Thank You, YMX

Yesterday, we we went public with a decision to end Youth Ministry Exchange after about 5 years.

For the last couple of years it has been trickling and trickling… and so we figured, “Why not just have a celebration of life and let it pass now instead of letting it go from 200 members per day, to 100, to 20 (where it’s at now) to 10, to 5?”

I’m thankful for YMX and the hundreds of core people who made it a vibrant community. 200,000+ posts— yowsers! While there were a couple thousand members– there were 100-200 regulars who made it not just a forum, but a forum community.

Five years ago, about this time of year, I started to get an inkling of an idea that I wanted to create a new home for the defunct YS forums. There was a core group of about 20 youth workers who did an AOL group chat just about every night. And when YS closed their forums about 5 other forum sites popped up as substitutes… but none of them were run very well.

I talked to Kristen about it and she was kind of meh about the concept. “You don’t really know much about that kind of thing. And you really don’t know much about running an internet company.” Both were completely true but I took that as a blessing! Then, a few weeks later, I brought up the idea with Todd Porter after he visited our church. He got really excited– which added energy to the idea.

So, mid-November 2005, I put together a private chat with 5 people I thought were strategically the right ones to talk about this idea. That discussion generated even more energy. And in early December 2005, we were open for business.

I spent $72 to start the company. And the first 24 hours we made over $250. It was awesome!

As time went on, the company went about 1,000 directions as I tried various initiatives. Business plan? Um, I didn’t have one! How could I? I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with it.

From 2005 to 2008 we continued to grow… this was really the peak for YMX. We published a lot of user-generated content, we pushed out a regular newsletter, we had a podcast, the forums were vibrant, and some of our satellite sites were doing pretty well.

In truth, I had no idea what was next. I was learning a lot about business along the way but I wasn’t sure I knew how to navigate YMX past a new hurdle. Subscriptions were declining, interest in the web content was skyrocketing, and the site was struggling to pay the bills.

Thankfully, in June 2008, Youth Specialties stepped in and ended all the angst. They bought most of the web properties and hired me to come help them figure out how to bring some of the flavor of YMX to YS.

About the same time Facebook took off. Then Twitter took off. And forum communities hardly seemed to be the wave of the future that they once were. We infused some serious marketing efforts into YMX as part of YS. But it was obvious that masses of youth workers were going to flock to Facebook and Twitter while the decrease of interest in YMX continued to decline.

Certainly, there are those who think that the forums could have prevailed if I had focused more attention on them. I don’t value my presence there quite that much. I only had 4,000 of the 200,000 posts. Hardcore forumites know full well that in the last year or so I’ve largely turned the reigns over to Patti Gibbons and the rest of the moderator team. It just wasn’t humanly possible to do the work I needed to do at YS while maintaining things day-to-day at YMX. I heard the grumbles but couldn’t really do much about it. I think if those people saw the world from my vantage point they would have invested energy in the same places I did.

It was a two-way street… I was doing the best I could in my new role. And the moderator team did a great job ministering to the forums.

So, long-story short, we went public with the decision yesterday. It was a bit more sad than I expected. It truly felt like the end of an era.

It was a good era and one I’ll be fond of forever.





7 responses to “Thank You, YMX”

  1. Tim Schmoyer Avatar

    You’re welcome for moving YS into Facebook even before you did! 😛 And I’m sure glad that phone call we had about, “Hey, can you give me the YS facebook group and page?” wasn’t a hoax of you trying to pull a fast one for some other ym company. lol

  2. Blake Avatar

    I really enjoyed the old YS forums. I was sad to see them go. But then again was quite thankful for you and your hard work you put into making YMX a great alternative.

    Do you think it was the “fault” of social networking that pulled so many people away from the YMX forums? Do you think the same is true for *most* other forums and such?

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      In the end, I think Facebook/Twitter created the ability for youth workers to find each other easier… in some ways it was the dagger for YMX. In fairness to the brand… if YS hadn’t bought it and I didn’t sell it to someone else (which is where I was at in 2008) than we were going to have to build on the brand in the user-generated content area to find growth. Forums weren’t going to keep growing and the ad revenue on the site was starting to decline when the whole banner ad market went bust in 2007. We were talking about doing small scale, high profit, events. We were talking about getting into publishing. We were talking about building some consultancy stuff, etc. Patti and I “could” have really invested some time/energy into making YMX a legit small player in the youth ministry space. (Much like some of the others have done.)

      But, overall, I think forum communities have struggled. With things like Facebook/Twitter and even the easy ability to create a social media site through things like Ning… it’s going to be harder and harder to capture the mass appeal you need to make the engine go vroom.

      Anyway… yeah, I think it’s hard for a pure forum community to garner the size it would need to create enough revenue to make it financially independent. It can be done, I just don’t have the time to do it myself.

  3. Jeff Avatar

    Facebook isn’t the same. I think forums will see a return to greatness. Forums are focused. Facebook is soooo huge. The groups idea isn’t the same. The organization and focus areas that a forum can have – just isn’t available.

  4. Matthew McNutt Avatar

    I think your take on the changing nature of online interaction is right on. I’m sad to see YMX go, but at the same time, I love the impact it had on YS, the need it filled five years ago, and the opportunity it created for so many aspiring youth worker authors to get their material out there!

  5. oldschool Avatar

    I won’t miss the forums. I paid for a premium service and it was a joke.

  6. […] Youth Ministry Exchange (YMX) was my first real start-up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thankful that the Cartel isn’ my first start-up. I know why so many fail. You get caught up in having too much business plan. You get caught up in all the legal paperwork and associated crapola. And you have to get an MBA the hard way as you fail forward. […]

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