Catching the Geni that’s out of the bottle: introducing FamilyLink

On January 16th, an amazing, innovative, well-financed company (especially now, after raising $10 million!) launched a brilliant, web 2.0 based online family tree building tool called Geni..

After getting TechCrunched more than once, Geni caught the fancy of many bloggers and started spreading through word of mouth, but more powerfully, its innately viral application started attracting thousands of users very quickly. (Geni’s Alexa chart doesn’t look great, but Geni’s Quantcast chart looks better. No “addicts”, however, which comprise 38% of Ancestry’s traffic.)

I was both thrilled and disappointed. You see, I want interest in family history to spread all over the world. The family is fundamentally the most important unit in society, and modern societies with the ever weakening family are bring hosts of problems that will never be solved by government, which relies on force to tax people and create policy. The Old Testament ends with two haunting verses: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6).

Getting families to pay more attention to each other is important not only to those who believe in the Old Testament. Phillip Longman, author of “The Empty Cradle” which decries the falling birthrates in industrialized countries from an economic standpoint ends his book with these powerful words: ” If free societies have a future, it will be because they figure out or stumble upon a way to restore the value of children to their parents, and of parents to each other.”

Even the Soviet Union, when its birth rates kept declining, spoke out. Andrei Kirilenko, the ideology chief, said at a Kremlin rally in 1979, “Our common responsibility for the country’s future requires us to strengthen the family, to elevate the prestige of motherhood and to increase the demands made on the parents as to how their children are growing up.” Note how the language implies the power of government (which is always coercive) to get parents to do better. (Cited by Longman)

So I was thrilled by the launch of Geni, the best free online family tree building tool since MyFamily.com/Ancestry.com launched its free online family tree building tool back in 1999, and excited by the new attention that was being given to the family history category by the blogosphere. The first time ever really, since Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com are rather mature web sites and The Generations Network, which owns both of them, is more in its “monetization phase” than in a “build the market” phase. The blogosphere has never gotten all that excited about what Ancestry.com does and since MyFamily.com hasn’t been free since 2001, it has experienced “negative population growth.”

(Speaking of negative population growth, no less a thinker than Peter Drucker said that negative population growth is the single biggest issue facing civilization today. So on my recent trip to Europe it was very interesting to read “The Empty Cradle” completely and to consider the factors there that are leading to fewer children. Italy used to have a million births a year–now it’s 500,000.)

Not that Geni or MyFamily.com or any site that connects families is going to increase the worldwide birth rate. We’ll leave that job to matchmaking sites like eHarmony.com.

The CEO of eHarmony.com spoke at Stanford on Valentine’s Day, and casually pointed out that on any given day, 200 marriages occur where the people met on eHarmony, and that by the end of this year, there will have been 100,000 babies born to couples married because of eHarmony. No wonder he says doing any other job seems trivial compared to this most-satisfying company. Maybe the solution to worldwide negative population growth is to make sure eHarmony rolls out worldwide as quickly and inexpensively as possible!

Okay, so back to Geni. I was disappointed by Geni’s appearance because I had decided late last year to stop running my Provo Labs incubator, and start focusing on just one company, and turn that company into a raging success. I had chosen to focus on World Vital Records, along with the very talented team that is already there, for many reasons, one being that we felt we could be the first genealogy company to launch a social network for family history, and social networks are generally the fastest growth web sites today.

We were planning to do something entirely different than what family history web sites have done before, and we still are. But Geni’s launch has caused us to change our time table for many of our product features.

To be honest, my disappointment has entirely faded. It’s been swallowed up by an overwhelming feeling of excitement about family history sweeping the world, about families actually using technology to connect, rather than to disintegrate. The Geni launch, as well as all the great moves that Ancestry.com is doing (like launching international sites, kicking off its first-ever integrated advertising campaign — worth $10 million — to boost interest in the brand) and the newly formed alliance between werelate.org (see what Dick Eastman said about werelate.org last June) and the Allen County Public Library, the second largest family history library in the country — all of these things add to the level of excitement.

Anyway, the big question is can another family history social network take off? Can anyone catch Geni?

