Don’t say fast-growing young companies don’t have the time or resources to give back to the community.
Two weeks after being hatched in the start-up hotbed of South Boston’s Innovation District, a project with the ambitious goal of leveraging social media to honor military veterans is being launched tomorrow.
The project, called Vthankyou, began as a casual conversation at MassChallenge, a start-up incubator that hosts and mentors young companies, mostly focused on new media.
Dave McLaughlin, cofounder and chief executive of Vsnap.com, a video-sharing service, and Kevin Phelan, a staff writer at BostInnovation.com, an online publication that covers the technology scene, were discussing the capabilities of McLaughlin’s new company. At one point, neither can remember exactly when, they started brainstorming about how it could be used to pay tribute to American veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Vsnap allows users to exchange brief video messages and attachments. The company, which is planning to launch a beta site in mid-November, is hoping to take advantage of the increasing capability of smartphones and computers to record and send video easily. Its platform seemed well-suited for users to express their appreciation and support of veterans, the two men decided.
“The idea seemed to be the right combination of something that used cutting-edge technology and also tugged at the heartstrings,’’ Phelan said. “So we decided, let’s go full bore.’’
Within a few days, the pair had purchased a domain name, vthankyou.com, and created a bare-bones Wordpress blog page. Total expenditure: about $30, McLaughlin said.
An anonymous donor contributed $5,000, enabling the pair to create a fund-raising model to pitch to the social-media crowd: Each video message posted on the group’s Twitter and Facebook sites will unlock a $1 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that creates programs to help injured members of the military.
McLaughlin and Phelan are hoping to recruit more donors and corporate sponsors before Veterans Day.
They have been recruiting what McLaughlin refers to as “Twitter royalty,’’ social networkers who have large followings on Twitter, Facebook, and other services.
Social-media stars who have made commitments include consultants Laura Fitton, who has more than 86,000 followers on Twitter, and Peter Shankman, with more than 117,000.
Actor Mike O’Malley, currently starring in the hit TV show “Glee,’’ has signed on to record a welcome message with instructions for the site.
When it goes live tomorrow, the site will have an uncomplicated interface. Participants will be asked to use their webcam to record a 60-second or shorter video message to veterans, attach any additional documents, like a photo of a veteran who is a friend or relative, and hit send.
The founders are determined to keep the messages nonpolitical. To that end, they are employing old-fashioned methods to handle videos that contain political overtones.
“We just won’t show them,’’ McLaughlin said. “That’s it. If a message is political, we‘ll screen it out.’’
Paul Gillin, a social media author and consultant, said the vthankyou project demonstrates how social media are being used to create a new generation of charitable and public-spirited campaigns.
“You no longer need to have a big organization or brand to launch a significant movement,’’ Gillin said. “A few people can get together spontaneously, use their networks, and make something very powerful happen. Just look at the Occupy movement, which has been very smart about using social media.’’
Start-ups are often starved for cash, McLaughlin said, and obsessively focused on growth. But inexpensive tools allow them to participate in civic and charitable projects.
McLaughlin is hoping for “a sort of public art project/digital mosaic of America’s feeling for veterans themselves, whatever the politics of war.’’
The founders also expect the project will expand in the 10 days that remain until Veteran’s Day.
“We’ve been asking a lot of connected people to help spread the word,’’ Phelan said. “We haven’t heard ‘no’ yet.’’