Here’s an update on an impressive pandemic-inspired pivot by Samir Arora’s Sage, the company I wrote about at the start of the year that is building what I hope is a next phase of the net: a expert-based web.
When the pandemic hit and travel was all but shut down I worried particularly about two friends’ businesses because each was centered on travel. One is Samir’s Sage, which was starting its expert network with expertise about destinations — hotels, restaurants, places. I’ll tell you how he reacted in a moment.
The other was Rafat Ali’s Skift, which covers the travel industry and built its business around in-person events: a double whammy. I interviewed Rafat for the Newmark J-School’s leadership program about the painful decisions he had to make to keep the business alive. I think you’ll find it informative. Since we had this conversation, Skift shifted to offer a daily news subscription service and Rafat now says “subscription-first is the path forward for us.”
Now to Samir and Sage. He has made his career building tools to support creation: When he was developing an early web-authoring tool, NetObjects Fusion, he gained much valuable experience using it to help my friend Rick Smolan put together his amazing A Day in the Life of America project. Glam, Samir’s later company, was inspired by putting together networks of bloggers to build their businesses; I blogged about that 13 years ago. His latest company, SagePlus for Experts, which I wrote about here, was about to go public with tools for experts in travel and food to build their online presences and businesses with networks around them.
Before the shutdown, Samir had been introduced by William Morris Endeavor to celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who got excited about using Sage to build his digital presence — across books (he has one upcoming), restaurants, and events — and to amplify the voices of experts not heard in mainstream media.
In the pandemic, Samuelsson started working with celebrity chef and food philanthropist José Andrés on relief for communities and restaurant workers. Samuelsson’s CEO, Derek Evans, called Samir about a dozen weeks ago asking him to extend the Sage platform to handle charitable projects and contributions: a campaign management system. In no time, Samir’s team volunteered to make it happen and on July 18, they went public with a platform for Harlem Serves Up. In 24 hours, it handled an amazing $100,000 in contributions.
This became Project Bento, an end-to-end platform for campaigns, which now include also Black Businesses Matter; Hand in Hand, a Daniel Boulud Fund; and the Project Bento Fund, which in turn gives money to Citymeals on Wheels and World Central Kitchen, in addition to funds to support restaurant workers. As of this writing, the team has raised $5.1 million in donations to charities and to create meals. Individual donations go 100% to the charities.
So now the Sage platform has more capabilities. It already had the mechanisms for experts to be invited, invite others, and build online presences and apps with multiple business models. Now, because of Samuelsson, the platform has the means to support not-for-profit campaigns and contributions from large sponsors and individuals.
That work done, Sage is turning back to its launch. Now it will include not just travel experts but also authors, entertainers, and experts in other fields, verified by humans. I had wanted Samir to move past travel because the web needs to build mechanisms and institutions to discover and verify and support expertise: to pay for their work. That, as I said in my last post, is what I think the net needs next: platforms not just for speaking “but also for listening and finding that which is worth listening to, from experts and people with authority, intelligence, education, experience, erudition, good taste, and good sense.”
I will never say there is a silver lining to the dark and deadly cloud COVID has because of the venal negligence of the current American government. But I am impressed at the good people create in times of need: Samuelsson and Samir saw a need and built it.