I’m not going to answer that question, because I simply can’t predict it. And it really doesn’t matter. Geni provides a great service to people who want to build their first family tree and to invite family members to collaborate on it. Geni is obviously great at listening to customers (Geni blog, Geni forum) and at responding to their requests quickly.

And of course Ancestry would certainly dispute the need to “catch Geni” in the first place. Ancestry is loudly defending its leadership position in this space. They have made it clear through recent press announcements that the Ancestry family tree software is attracting millions of records, photos, and more. And with revenues of $150 million per year, they have a very good chance to defend their leadership position.

So where does World Vital Records stand? How we can think that we have a chance to compete in this venture-capital driven world of online genealogy?

The key for us is to attract millions of users to our new free social network for family history which we call FamilyLink. We are some days away from our beta launch, and we can hardly wait. Our site will offer unique and valuable help to every serious family history researcher, and it will nicely coexist with all of the TGN web sites as well as Geni.com.

Our team is cautiously optimistic about our initial launch, and wildly enthusiastic about the long-term potential that we have to provide value to family historians worldwide. And we believe that by adding new databases every day to our World Vital Records web site, that our revenue will be able to keep up with our expenses. It won’t be cheap to run FamilyLink. But World Vital Records continues to generate record revenue each month and we are getting ever closer to being a sustainable business.

Thanks to the GEDCOM standard for data exchange, anyone who downloads a family tree from familysearch.org or Ancestry.com or Geni will be able to import their family data into virtually any genealogy software program or upload it to sites that accept gedcom uploads. And based on Geni’s March 15th blog post, any gedcom upload site that gets 100 uploads of family trees with at least 1,000 names in them, will end up with bigger trees than Geni has right now.

Of course, the magic in Geni is not in the size of its trees, but in its virality. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn says he keeps a list of 12 people in the world who truly understand viral marketing (and he is one of the 12.) I wonder if anyone at Geni is on that list. Probably so, given the common PayPal connections. I doubt that anyone from TGN is on his list. But I hope that FamilyLink might convince him to add one more name to this list…and soon.

You can visit FamilyLink today and sign up for the beta. We’ll let you know when it is available. It won’t be long.

My European Awakening

I just returned from 7 days in Europe. Thanks to LinkedIn Answers, I probably saved $1,000 on airfare on this trip by taking the advice of some of my connections who are more experienced last-minute travellers. (I’ve joked that with all this great advice, I could publish an ebook on last minute European travel and probably sell it for $10 on our ebook site.)

Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said in his excellent podcast from Stanford University last month that he hopes LinkedIn Answers becomes the first truly useful Answers service online. He told about asking a question (took him 2 minutes) and getting 26 answers, 18 of which were very helpful.

My experience was similarly helpful. I asked about 200 of my 600 LinkedIn connections how to get a cheap last-minute flight to Europe. I got 37 responses, most of them were very helpful. (One told me jokingly to pretend there was a funeral in the family and get the bereaved family discount. Another said I could be a courier and fly for free.)

From these answers, I learned of about 10 online travel sites that I had previously not used. SideStep.com was the most useful on my trip. (Venere.com, an Italian site, turned out to be the most useful for booking last minute hotels in Paris and London.)

I booked a flight on Air France two days before leaving for Europe, for $980 round trip from LAX to Rome, with a stop in Paris at CDG (Charles De Gaulle) airport. (Air France serves great food, by the way.) After Rome, I fly one-way to London, got a hotel downtown for 69 pounds per night, then on Saturday morning flew round trip to Dublin on British Airways for under US$200. Rather than fly back to Rome, I took the Eurostar train from London to Paris, and arrived in Paris Sunday night. I think it was US$229. My hotel was across the street from the Gare du Nord station and cost only 60 Euros.

So all in all, the travel costs weren’t so bad, considering the last-minute planning. What adds up was the cost of transportation within each city (taxis, metro) and the cost of food, which was surprisingly high.

But the trip itself gave me a sweet taste for world travel. I grew up with a very tiny reality map (see my Connect magazine article titled “Expanding Your Reality Map” in March 2006.) But it has been expanding every year. And especially now.

Reading Russian literature in high school, I dreamed of travelling, and meeting with the kinds of fascinating souls that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky described in 19th century Russia. Their characters had great depth, education, and were master conversationalists. My favorite novel of all time, Brothers Karamazov, explains human nature better than any other book I have ever read. I wanted to be Alyosha.

