists.

If you have a businesses or thinking of starting one, give No Picket Fence a look.
You’ll probably love it.

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