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WinnipegFIRST suspends operations

The office.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Winter file

After months of development, hiring, training and brilliant team execution, I had to do the toughest thing of my business life last night: Lay off the staff of WinnipegFIRST.ca.

I'm sorry to say that we have exhausted our capital and we have to temporarily suspend operations.

While we will attempt to keep the site alive through periodic updates going forward, we will no longer have a staff out gathering news.

I welcome community journalists and contributors to continue seeding content on the site. I still believe we have a meaningful product and a legitimate service to offer to Winnipeggers.

I am also working to secure venture capital so we can relaunch in the fall. If you have enjoyed the site and see the obvious potential or know of someone looking to invest in a cutting-edge web product, send me an email and I will be eager to speak with you about investment opportunities going forward.

Our web developers have agreed to keep the heart beating, and we are thankful for the opportunity to build on our already expansive archive of content.

I also want to thank everyone for working their tails off to make us a must-visit news site in Winnipeg. All of our staff took on an incredible workload and had to quickly learn new methods of news gathering.

Major kudos must go to the few local advertisers who had the vision to invest in our service: Cox Morris Insurance, Elections Manitoba, The Winnipeg Goldeyes, Cam Clark Ford and Johnston Equipment.

Thanks to you, our users, the traffic has grown exponentially, especially over the past three weeks. In fact, the number of visits and page views exceeded projections. This tells me you understand the value of hyper-local, real-time news coverage.

I've been told that we indirectly helped to improve the online offerings from the Winnipeg Free Press, by adding Flash video and audio clips and posting minutes after breaking news events occur. If that is our primary lasting legacy, I'm cool with that.

I ask that you continue to come to our site, sign up to be a comjo, and add content to keep the community alive. The teams at Space Cadet Design and Visual Lizard worked very hard to build this killer app and we all want you to continue to use it and build on it.

While you may not see the 20 to 25 updates per day in the near future, we will be adding content where possible, so check in often.

Thanks again to everyone who supported our efforts. Your belief and passion in the ideals of our company will not be forgotten.

Peace.

John

Comments

J. Hot » May 24th 2007, 15:49

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I am so sorry to hear this John. When we met a few months back and you explained this dream to me I was wow'ed beyond belief. I thought surely you had struck gold. It will happen- good luck in your investor search. Thanks for the education and entertainment.

cherenkov . » May 24th 2007, 15:54

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With a little more time to get the word out, I think it could have taken off. It is a great site. Thanks to the team for the hard work, and best of luck!! Hope you are able to get it going again in the fall.

Cory B » May 24th 2007, 16:03

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I think this model is going to work. I wish you the best of luck in finding the funding needed to substain a longer effort to launch your dream.

Turbo Kelly » May 24th 2007, 16:05

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It's hard to believe that in this day and age, businesses aren't realizing the potential of this kind of advertising opportunity.
I suppose my biased opinion could easily be dismissed by some, but I think that WinnipegFIRST was one of the best things to hit Winnipeg in a VERY long time.

I have been impressed by your staff, and their vision to try something new (not to mention the incredible success at doing so!).
Jesse's photos, even of something completely ordinary, were a big highlight of this site for me. I'm thinking that name is going to become very well known.
Everyone's blog entries, even on topics I didn't think I cared about, kept me engaged in the story they were telling.
The timeline feature, the consistent updates, and the cool, yet very user-friendly site in general has been very refreshing.
Professional reporting, crisp short video shots, and NO GORDON SINCLAIR JR.
People, what more could you have asked for?

Jordan Coates » May 24th 2007, 17:20

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That's terrible news. I think this site was the best of any of the news sites for Winnipeg. I have a feeling that you guys maybe needed a little more advertising. Most people I talk to said they had no idea what the site was. I learned about it at the Polo Park kiosk you had set up. Anywho, hope all goes well in the future and you can get up and running again@

pablo sanchez » May 24th 2007, 23:14

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Geez, that's horrible John. This has quickly become my first source for news and have been extremely impressed by the professionalism of your staff. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know.

megan batchelor » May 25th 2007, 05:01

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I'm so sorry to hear about that. But I think you guys have a much-needed product and I have faith that you'll be back. Best of luck in the future.

j.r. cruz » May 25th 2007, 07:50

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Sorry to hear John,
I hope this site will be back in the future.
See you in the future!

Dave Hennessey » May 25th 2007, 08:18

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Good Luck John - hope things work out.
ps... hope the other members support the businesses that supported winnipegFRIST.ca and your vision.

richard s » May 25th 2007, 09:48

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Not great news...
Just started to use the site during the day.I thought it was a fantastic idea and terrific site.
I have my fingers crossed you will be back
Good luck

Sara Maximus » May 25th 2007, 11:08

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awww... that sucks! i LOVE this website!

Nasty Nate » May 25th 2007, 11:17

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I'm a bit concerned for the staff, investors and advertisers that apparently the business plan only had a 30 to 45 day financial cushion. In today's day and age, a longer cushion is necessary to defray slower than expected start-ups and obtaining target sales figures. (And especially in a conservative slighty business-retarded environs like Winnipeg)

*Most businesses embrace change and innovation like the plague. They're only sold on fly-by-nite promises, discounted rates and the like. Sort of like Winnipeg consumers in a way!