So in college, I studied International Relations, which soon led to my talking a Russian class and then switching my major to Russian. I loved the language and the culture and the history of Russia. After graduation I went to DC looking for a job. I applied with the NSA and started undergoing their 6-8 month long background check process. But I never ended up interviewing with them. Instead, I started working at Folio, my brother’s search engine company.

For the last 19 years I’ve been in various high tech startups. But I’ve had a latent interest in world history, international affairs, foreign languages, and cultures and religions of the world. That interest has grown lately as my reading list has started including more books about the flat world we live in, and the economic booms in China and India.

But nothing has opened my eyes and piqued my interest in world affairs like my recent trip to Europe. Though my entire trip was business focused, I was able to visit several historic sites in Rome, including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican Museums which includes the famous Sistine Chapel, and in London, and in Dublin I saw the Book of Kells, created by Irish monks in 800 AD, and walked through the library at Trinity College, the largest library in Ireland, with more than 4 million volumes, including 200,000 very old tomes in one great hall. (Wikipedia says that the Jedi library in Star Wars may have been modeled after this great library.) Years ago I read “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Now I must re-read it, after having seen these historic artifacts.

I had some excellent ideas for a mobile application for history travellers, which would be built for worldhistory.com, which is likely to become part of World Vital Records in the future. (History and genealogy are really inseparably connected.)

I couldn’t stop considering that Utah, where I was born and raised, was settled by the Mormon pioneers (including my ancestors and my wife’s) started in 1847–just 160 years ago. While most of the places I visited have recorded history going back at least 10-15 times that far back.

More importantly, on this trip I met many wonderful people. Genealogy is a great subject to start any conversation with, because everyone has some knowledge of where there family came from, and how they fit into the world. My discussions with people from England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, and France were very enlightening, albeit sometimes rather depressing. Life is hard in many countries. Many people aren’t having children because they can’t afford to. They have to live in big cities where costs of living are so high, that they don’t know how they can possibly have a family. And it is important to face the realities of what people around the world actually think of the U.S. More than one European told me that the US was exporting materialism to all the world through its media, and causing people to be disatisfied with anything except a fast-paced materialistic, hedonistic lifestyle. (Coming home to a ton of billboards, radio and TV commercials, and seeing how everything in the US centers around selling stuff, I see their point.) And of course, most people strongly oppose the war in Iraq.

So I get to learn history and meet people. I’m in heaven really. I’m a former humanities major now working in a high-tech business (online world genealogy) that requires me to travel to many different countries of the world. In each country, I must learn its history and politics to determine when governments started keeping records, what kinds of records they kept, and where they are preserved now. I must also understand the religious histories and cultures of each country, since so many records of births, deaths and marriages were created and kept for religious reasons. I get to revitalize my knowledge of Spanish and Russian, and start studying bits and pieces of French, Italian, German, and hopefully Mandarin and Arabic as well. I’m planning to buy a mobile translation device soon, probably a high-end Franklin Publisher dictionary that handles 400,000 phrases and also supports audio. I know I’ll never have time to really learn these things, but a little exposure to them is extremely interesting nonetheless.

Besides my Blackberry, which worked nicely in Europe (I called T-Mobile on the way to the airport last week and they took care of it all in a few minutes), the most useful tools I had were LinkedIn.com, which enabled me to set up some last minute meetings, and Wikipedia, which basically enlightened me about every place I went, and all the things I saw. What a marvelous invention for travellers!

My dream is to travel with a Blackberry 8800 (with its GPS and Google Maps integration) and have a fully-functional mobile version of LinkedIn, and a mobile version of Sidestep so that I can plan trips on the fly (I usually procrastinate trip planning, but then while I’m there I want to make the most of it). I also want a business version of Dodgeball, so that I can find out if anyone that I’m connected to is also in the area. I may need to try out Twitter, since it’s getting so much positive buzz. (In fact, the Financial Times had it on the first page last Friday or Saturday as the next big thing from Silicon Valley–they called it miniblogging.) Perhaps it will be a helpful tool to let people contact me when I’m travelling… this would sort of be a pull approach to getting meetings, rather than a push approach. Finally, I need a database of all the LDS Family History Centers on my Blackberry, as well as a Genealogists Address Book, so that wherever I travel I’m seconds away from finding out where any local repositories or societies are. (Oh, and the Blackberry should support all the functionality of the Franklin device I described above. I don’t want to have to carry multiple devices.)

