To those Nanaimo residents who dismiss their city as a boring sleepy hollow, or visitors who can’t seem to find any entertainment except for walking the harbour front and eating Nanaimo bars, thingsnanaimo.com might just be the place to check out. While providing a complete and accurate daily listing of local events, the ultimate mission of the new online service is to present the harbour city as the center point of Central Vancouver Island’s sports and social life.
Cleary Donnely and Will Zouzouras, the two enthusiasts behind the project, promise to promote the town’s endless list of activities and boost community’s cultural awareness. Fuelled by premium coffee and bursting with optimism, they are always ready for an adventure, whether it means exploring the great outdoors or managing an exciting new business.
Still, when asked about previous professional experience, Cleary Donnelly and Will Zouzouras shrug.
“We started [ThingsNanaimo] in February, so let’s say we have six months experience in business,” jokes Donnelly, but they admit to having learned marketing web design and social media skills at an online longboard store where they both worked and where Donnelly is currently the manager.
Friends since grade 9, Zouzouras and Donnelly say they had been toying with the idea of having their own business since finishing high school. The decision to start a web service focusing on local event listings was, Donnelly explained, out of “frustration of not ever knowing what’s going on in this city. There was a lack of resources for people to go to and that’s why we came in.” Seeking something to do, both a business venture and for leisure, they decided to kill two birds with one stone.
Multi-tasking is a mode in which Donnelly and Zouzouras feel comfortable. Aside from the calendar, the website currently features a blog, vlog, and bi-weekly newsletter, all managed by the two, although they plan to eventually transfer the responsibility of the blog to a local writer with a solid blogging experience and a deeper knowledge of Nanaimo’s entertainment scene.
The vlog, on the other hand, is a project Donnely and Zouzouras will continue themselves. While still a work in progress, the idea is to produce a bi-weekly video “heads-up” about past and future events or provide a platform for the authors to speak their mind about important issues.
The experience of building an enterprise from scratch made Donnelly and Zouzouras appreciate other entertainment businesses and the amount of organization that goes behind each event. They were surprised to learn about the number of activities that take place in Nanaimo every day, especially in the summertime.
“When we started [ThingsNanaimo], we figured that each day would have three or four events. We didn’t anticipate there would be a list of up to 30 events on one day,” says Zouzouras, describing the time consuming aspect of their business.
They spend most of their time finding events, collecting information from various resources, and aggregating them in individual content- and media-rich entries. Zouzouras explains an individual event with a description, photo, video- or audio- clip, links, and a map can take up to 20 minutes to post.
“We are devoting ourselves to telling people to go have fun while taking ourselves away from having fun,” Donnelly describes the catch of running an entertainment-focused website
But as the popularity of ThingsNanaimo grows, they hope to rely on a more substantial flow of user submission in the future.
“Ideally, we are the hub for things happening in Nanaimo, and people will submit events through our website,” Donnelly says. He adds that aside from the complete and up-to-date information, the website will accommodate ticket sales.
Donnelly and Zouzouras are also aware of the seasoned and well-established competing websites, such as tourismnanaimo.com and harbourliving.com, but argued that ThingsNanaimo is designed more simply, user friendly, and more involved in the community. Zouzouras says they did not know about HarbourLiving until months after they started designing their website. Neither did their friends nor the people working on the project.
“Obviously, there is a disconnection between harbourliving and the younger population,” he concludes.
One of the most important advantages ThingsNanaimo has over similar websites on Vancouver Island is their active outreach to the community through social media, with their Facebook page counting over 1,100 ‘likes’ from locals.
“We’re awesome, that goes without saying,” they laugh.
Donnelly and Zouzouras see the future of ThingsNanaimo expanding to other cities while maintaining the idea of local understanding. Anyone hosting the site would need to have a deep knowledge of the area and be actively involved in the community.
“We don’t want to become another cookie cutter website that just slaps a different name on and runs itself from a different place. We still want that involvement and personality.”
While they mentioned Victoria as the next possible target, both guys want to stay in their home town. Zouzouras would like to occasionally venture off but always come back. Similarly, Donnelly “wouldn’t mind somewhere with drier winters,” but still likes the comfort of having family here and knowing the area.
Zouzouras sees Nanaimo as “a vibrant, up and coming town on the cusp of something great. It just needs a little push over the edge.”
The only thing they feel missing in the city are late night venues that are not necessarily clubs, pubs, or live music venues.
“There’s a huge gap in downtown between 5 or 6pm when the businesses close and 10 or 11pm when the clubs open,” Donnelly says.
Zouzouras would like Nanaimo to develop a continual street life similar to the one in Vancouver, but “without the hustle and bustle.” A quiet lounge or café bar to meet with friends, have a few drinks, or just hang could, in his view, help keep the street busy at all times.
Donnelly also says the atmosphere of Nanaimo is still struggling with the stigma of the locals’ attitude. “People say there’s nothing going on, or that downtown is dirty…but that’s a thing of the past. There are tons of events going on. You just have to come out and experience it.”
“It’s not just about [the city’s] potential, but the actual great stuff going on, and it’s not utilized enough. I think everyone should be out at all the events, be excited and having fun, but people aren’t,” he says.
“People need to open up their minds and eyes,” Zouzouras says.
“[Nanaimo is] the hub of outdoor activities. There is so much to do if you want to make the effort. There are mountains and trails to hike or bike on; there’s lots to see. There is fishing or sailing on this infinite water right out in the front,” he says. “There’s everything here! I don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to live here.”