TSOT, based in Toronto, has been working since 2006 on building out a membership management system. Their strategy differs from more generalist solution providers like Ning and Toronto based Wild Apricot in that TSOT started out focusing on Greek organizations.
Fraternities and Sororities pride themselves on their membership rosters, so it makes sense they might want to migrate from a spreadsheet that could easily be lost when someone spills a beer on their laptop, to a web based solution to manage their chapters and alumni. In pursuing this market TSOT sought the approval of a Greek Licensing body to kick start sales.
TSOT’s product, Fraternity Live, looks and feels a lot like Facebook. Each member gets a profile page, photo album, and status updates. Each chapter resembles a group with admins, group messaging, and unlike Facebook finance and calendar pages. Fraternity Live even built a Facebook App, which like just about everyone else’s is a disaster (3 daily active users). For all the similarity, Fraternity Live is unlikely to approach stratospheric social networking site valuations. Why? At least for now, TSOT is in the business of selling websites, which significantly slows adoption. While this is certainly something one can make money at, the market is rewarding eyeballs, creative monetization strategies, and horizontal web services.
Like many startups, TSOT struggled a bit nailing down their business model. The original plan was to charge Fraternities and Sororities a subscription fee. Then TSOT explored offering the service free and monetizing views with banner ads. Unfortunately for TSOT, Facebook rules the roost; it seems despite all the private Greek functions, frat boys and sorority girls want to hang out with everyone else on campus. So TSOT is back to charging a setup fee and annual subscription.
TSOT plans to take its platform into other verticals later this year. In doing so they will be swimming into deeper more competitive waters. Affinity Labs, a provider of niche social networks organized around jobs like police work and nursing, hit a $61M payday when Monster acquired them. Affinity Circle, with whom TSOT competes directly, is forging down the job listing monetization route. It will be interesting to watch TSOT experiment with their business model and the openness of their system’s social graph.