If I were young and without responsibilities, perhaps I’d take off and travel the world for the next year, visiting nearly every country, and just running World Vital Records from wherever I happen to be. As it stands, I’m currently planning a week a month for a multi-country trip. I guess I’ll see if I have the stamina to pull this off, and if it continues to make business sense to do so.

So…if you happen to be highly involved with genealogical records anywhere in the world, and would like to see if partnership makes sense between you and your organization and World Vital Records, please let me know. I don’t mind last minute trips, since my LinkedIn friends have shown me how to pull them off.

Last chance for Utah entrepreneurs to get $100,000 in funding at Governor’s Summit

Utah is a very friendly state for startup companies. It ranks in the top few states for entrepreneurship. We have a great economic environment, a well educated work force, and a very growth-oriented governor. Plus, we have FundingUniverse.com, headquartered right here in Utah.

FundingUniverse.com and Grow Utah Ventures will select five entrepreneurs to present their business plans on March 22nd at Governor Huntsman’s Economic Summit, in front of a live audience at Grand America Hotel (the finest hotel in Salt Lake City.) The audience will include angel investors from nearly every angel group in Utah. And the winning entrepreneur will receive an investment of up to $100,000 from these angels.

The application deadline is tomorrow, March 6th. Click here to apply.

Even if you aren’t chosen to present at this exclusive event, by submitting your plan to FundingUniverse.com (for free) your plan will be viewable by scores of angel investors in Utah.

FundingUniverse.com operates nationwide, with nearly 750 angel investors and VCs nationwide using the site to find early stage deals. Submit your plan and then call to find out when the next Speedpitching event will be held in your region.

Note: I helped found FundingUniverse.com in early 2005 and Provo Labs is a significant shareholder in the company.

Record Day for World Vital Records

Internet entrepreneurs who study web analytics can find excuses all the time to celebrate small victories and large. Yesterday we had another one.

World Vital Records had its highest page views ever yesterday with 58,398. Our previous high was 43,828. As we add more and more content to our site (and all our new databases are free for 10 days), we will continue to generate buzz (14 mentions in the blogosphere yesterday) and more visitors. Our subscriber count continues to grow as well.

We also had our third highest visitor total ever with more than 3,100 unique visitors. Many of these are not being tracked yet by Quantcast, since we haven’t put their code up yet on all of our international pages. And Alexa usually doesn’t pick up unique visitors from other countries.

We noticed that next to Providence, Rhode Island, that the next city with the highest percentage of visitors was Seattle. Our team is speculating that Microsoft must want to buy us already! :)

We have launched the archive of Everton’s Genealogical Helper, spanning 60 years. And we have posted Everton’s Pedigree and Family Group Sheets database, with more than 150,000 pages. This database is still free for 7 more days.

Our site is still faster than 81% of other web sites, although we used to beat 94% of other web sites.

Maybe we’ve gone overboard on web analytics. We use Omniture Site Catalyst as our internal tracking tool, to manage all our marketing campaigns. But we also use Google Analytics because of the tie-in with Google AdWords (and potentially other services like Google Webmaster Tools). And we use Quantcast pixels so we can have verified audience measurement. I think we also have an Alexa pixel up. (Not sure about that).

Having 4 different analytics programs running simultaneously may seem ridiculous, but each provides us with a different benefit. I’ll have to watch that web site speed, though, because if the customer experience is compromised, we will have to make changes.

We are still a tiny company, with fewer than 10 employees, but we are adding more marketing help and our content pipeline continues to grow.

Knowing what it feels like to get hundreds of thousands of unique daily visitors, our team is super motivated to do it once again. And celebrating victories along the way is the best way I know to keep us all focused on doing it.

New Genealogy Affiliate Program Launches

World Vital Records officially launched its affiliate program this week with the most generous commissions in the genealogy industry.

I believe we are the first genealogy company to offer recurring revenue for affiliates when a subscriber renews their subscription. I know that many genealogy affiliates have wanted this for a long time.

