Durham startup aims for originality in networking site

This year, Nathan Wieler hopes to join the ranks of founders of popular social networking sites Facebook and LinkedIn with his own startup, Original Projects.

The Durham-based company has released the beta version of its Web site, which operates as a network for people hoping to begin, develop and share their own interests, hobbies and ideas. Wieler said his main reason for starting the Web site was to bridge the gap he saw in social networking between businesses—with Web sites such as LinkedIn—and pleasure—with Web sites like Facebook.

“I was really seeing a void in the market when it comes to popular social networks. There’s this whole other part of our lives, the things that we’re passionate about. If you come up with this great idea, there’s no great site where you think, ‘I have to put that there.’ I think that’s the next step in social networking.... That doesn’t exist and that’s what we’re directing our company to be.”

Wieler, who has lived in Durham since 1999, decided to start the business in the Bull City because of its proximity to Research Triangle Park. Although the site is far-reaching in terms of collaboration, with members in San Francisco and Detroit as well as North Carolina, Wieler hopes to target the younger audiences the Triangle offers.

“It’s a great area with Duke, [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University],” he said. “It’s really applicable to young people and college students with lots of ideas.”

Wieler also plans for Original Projects to be a place where hobbies and ideas can gain momentum. Current projects include a push toward direct flights from San Francisco to Raleigh-Durham International Airport and a social approach to quitting smoking.

Durham resident Aaron Lubeck is a satisfied Original Projects user who believes the site’s success stems from the growing popularity of social networking.

“I’ve been impressed with how viral it is,” Lubeck wrote in an e-mail. “ I have little interest in following most circles on Facebook or Twitter, but OP hosts higher quality ideas, higher quality members, and in turn yields a higher quality experience.”

Chris Cashin, owner of SnapTotes—another Durham startup that has gained success—feels that Wieler’s knowledge of the business model will help him in his endeavor.

“I know Nathan from Zoom Culture,” said Cashin, referring to Wieler’s first big project, an online media company. “He’s familiar with the market. He knows what he needs to do, and I think that would be nine-tenths of the deal.”

With Wieler’s background in business and the potential young businesses coming from the Raleigh-Durham area, Wieler said he thinks he can build a strong audience of other startup business owners.

Original Projects, which has been in invite-only beta testing since mid-January, aims to build a private base of users before going public. OP producers are working first on the functionality of the site, hashing out bugs and gathering feedback before opening it to the larger community.

“We want a core group of users so when we do launch it, people can see how other people’s original projects have developed,” Wieler said. “People trust their thoughts and actions to social networking. Now, it’s dreams and ideas.”


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