Becoming a Top 1,000 Web Property

Yesterday we set two traffic records. WorldVitalRecords.com had more than 36,000 unique visitors–6,000 higher than our two previous best days, earlier in April. And We’re Related on Facebook had more than 105,000 daily active users.

One of the best parts about being an internet entrepreneur is how immediately your actions translate into measureable results. Our team members are working hard on search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing campaigns, and improving our affiliate marketing program. As each channel improves, the overall cumulative results are exciting.

When you have team members that have experienced the thrill of extreme growth in the past from how a web site was built or marketed and when they are hungry to experience it again, and know how to do it, then you have a great success formula. When you don’t have a team that has done it before, you have to inspire them by getting them to listen to or read about people who have done it before.

My personal observation is that the vast majority of people that work in most companies have never experienced anything like the rapid real-time success of a massive internet marketing campaign that they personally helped launch, or a melt-down of servers caused by publicity or viral marketing from something they personally helped build. I remember watching a few product and marketing managers in the early days of MyFamily.com go through a personal transformation when they personally designed or launched a feature, or a marketing campaign, that brought in huge numbers. They were never the same again. From that point on, they wanted to do it again and again, and avoid as many meetings and as much bureaucracy and red tape as possible. They wanted to be on a small dedicate team focused on rapid development. They wanted to experience that thrill again.

Most people I have worked with over the years are willing to spend a lot of time in meetings, or in planning, or in writing 20-page MRDs (marketing requirements documents), rather than spending most of their time building a site or actually launching a marketing program. We have a high concentration of experienced and hungry team members at FamilyLink.com, so we are optimistic about the future.

A good description about the difference between a traditional business with its long-term planning cycles and a fast-paced internet company comes from Meg Whitman, who joined eBay after a successful career with Hasbro, Disney and Proctor & Gamble. In the book Net Entrepreneurs Only, on page 179, she describes the radical difference. I blogged about this in 2004

Everyday we use Omniture Site Catalyst to run our online marketing programs. But we are also looking at our public Quantcast numbers every day. Recently we were able to figure out how to place a Quantcast pixel on our Facebook application so that we can get credit publicly for the Facebook users that are using our We’re Related application every day.

Our Quantcast chart for the FamilyLink.com network of sites now looks like we must be on the verge of a server "melt-down" — and we’ve had people ask us about this. But in fact, we’ve had a ton of Facebook traffic for months now, and it is only just now showing up on our public chart. And the good news is that thanks to Amazon EC2, we are scalable as far as the eye can see.

After another two weeks of Quantcast tracking our actual usage across all of our properties, it appears that our network will break into the ranks of the top 1,000 web properties in the U.S.

It takes about 2.1 million unique visitors per month to be a top 1,000 web site or property. We’ll soon be in the company of prweb.com, looksmart.com, and stanford.edu in terms of unique monthly visitors. To break into the top 500 web properties, we’ll have to reach 3.3 million monthly uniques.

I remember going to Fall Internet World in New York City back in 1998 and first running into Media Metrix. At their booth they had a list of the top 500 web sites at that time, and I was thrilled to see Ancestry.com on that list. I remember later, after the successful launch of MyFamily.com with its meteoric viral growth, and after our acquisition of Rootsweb.com, that our network of properties broke into the top 50 in reach, and our reported monthly page views put as at #19 for all US internet properties. Imagine that–a top 20 internet company based on page views!

It is clear from those early days that genealogy sites and tools for connecting families have huge potential. With the right business model, partners, and the right team, a company in this space has tremendous potential. It’s no wonder, to me, that Geni.com reportedly got a $100 million valuation on their Series A round last year. They are still, of course, trying to grow into that valuation, but they are showing steady growth. The family tree and family social networking space is hot. It has huge potential. The big question now is which of the many various companies in this space will execute well enough to survive and to attract enough customers to become viable. Our team is quite confident that we can make it. We have a number of team members who have experienced the thrill of victory before and are hungry to experience it again.

As I said in my previous post, We’re Hiring. If you have been a part of a fast-growing internet company in the past and are interested in joining with us, please contact me and send me your resume. It’s going to be a really fun ride.

We’re Hiring

Great companies don’t start out that way.

Great web sites don’t necessarily seem great at the beginning.

Marissa Mayer laughs about how bad many of the early Google beta products were. (Check out her Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Lecture at Stanford–it is so worthwhile.) In 05 or 06 they started making sure that the true alpha versions of their products were rolled out under the Google Labs logo, so that products that go to beta now are actually pretty decent. But she reminds us that when Google Video launched you couldn’t actually watch any videos on it. Remember…it was snapshots of still screen shots and used closed-captioning transcripts for search. Can you even believe they launched Google Video that way? It’s pretty astonishing. And yet, in the tried and true Google fashion, they threw it out there, quickly iterated, and now they dominate. Ok, they had to buy YouTube for $1.6 billion in order to dominate online video, but getting started in that space surely lead to them learning how difficult it would be and how an acquisition would be necessary.