Here are the details from Brad Pace, who manages our new genealogy affiliate program.

Program details:

* Earn a 30% commission on every membership plan
* Send more than 25 members a month and your commissions go up to 40% for every membership plan
* Earn a 10% commission on ALL recurring membership plans for any member you refer!
* 60 day cookie duration
* Commission checks paid very next month after commission is received
* Easily link to any page or search result on our site
* Affiliate API to add functionality to your site (COMING SOON)
* Tons of great articles and content to add to your site (COMING SOON)
* World class affiliate tracking through MyAffiliateProgram

SPECIAL LAUNCH OFFER! Help us launch our program. All affiliate sales in January 2007 will receive 50% commission! So got to http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/affiliates/default.aspx and signup today.

Brad would love to personally speak with you. Please feel free to call him with any questions at 801-653-5977, starting on Tuesday. (He is taking today — January 12th — off and Monday is a holiday.) You can also email him at brad “AT” worldvitalrecords.com.

Do you need something to promote WVR on your site? He will build any custom images and will attempt to get you any content you may need. Just let him know what you need.

There are tens of thousands of genealogy sites that belong to affiliate programs. We hope that many of them will give us a try. We will do our very best to be a great partner for them.

In 1998 when I learned about affiliate marketing and decided to create the first affiliate program in the genealogy industry at Ancestry.com, our affiliate managers recruited affiliates simply by doing searches on popular search engines, finding genealogy sites that came up, and trying to contact the owners. It was a tedious process.

I remember how much the affiliates loved Amy Roberts, our first affiliate manager. She recruited 9 of the top 10 affiliates that we had at Ancestry.com. (I haven’t worked there since February 2002). Many of them were able to quit their full-time jobs and live on the income that they generated from their web site–which, by the way, they all started as a labor of love and not as a way to make money.

Today, you can use a crawler to visit thousands of web sites very easily, and scan the pages looking for code that indicates someone is already an affiliate for another genealogy company. Knowing the domain, you can do an automatic who-is lookup or crawl the site looking for “Contact Us” type info. Then a personal email contact or phone call can let them know about the new opportunity.

It’s so much easier to build a successful affiliate program today than it was 8 years ago. And the most recent statistics I’ve seen are that most successful ecommerce sites generate between 10-20% of their revenue from their affiliate marketing program.

While I was at 10x Marketing, we crawled the top 10,000 web sites in the U.S. and determined if they had ever joined an affiliate network, and if so, whether they belonged to the Be Free, LinkShare, or Commission Junction Network. (Be Free is now part of Commission Junction.)

When we launched affiliate programs for our clients, we could easily contact the largest potential super affiliates for them. We didn’t want to waste our time with high-traffic sites who sold ads or sponsorships and who had not yet embraced affiliate marketing.

Richard Stauffer, who is our lead engineer at World Vital Records, was our engineer at 10x Marketing who wrote all the crawling tools for our affiliate recruiting effort. So we hope that within a few weeks, we’ll have thousands of active genealogy affiliates. They will be valued partners as we try to build an international genealogy company that meets the needs of millions of family historians around the world.

In the MarketingSherpa 2006 ECommerce Benchmark Study Anne Holland reports that there has been a lot of tension over the past two years between merchants and their affiliates. I’ve seen this tension in the industry for years, because for some reason, companies resent paying affiliates for generating revenue (even though they pay only straight commission) because the companies think they could generate those same sales on their own and pay less to do it.

So many companies limit their affiliates ability to use search engine marketing and email marketing. According to MarketingSherpa, many affiliates have migrated out of ecommerce to more lucrative lead generation opportunities in different industries.

I hope our World Vital Records program is the kind of program that affiliates will want to join. As Brad indicated in his email, we will provide creative and content to help our affiliates succeed. We respect our affiliates as full partners in bringing more family history researchers to our content and we are happy to pay them for finding new customers for us.

Goal for 2007 — focus on one thing!

After some wonderful time off with my family, I regretfully went back to work yesterday with one of those feelings of being completely overwhelmed — there are so many hundreds of things on my to-do list and so many dozens of things to blog about. I know I’ll never catch up so I won’t even try.

