Re: Gather Now Available
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2017 07:17:40 -0700 (PDT)
> On Sep 1, 2017, at 9:36 AM, Tom Smyth <tom [at]> wrote:
> As a reminder, Gather is a web application for managing cohousing
> communities. It has been in use at three Ann Arbor communities since the
> fall of 2015. You can read more about it here <>.

I’m very happy to see Gather and all the information about it. I haven’t looked 
at an actual site yet but I’m impressed with the many features you have 
developed and with your business plan. It’s hard to trust a volunteer effort 
when there is so much technology involved. Having a plan that creates a 
sustainable service is important.

It has also been tested by people we can search out and query.

> If your community would like to give it a try, let me know. I'll just need
> your Google ID (usually a Gmail address) and the name of your community.
> I'll add your community and fill it with sample data so you can see how the
> system works.

I’ve asked Tom if he could set up a sandbox which would make it easier for an 
individual to look at and become familiar with to decide whether to recommend 
it to their community. Asking him to set up a site for a community just to look 
at feels like a big ask.

> I'll also add you to a low-traffic email list so you can receive
> announcements about the software. If you'd like to be on the list but
> you're not ready to try out the software, also let me know.

This is a wonderful idea. Having such a community available can make a service 
a success — as feedback for the developers and for the users to get quick 
responses to questions and learn from the experience of others, not just their 

> For now, the software will be free of charge. Once we move it out of beta,
> there will be a monthly subscription fee. We are thinking this will be a
> sliding scale fee in the neighborhood of $3-7 per household per month.

Using $5 because it is an easier number, that would be $60 a month for a 
community of 12 households. $215 a month for a community of 43. That seems high.

Without looking up the budget figures, I think we pay $50 a month for 
Association Voice, about $25 for CalendarWiz, about $15 a month for our ISP 
which takes care of our domain name registration and email accounts. Our fee 
for Association Voice would normally be more — we have some kind of deal. If 
this software replaced all of that it would be closer to $100 a month. 

Now your software is better and covers more things. If the accounting part is 
robust enough for all community finances, and a community chose to use it, that 
would be a significant service. We pay $16-17,000 a year to a condo management 
company. That is financial management and facilities management. We can’t have 
just the facilities management without the financial management.

Another structure would be to a rate for developing communities. Communities 
need things they don’t know they need. As Steve Jobs said about not doing 
marketing surveys, they don’t know what they need. A good software can help 
them get organized. This suggests a fee for start ups. 

In designing websites for start-up communities, I’ve found that a flat first 
year fee is the best solution. It takes a year for them to decide what they 
really need or want. And to consult with each other. They don’t have the 
pressure of watching the fees rise while they are moving in slow motion.

The payoff for Sassafras is communities that stay because they require little 
support beyond the ongoing, presumably stable behind the scenes technology. 
Customer retention will be the key.

(Why not call it Sassafras? That’s a great name—fits intentional communities. 
Gather is nice but a bit predictable.)

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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