Guy Kawasaki talks about how perfectionism or the desire to do super high quality work, which we sometimes don’t actually have time for, often prevents us from doing anything at all. He talks about "getting to good enough." Entrepreneurs have to take action: launch a site, pitch a customer, do something. Don’t just plan, and don’t just prepare forever.

Clearly, I have established in my career that I don’t have a problem with getting to good enough. In fact, my threshold for good enough may be way lower than it should be. :)

Case in point: check out the original Ancestry.com web site design. I personally designed this logo with some kind of paint program back in 1996. It cured me forever of any aspirations in graphic design.

Horribly ugly, yes. But good enough to get us into the online genealogy game. None of us (there were about 4-5 of us working on the web site, search engine, and databases back then) obsessed over any details. We just took action and moved ahead. And as soon as we could, we improved the site design, changed the logo, improved the search results pages, and made hundreds of improvements over time.

My level of embarrassment declined steadily.

And that is exactly what is happening at WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilyLink.com.

Our site design isn’t what we want it to be. But it has been functional enough to get us in the genealogy game. On Kory Meyerink’s list of the top 50 genealogy web sites (based on traffic analysis from multiple sources) we are now #10. And the sites ahead of us have either been around for 10+ years or have raised several times as much capital from investors as we have. (Our Series A round in August was $1.2 million plus a bridge loan to our B round.)

Now that we have traction from customers (we’re approaching 30,000 paying subscribers and nearly 3 million installs of our Facebook app) and from investors, our team is growing, and we are getting serious about upgrading all the features and aspects of our web site and our business where we initially had to just get to "good enough."

In some cases our good enough was actually pretty poor. Maybe it was just barely good enough, at least in our judgment, to move forward. But we did move forward, and we like where we are now.

In order to really improve our business, we are working on the following:

  • improve our web site design
  • streamline our buying process
  • upgrade our image viewer
  • get the next billion records from our content partners onto our web site; and continue forming more partnerships
  • automate our royalty reports and accounting processes
  • reaching out to genealogy partners in dozens of countries
  • truly enable genealogists to help one another on familylink.com
  • improve our search algorithms and search templates
  • build our recommendation engine to help every genealogist to know what to do next
  • double our sales and support staff
  • port our We’re Related application to other social networks
  • and dramatically increase our external marketing campaigns

Fortunately we already have a world class data engineer and search engine engineer working on our back end systems, and we use the world’s best web analytics from Omniture to measure and analyze everything happening on our web site. Yesterday I spent my first couple of hours using Omniture Suite, which takes online marketing to a whole new level, connecting our marketing campaigns to the Site Catalyst reporting back end. It is the best upgrade I have ever seen from Omniture.

When you have just a few employees, it is hard to make steady improvements in multiple areas of the company at the same time. You kind of do things serially. But with nearly 20 employees and 10 overseas contractors, we now have the bandwidth to divide and conquer. This way we can identify multiple weak areas at once and attack them in parallel with separate teams. It feels really good when a startup gets to this point.

There are a number of positions that we need to fill so that we can continue making progress in key areas. Unfortunately, one of the areas of weakness for us right now is that we haven’t built or automated a way to post job openings yet on our web site (no, it’s not even content-managed, so that our HR department–wait, we don’t have an HR department–can bypass development and just get the job postings online and syndicated to other job sites.)

So…there is way too much inefficiency and too much manual effort involved in recruiting. I love efficiency, and love to find ways to automate everything possible, especially for things that are going to be ongoing frequent tasks. And I expect that recruiting will be one of the tasks we will be repeating a lot as we grow into a major company in the genealogy and family social networking industry. (Now that is a mouthful–we’ll have to find a more concise way to describe what we do.)

Job Openings — Coming Soon — at FamilyLink.com

  • User Interface Designer (over all of our properties)
  • Full Time Accountant (already filled–starts April 7th)
  • VP Marketing
  • Other marketing positions: affiliate marketing, email marketing, media buyer
  • Inbound and Outbound Sales (we’ve raised our wages to $12 per hour base plus commissions; we are ready to hire several people immediately)
  • Genealogy content experts and licensing managers
  • IT manager

Look for these job openings to be fully described and listed on our web sites soon, as well as in other places. Most of the non-sales positions, I expect, will be filled by people in our personal networks or social networks that come highly recommended from trusted sources.

Whenever possible, we want to hire employees with experience in family history, but absolutely required is a serious passion for building something great, and for being a part of what we hope will become a global company connecting families through technology.

Please let me know if you’d like to join our team.

And remember, you get to spend 10% of your paid time working on your own family history.