One of my main New Year’s Resolutions is to not get behind on email. Last year I ended the year with about 1,700 "unread" messages in my inbox. The problem is that I had read many (maybe even most) of them on my Blackberry, but they didn’t show up in gmail as having been read.

It is frustrating to occasionally use my Desktop email only and to see so many unread messages that you know you can’t even make a dent in them. And trying to remember which ones you’ve already read is also frustrating.

So a couple weeks ago I downloaded a bunch of Google software onto my blackberry, so instead of using the Blackberry email interface (which is actually far better than gmail) I am now using the Gmail interface which gives me one huge advantage–all the messages I read on my blackberry show up as read in my inbox. Plus, I can easily archive any messages or star the ones that I need to do something about.

And I archived all of last year’s emails so I’m starting the year fresh. It feels good to be caught up!

Now, if I can just find a way to have fewer people emailing me ….

Does anyone have any ideas? How have you reduced the number of incoming emails and voice mail messages?

I know one CEO of a huge company that has an auto-responder that says, "due to the high volume of email that I receive, don’t expect a reply…" or something to that effect. Another CEO says he doesn’t even try to respond to all his messages.

I would welcome any suggestions.

Okay, so now for today’s topic: Goals for 2007.

Last year on January 3rd I blogged about my 2006 goals. At the time I thought I was being overly ambitious and I admitted that. It turns out that I had way too many goals and not enough bandwidth to achieve them all.

While last year I worked on the Book of Mormon in Russian, this year one of my spiritual goals is to study the Koran and to try to understand the beliefs of Islam, with an estimated 1.4 billion adherents. (See Wikipedia article on Islam.) I have great respect for the Muslims whom I have personally met and I believe that understanding the religious beliefs of others can lead to more respect and peaceful co-existence. In fact, I have been wishing that the leaders of our nation would use the "bully pulpit" to encourage all Americans to learn foreign languages (whether it be Arabic, Mandarin, or Spanish) and to study cultures and countries in a determined effort to gain more respect and admiration for other peoples. I think the "ugly American" image could be overturned if we made a concerted national effort to do so.

2007 will be a very different year for me. I’ve made the big decision to focus on a single company this year.

During 2006 I ran the Provo Labs incubator and seed fund. We invested in nearly a dozen startup companies. Some of the companies are doing well and will continue to prosper. They will only need occasional help from me. Some of the companies are borderline; perhaps a few will not survive at all. But in a portfolio theory, as I have been reassured by other experienced investors, all of this is okay. It really only takes 1 big hit to provide a positive return to our investors.

During the last few months one company has emerged from the pack as the one that I want to spend almost all of my time on during the coming year. It happens to be in a field that I love; we are creating a vision that is big and bold. We have a desire to have a positive impact on millions of people in the coming year.

The company I’m going to focus on this year is World Vital Records, our next generation family history company.

I have told people for years that I would have stayed with MyFamily.com for the rest of my life if that company had stayed true to the vision that we created for it in the early years.

But I left nearly five years ago because I felt the company had no room for my ideas and was no longer favorable towards innovation. It has been painful for me to watch as Web 2.0 has swept the world with its emphasis on user generated content and social networks, and to continually wonder what MyFamily.com could have been. In fact, I blogged in 2005 about what MyFamily.com might have been.

With a reported $150 million in revenue this year, the company formerly called MyFamily.com and now known as The Generations Network, is a formidable and very dominating company in the genealogy industry.

I am favorably impressed with what the company is doing in many respects, including customer service. I often get emails from people who think I’m still involved with the company. The number of complaints has dropped dramatically. I think the company’s policies are kinder and gentler than they used to be. I’m excited about all the data the company is putting online and it’s greater use of PR this past year. I’m looking forward to the upcoming "relaunch" of MyFamily.com. I know the company was advertising on HotJobs for Web 2.0 developers and savvy internet marketers up in Seattle where the MyFamily business unit is located. I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me, to see a new commitment to private web sites for families.

(Note: I am not involved in the company, except as a minor shareholder.)

But our new company, currently called World Vital Records, and soon to be renamed when we launch our flagship genealogy web site, definitely has a place in the world.

We will soon have 5,000 paying subscribers. (We launched our paid service in October.) Our traffic is growing, our Alexa ranking is increasing and our momentum is building. We exceeded our Q4 forecast by 33%.

