Software: The New Small Town?

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Mightybell founder Gina Bianchini talks about how software can help recreate the tight-knit community she knew as a youth.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Where do entrepreneurial ideas come from? Inspiration is mysterious, so it’s common to look at another founder’s clever startup and wonder: how did she come up with that?

In the case of Mightybell founder Gina Bianchini, the roots of the idea to start an online platform that connects people around specific areas of interest reach all the way back to her childhood. Or so says a recent article by Catchafire founder Rachael Chong on Fast Company.

Chong’s profile of Bianchini digs into why she has started the businesses she has (she’s also a co-founder of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization and previously founded Ning) and discovers an overarching theme: using software to create a community like the one she grew up in and which supported her family through a devastating tragedy:

Technology and social software have the potential to bring people closer together and bring large numbers of people into close knit groups in new and interesting ways,” says Gina Bianchini, founder and CEO of Mightybell

 

Growing up in a tight-knit community in Cupertino, California, in the 1970s and 1980s, Bianchini witnessed how those groups could impact individual lives as well as society. Not only did the genesis of the personal computer come out of research in this area but also out of a club whose members shared an interest in this new technology. Bianchini’s father, a teacher and Model T Ford aficionado, gathered most Sundays with the Model T Ford club of Santa Clara County. Her mother pooled resources with fellow mothers to form a babysitting co-op. And when tragedy struck, the community rallied around her family as they grappled with the loss of her father after he was killed by a drunk driver.

 

Today with the help of software, people everywhere can experience on a smaller scale the shared community of Bianchini’s Cupertino.

Chong’s article is an interesting window into the genesis of a startup idea, as well as a conversation starter. How well can software and online communities replicate the social benefits of a supportive small town? How can we build them to be even better at connecting people on a genuine level? And is this particularly important for women in business whose networks haven’t been around as long as men’s and haven’t had time to develop such deep roots and wide branches?

Do you think online communities can really recreate the benefits of the offline variety?

jstillman Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebelis an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. 

Photo credit: Sean Lamb via Flickr.