Originally posted June 21, 2011 at Dutiee.com here
How great would it be to have someone to tell you how awesome you are all the time? Time and again we all need some empathy or just someone to talk to – well how about some free empathy from strangers? Loneliness is a huge issue in our fast-paced society, with many people suffering depression due to a loss of companionship and they usually have no one who would listen to their problems without it costing money.
Zachary Burt (ZB) is up to something great on the internet. He founded two unique websites – Awesomeness Reminders and CompassionPit, both of which are doing amazingly well. Each of these sites allow anonymous people to engage in listening and sharing something that makes their days just a little bit better. On AwesomenessReminders.com you can sign-up to have a real person call you everyday to tell you, “You’re Awesome”! and on Compassionpit.com you can anonymously chat with people about things that are bothering you.
We decided to get into the “pit” of things, and learn a bit about Zac and the ways he has persevered “haters”, survived depression, and worked with strangers from all over the world to generate the fans he has for his sites. He talks to us about life, his search to find balance on the road to success and spread free empathy too.
NN: Tell us a bit about your sites and how you got started.
ZB: The ones you’re probably interested in are CompassionPit.com and AwesomenessReminders.com. In both cases I was the founder. In the case of AR I did most of the work myself on the back end and in the case of CompassionPit I had tons of help. When I told people what I had in mind for CompassionPit they were eager to help out and contribute so I got a great design for free, another guy worked on the project for really cheap and another guy volunteered to rewrite the code so that was great. I love having a cause to believe in.
NN: Do you make any profit from these sites, if not what keeps you going?
ZB: Well with AwesomenessReminders it has been profitable from day one. People are paying for a service…As for CompassionPit it’s good to know that I’m creating so much value, but I am taking a long term view and I know that what goes around comes around. However, when I ultimately monetize [CompassionPIT], it will have to be a win win win situation for everyone. I truly believe that it is possible to live with integrity and by sticking to that ultimately I will prosper most…and because our goals are all aligned we will help each other out!
NN: What role does your past education and experiences play in doing something like these free empathy sites? What inspires you? Also, have you done any other startups in the past?
ZB: I have been working online since I was 15 and I spent two summers in college interning, once at a software company and then at a startup. Having a mentor (the CEO of those companies) was critical in helping me get my foot in the door and learning about the industry (web technology). I had help with CompassionPit, and with AR I have some assistance through people I have hired via the internet. My inspiration comes from my mind – working hard, reading a lot, and letting my mind combine disparate ideas into brand new ones.
All throughout college I spent time working on side projects and websites, I was constantly working on one project or another! My “friends” all made fun of me for them, but I persevered through the criticism. I would not say I am yet successful but I would say that I am getting closer every day. I have also since learned the values of friends who cherish and motivate you rather than trying to cut you down out of jealousy (haters!).
In college I studied Psychology, and I also started learning about personal development. I am also a voracious avid reader and make it a priority to learn every day. I view education as a lifelong process and not something that necessarily must happen in a classroom. It benefits me so why not do myself a favor and learn?
Though as a Psychology major I learned the importance of emotional regulation and the college experience taught me a lot about the importance of emotions to wellbeing. I try to serve people’s emotions and having suffered from depression for most of my life I can empathize very strongly with people who are suffering.
NN: Could you touch a bit on any talks you have given or personal messages you received around your sites. Any that stand out and made you feel these sites were meaningful?
ZB: Yes of course. I posted many of them on the AR blog and the CP blog. Any of them that say people were touched or that that I’ve “redeemed [their] faith in humanity” is very reassuring. As a smart person for most of my life I struggled to grapple with the apparent stupidity of many of our actions though as I grow I am maturing and learning that many things I perceived to be stupid, or win-lose, actually make sense when properly contextualized. However, I still think there is hope for our planet and we do not have to institutionalize suffering.
NN: Wow, that’s deep. What do you think makes your sites keep gaining popularity?
ZB: The popularity of my sites was driven by their uniqueness and unexpectedness – I did not do anything to promote them, especially not a PR team or anything like that. They were both viral and I think it’s because they struck a chord with people.
NN: The life of a young founder is busy and hectic. How do you keep yourself balanced – or do you? Any plans for this summer or new projects we should expect from you?
ZB: Yes I have new projects in the works always! I’m always doing important improvements to both AR and CompassionPit. If you’re interested you can follow me on twitter @zburt or watch my blog.
Balance is critical, I am not perfect and am still working to achieve more of it in my life. I have found that in order to do great work I need great energy, which comes from having fun, eating well, exercising, and social support. I am still working to discover the sources in my life that give me the most energy and I do my best to make them a priority.
Naureen Nayyar resides in San Francisco and can be reached via twitter @norabean.