We have subscribers from all 50 states and 8 countries, and we have already had visitors to our web site from 117 different countries. And this is just the beginning.

Our team is incredible. We have the original search engine developer at Ancestry.com, Richard Stauffer, and the lead data engineeer, John Ivie, who prepped the first 3 billion records that Ancestry.com put on its web site. Our President, David Lifferth, was also a data engineer at MyFamily.com, but he is learning web analytics, marketing, and is an excellent manager. He was part of the team that helped Infobases (my first company) launch its first genealogy CD ROM product back in 1995. So he has a lot of experience in this field. We also have Brad Pace, who was the lead developer of the MyFamily.com web site when it launched back in 1998. In fact, our team probably knows more about the early days of Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com than all the employees at The Generations Network combined, since almost none of the original folks are left there.

We also have a great content acquisition team and advisory board members are helping us license and create databases from all over the world. We’ll have some great announcements in the coming months.

We know we can build tools and provide content that will appeal to millions of people who are interested in their family history. And we can co-exist with The Generations Network and dozens of other companies with important family history web sites. In fact, we will send our members to all other web sites, including Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com, and Rootsweb.com, if that is where the answers exist that they are looking for. Our mission is to help our customers find the answers they are seeking.

This year, since I want to focus on one thing (and all my advisors and mentors have been telling me this for months!) I want to publicly blog about my 2007 goals for World Vital Records.

1. We want to end this year with at least 30,000 paying members.

2. We hope to have 3 million registered users on our soon-to-be-launched flagship web site. It will be much more mainstream than Worldvitalrecords.com.

3. We intend to have search engines built and data available in dozens of countries and several languages. We are working on our Poland genealogy search engine, for example.

It is exciting to focus again on an industry that I love. The people in the genealogy industry are among the best people I have ever met. They are so dedicated and passionate to finding and preserving family stories. They are smart and kind and willing to share.

I truly hope that our team can provide value for millions of family historians. As we talk with family historians every day and learn more about their unmet needs, you will see a continual stream of new content and features on our web sites.

We are small, but we have big dreams for this company.

I’ve been telling people that I’m going to focus on one thing this year, and people who know me are highly skeptical. I’ve been doing so many different things in the past 3 years they don’t think I really can focus.

And they are mostly right. I won’t give 100% to anything, because I am involved in many things. But I think I can give 80% of my time and effort to one thing.

I will continue to lecture weekly at the Provo Labs Academy and bring guests in regularly to provide excellent training to the entrepreneurs who are members there. I will continue to do this because it helps me stay sharp on what’s going on in internet marketing and it also gives me a great opportunity to bring employees from my portfolio companies together for training. I’ve been requiring their attendance at many events. And I love the energy and insights that all the PLA members bring to the meetings.

Yesterday Brock Blake from FundingUniverse.com gave a great lecture about what entrepreneurs need to know about angel investors.

Today I’m lecturing on Search Engine Optimization and the Google Algorithm. With many employees from my own companies attending, I can meet their training needs all at once. And when all our portfolio companies are generating a great deal of traffic from natural search engine traffic and are using web analytics, pay-per-click and email marketing effectively, then this ongoing commitment to internet marketing training will really pay off.

Our Provo Labs Academy members pay $200 to be able to attend up to 4 lectures and networking events per week and to get some access to our office space, library and conference rooms in Provo. Call Pat Sheranian at 801-373-6565 if you are interested in learning more.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year!

I hope that you don’t hold it against me if you are one of the hundreds of people whose emails and voice mails I didn’t return last year. I assure you, those messages are safely in my archive. :)

As you know, I plan to do better this year.

FundingUniverse Speedpitching Events: Raise Money for Your Startup

FundingUniverse.com now has about 1,000 angel investors in virtually every state. The company, which I helped found in early 2005, is holding its 5th speedpitching event today in Sandy, Utah. It has held events in 6 or more states and has plans to continue to expand.

I’ve attended several of these events representing the small fund we have at Provo Labs, as a potential investor.

The coaching and practice sessions have been extremely helpful. Imagine trying to get your entire business plan onto a 1-page summary that will be distributed. And then imagine being forced to tell your story in 4 minutes. That’s what all the entrepreneurs learn how to do.

