Where did Big Think come from?

Question: Where did the idea come from?

Victoria Brown: First of all, I work with a partner, Peter Hopkins. And he and I had similar interests when we met working at a job together. And both of us were very focused on the media and what needed to happen to make it better. And we saw something missing in the space.

We actually had an idea for an online university and pitched that for a while. And people thought, “This is way too broad. Who are these crazy people?”

And so we were told we had to bring it down to a smaller level. And we kind of thought alright, YouTube, we had a bit of an idea like that. And then YouTube came and popped up. And so we thought, we need to create something that’s answering the need of educated, smart people on the Internet. Because on the Internet, as everybody knows and you know, there’s a lot of really, really poorly created content. And there’s not an awful lot of good and thoughtful content.

So we saw a need for that, but we also saw a need for people to participate online. Instead of just watching the Internet, obviously it gives users the ability to participate in conversations. So we thought what about combining these two – great content and the ability for users to participate in the content or with the content and kind of join a conversation. And so we came up with this hybrid content model.

 

Question: How did you get the big names?

Victoria Brown: I think, first and foremost, as soon as people hear the idea, if they let us have the time to tell them the idea, they kind of like it and get it. It’s like, behind closed doors all these important conversations go on; where the thought leaders of the world go and talk about what’s going on. But wouldn’t it be just as important to get the people that are actually leading their lives and doing things involved in the conversation, rather than just these very limited, tiny, minute number of people?

And so we thought about that, and that’s how we presented it originally to the first people who participated. It’s kind of like ___________ democratized. So we ask you about important things and then open the conversation up to other people.

So the idea, first and foremost, kind of resonated with these thoughtful people. And then once we had a few people signed on, I would have to be honest and say that the names of those people meant something to other people and they said, “Okay, if somebody like Richard Branson has done it, maybe I’ll do it. If somebody . . .”

The first five people were personal friends and favors we called in, from friends of friends, to get them to do it. And then after that it hasn’t been as difficult.

 

Recorded on: January 2, 2008

 

Victoria talks about the challenges of creating an online space for thinking people, and of getting the project off the ground.

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