Good-news Web site offers hope on the Net

Outreach: Desiring to spread cheer, an entrepreneur tries to confront America's pain.

October 08, 2001|By Tricia Duryee | Tricia Duryee,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

You can just imagine Sandy Messer from Clyde, N.C., sitting in front of her computer, pouring her tormented thoughts, first into sentences and then into an e-mail, and finally sending it off to www.goodthings.com.

She wrote: "In the wake of things that have happened in our country, I only wish that everyone could look around them and see all the wonderful, beautiful things in this world that were put here for us!"

That's exactly what GoodThings intends to do.

While the TV news has run a constant loop of airplanes flying into buildings on Sept. 11 and updates on the response, Barcy Fisher thinks she can step up and fill a different role in the madness.

Working out of a small office in downtown Seattle, Fisher has attempted to prove for almost a year that a for-profit dot-com dedicated to reporting good news was a good idea. She thought confirmation would come in the form of money from an investor who believed in that idea. But instead, it seemed to come three weeks ago in the footprints of tragedy.

"It definitely feels like that from the feedback we are getting," said Fisher, 33, the founder and chief executive officer of GoodThings.

"The concept is even more important now than ever before," she said.

"There's an outpouring of concern and a desire to connect, and the need to focus on the positive."

After the terrorist attacks, Fisher developed an online forum that posted messages like the one from Messer.

Although the site was developed to focus on things to be thankful for, after the attacks people from around the world used it as a place to connect.

"I'm a 23-year-old guy who shared his sadness with all the American people during this week. I'm here to give my sympathy, support and goodwill," wrote Mohamed-Ali Wattar from Beirut, Lebanon.

From Wyandotte, Mich., population 28,000, Jennifer posted this message: "If I could, I would take everyone in my arms and hold them until they could cry no more."

On Thursdays, GoodThings sends a free newsletter to its 50,000 subscribers.

The week of Sept. 11, Fisher questioned the appropriateness and turned to her father, George Fisher, former chairman and chief executive of Motorola and Eastman Kodak, for advice.

"Barcy and I spent time talking about whether or not there should be a GoodLetter that week," he said.

The outcome of his guidance and their talks was twofold.

First, Fisher reached out to her readers by writing a personal note that not only shared her sympathies but reiterated her mission.

"We're not blind to the imperfections around us," she wrote. "But we do think it's valuable for all of us to take the time to see that amidst the tragedy and suffering that invariably exists, hope still perseveres."

Fisher followed up her words of condolences by posting a first-person account from Marisa Martinez, a San Francisco teacher. Martinez related how she dealt with her kindergartners in the aftermath.

"I decided to show my emotion and let tears run down my face because I knew my students deserved to see my true emotions," she wrote.

Barcy Fisher, who went to graduate school at the University of Washington, started the site after working for Motorola in Russia.

Her dream is to develop a virtual community that attracts people to a site where positive messages can affect a person as profoundly as footage of the World Trade Center towers crumbling to the ground.

The revenue would come from publishing and selling a book of quotes formed from people's submissions.

She also sees large businesses, like the ones her father headed, paying for a service to spread the word internally about positive things employees are doing within an organization. And there's always advertising, she says.

To date, the company has raised $750,000 from friends and family. Fisher is still hoping to interest angel investors.

"It's going to be much more difficult to get funding from people other than me," George Fisher said from his home in Phoenix.

While recognizing their differences - he as a businessman devoted to corporate performance, and she as an entrepreneur trying to build good - he's dedicated to financing the venture until the point of success or failure.

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