After the 4 minute pitch, the investors get 3 minutes for Q&A. Then you go to the next table and give your pitch again. You do this 5 times before lunch, and then 5 times after lunch.

The goal is a followup meeting. The staff at FundingUniverse say that the vast majority of companies that have attended these meetings have had follow up meetings with the angel investors who heard their initial pitch.

One of my friends who has done two of these events said the most important advice he has is to memorize your pitch word for word. He and his co-presenters did this but the passion for their business still came through loud and clear.

A week after the February 2006 speedpitching event, he gave the pitch again to a strategic investor and raised $4.1 million. He credited going through the process of boiling down the company’s story into its very essence and memorizing it and giving it so many times for helping him close the deal.

I know 3 entrepreneurs who are presenting today, and I wish them all well.

I’m going to invite the staff from FundingUniverse to do some training for the 30+ companies at Provo Labs Academy, since many of them will one day seek funding from angel investors. Hopefully we’ll get that scheduled in the next week or two.

Utah’s First Blog Search Engine: TagJungle.com

Our friends at TagJungle have launched a working blog search website at TagJungle.com. I like the implementation a lot. Phil Burns blogged last month about the leadup to the launch. It’s nice to see a Web 2.0 company launch in Utah with a very different approach to searching the blogosphere than anyone else. I like the TagJungle Alexa chart, which is showing about 18,000 for today. I’m betting their traffic will increase rapidly and they’ll quickly break into the top few thousand web sites. They have a LONG way to go to catch Technorati, but catching icerocket and feedster may not be so difficult.

MyFamily.com in the spotlight; genealogy industry validated

This isn’t new news–it happened on November 1st. Investors Business Daily published a nice article on MyFamily.com, and revealed that according to CEO Tim Sullivan, 2006 revenues will hit $150 million with an EBIDTA of $28 million. After being under the radar for several years, it’s nice to see MyFamily getting some decent media attention recently. I think the CEO is doing a good job at telling the story.

Here’s another impressive excerpt from the article:

Founded in 1997, MyFamily.com has grown organically and through acquisitions. It cornered the market by acquiring Genealogy.com in 2003 and RootsWeb.com in 2000.

Of the top 10 genealogy Web sites, properties owned by MyFamily had 74% of the audience in September. More than 8.4 million people in the U.S. surfed genealogy Web sites that month, according to comScore Networks.

The genealogy industry is in need of a serious #2 player in the space. While I co-founded Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com with Dan Taggart and our small launched the first site back in June 1996, the original founding team hasn’t been involved at MyFamily.com for many years now.

Several of us have gotten back together to work on an international genealogy company called WorldVitalRecords.com (we may eventually change the name to something else, but it’s a domain that works for now). We have partnered with Everton Publishers in Logan, Small Town Papers, and are in discussions with many other partners.

It is fun to be back in the genealogy business. Like Ancestry.com, World Vital Records publishes new databases to our web site every business day. Our email database is approaching 100,000 names and we are going to be launching some significant user generated content features soon.

It may take some time to become the #2 genealogy site on the web; but we think we have the team that can do it. And we think the industry is large enough so that there is room for us, and many others.

Only 5% of the world population is in the United States; so there will likely be dozens of successful genealogy companies around the world. We certainly hope to be one of them.

Contact me if you are interested in getting involved with WorldVitalRecords. We expect to grow next year and we are interested in genealogical expertise as well as international marketing experience.

(Note: MyFamily.com has asked me to mention when I blog about the company that I am no longer involved in the company, as a director, officer or employee. I am a small stakeholder in the company.)

Part time positions at World Vital Records (genealogy company)

World Vital Records is starting to advertise for a BYU accounting student with bookkeeping experience to do payroll, A/R, A/P, and and prepare our monthly financial statements. This will be part time, perhaps 20 hours per week.

World Vital Records is also looking for BYU students or others with family history experience who are native speakers of any foreign language. Call the office (377-0588) and ask for Yvette if you are interested in learning more.

We will be adding to our call center staff soon, so if you have recently worked at Ancestry.com’s call center but no longer have work there, and if you speak a foreign language very well, please apply. Again, ask for Yvette or David.