Author » John White » May 25th 2007, 11:33

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Thanks everyone for your kind words. Nate: You're right, we needed a much bigger cushion, but we wanted to make sure we were first to market with a solid product, and we thought we could add investors.

Matt Pearce » May 25th 2007, 16:14

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This is really unfortunate...

Your product is the most solid source online by far. I would try and tell as many people about this site as I could, and most of them were hooked at first glance. I think it just needed more time to get the word out to the people about this great fast paced local news site! Glorious pics and easy to view video clips made this site my FIRST choice when news in our city was breaking!

I look forward to another launch in the fall time. All the best to everyone at WinnipegFirst and have a stellar summer!

arrow one » May 28th 2007, 10:41

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Everyone there did a great job. You got us the story first, and provided pictures and video. Made me wonder what the MSM were doing? Straight reporting, no left or right slant, just the facts.

Good job and I hope you find your funding.

Trouble Maker » May 28th 2007, 20:30

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Hoping you find the investors and charge up the site again. I was getting used to coming here and finding good and very current content. Coupling local news with the higher quality of web images (+video) walks all over newsprint. Its a great site.

I'll check in again from time to time. I have confidence in you guys and think if investors are to be found for such a venture, you do indeed have the product.

Author » John White » May 29th 2007, 20:31

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I've been very busy over the past few days lining up meetings with potential investors. Stay tuned.

Melvin Durai » Jul 17th 2007, 09:16

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Any news, John?

Nasty Nate » Jul 25th 2007, 15:04

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In the news business :NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS:

Chris Clarke of Spacecadet Design » Aug 3rd 2007, 00:20

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Glad to see that people are still checking once in a while. We think that we may have some reasonably good news in the next few weeks. Thanks for thinking of us!

Author » John White » Aug 11th 2007, 19:14

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I wanted to update everyone on my status, my efforts to find venture capital, and the future of Winnipeg First.

Since suspending operations after the provincial election in May, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to attract a third party to fund the relaunch of Winnipeg First, to no avail. Despite a tremendous response from the public and media critics, no one would step forward with cash to help resuscitate our business.

Over the past two months, I worked with my old friends in Corporate Communications at Investors Group in a term position. I was able to make my mark on three projects and I leave - for the second time - grateful for the opportunity to return and contribute to a tremendous communications team and an impressive company. More on that later...

I recall, with mixed emotions, the excitement I felt just before launching Winnipeg First. It contrasts markedly with the all-encompassing emptiness I felt shutting things down. While it's been more than two months since I closed the doors, I am sometimes brought back to that vulnerable, raw state, even now.

Every day I'm reminded - one way or another - of the business failure and I expect that hangover to last for months.

It's a challenge not to feel regret, given how things have transpired. We had an amazing product, a growing user community, respect from the industry and increasing ad sales and interest. But, because of a collection of bad decisions, technical hiccups and assorted delays, we were unable to sustain the pace financially.

If we had failed to deliver a compelling product, I think it would have been easier to walk away. Knowing we had created something magical means it will sting for a lot longer.

It's not all doom and dreariness, though.

I have been appointed Online Coordinator by Interim Publisher Bob Cox at the Winnipeg Free Press. I begin this full-time position Wednesday, and I look forward to the challenge that awaits me over on Mountain Avenue.

In speaking with Bob, I quickly discovered that we have a strikingly similar outlook on the future of newspapers and the web. He recognized that what we were doing at Winnipeg First was cutting-edge and brought something important to the community.

I am thrilled that I can take my vision and move it forward with support from someone who not only 'gets it' but is committed to making the Free Press stable of websites all they can be, and then some.

So, given this development, I must dissolve my association with Winnipeg First. It may actually help my mental state to officially move on...

Chris at Space Cadet and Julian at Visual Lizard have decided to move the site forward. I am transferring the domain over to them and wish them luck and much success. I truly believe this concept can fly, and I ask that you continue to support it as it evolves in their capable hands.

Once again, thank you for your positive thoughts and support of our vision. I will not soon forget those who stepped up and applauded our efforts.

You can bet I will stay in touch...

Peace.

Nasty Nate » Aug 26th 2007, 18:55

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Congratulations on making some tough choices John. Your initial inspiration and dedication to the idea was breath-taking ---- although badly under-funded! There are, to be sure many ideas on the internet that are crappier than 10 day old cucumbers, but proceed due to hard marketing and solid financial footing. Sometimes, good things take time to find their footing. So it may be with WinnipegFirst...I know you'll do a first class job for Cox and his FP group. If Chris or Julian, beginning a new journey in inter-space feel they need some additional marketing or idea support feel free to contact me. (20 years in national radio and ownership of a major direct mail franchise!)

Julian Moffatt of Visual Lizard » Aug 27th 2007, 14:47

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Thanks for the offer Nate. We may just be looking you up as we figure out how we are going to proceed.

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John White

  • 52 years old
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  • User since Mar 2nd 2007, 14:38

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