How to Have an Overnight Internet Success

My brother Curt, founder of Folio Corp, former CEO of MyFamily.com, and
current CEO of Agilix, a venture-backed company, is fond of saying
telling how his company was going to be an overnight success…after 10
years of hard work.

I believe that the single most important key to success in an online
venture is doing the little things day after day for years and years
until you magically reach the tipping point and everyone seems to have
heard of you. In other words, persistence is required for most
successful ventures.

The reason that I love daily metrics — keeping track of all the key
operating statistics in your company day after day — is that daily
metrics tell me if we are persisting in something that is hopeless, or
if we are persisting in something that is bound to reach the tipping
point and bring us the success that we hope for.

For example, when we launched Ancestry.com’s subscription service in
April 1997, we started getting 50 new subscribers per day. It took a
few months before we got to cash flow positive, and a few months to
convince investors that we could really pull this off, but Dan Taggart
(co-founder) and I knew that with 50 subs per day Ancestry.com was
going to be a huge success.

What were the daily things that we had to persist in before we reached
the tipping point and became the largest genealogy company in the world?

The most important thing we did was add at least one new genealogy
database every business day beginning in April 1997. We started with 55
premium databases. Now, eight years later, the company has thousands of
databases and probably more than 3 billion records.

The next most important thing was internet marketing. Every day we
collected email addresses from registered users, asking them if they
wanted to be notified of our new databases every day or every week. In
1998 and 1999 we did search engine marketing, buying keywords, building
banner ads, and measuring every day which ads brought us the most
visitors. We also launched our most important marketing channel of all
time–our affiliate marketing program–and we started recruiting new
affiliates every day.

By persisting day after day with the blocking and tackling of content
publishing and internet marketing, we built a great company. Today
MyFamily.com (the parent of Ancestry.com) operates as a very profitable
pre-IPO internet company–the largest genealogy company in the
world–with more than 1,000 employees.

There are so many success stories on the internet, so many companies
making millions; and in almost every case, if you dig deep enough,
you’ll find a small team of web developers and marketers and other key
employees in the company, who day after day, and year after year, have
been working hard, focusing on the little things that make a huge
different over time.

Today I’m watching several companies in our portfolio who are months or
years away from reaching the tipping point, and I’m trying to make sure
that the management are tracking the key metrics and that the employees
are focusing hard on doing the little things day after day after day
which over time will turn their company into a big success.

FundingUniverse.com is one
of those. Every day we are recruiting new investors to join our 50
state web sites, and every day we are getting dozens of entrepreneurs
to sign up, many of whom post their business plans online.

Just 30 days ago, I observed that we had 17 states that had at least
one registered angel investor and at least one posted business plan. Today we have reached this level in 28 states. 30 days ago we had only 4 states where we had at least 4 angel investors and 4 business plans. Now we have 7.

It doesn’t take a great deal of faith to project forward and say, if we
continue at this pace (not even accounting for the J-curve that happens
as sites get momentum and as word-of-mouth and PR coverage kicks in)
then we will have about 1,000 angel investors and about 8-9,000
entrepreneurs all across the country who are looking for funding.

The best question for us is not will we have enough traffic, it is,
what is the best way to monetize this traffic, in other words, what is
the best business model to pursue.

Currently, the service is free for investors and entrepreneurs. We sell
sponsorships to attorneys, accountants, office leasing companies and
insurance providers — people who provide services to entrepreneurs and
investors — in every state.

We can project a few million in revenue from this business model. But
perhaps there are other revenue streams (we are currently brainstorming
many) that we could create by selling products or services directly to
our users — premium services, for example.

But my point of this blog post is not to highlight FundingUniverse.com.
It’s the principle that success comes by doing small things over a long
period of time.

My point is this: use metrics, project forward, and if the thing is
promising, knuckle-down and focus on daily execution of the little
things that will turn your online company into a great success.

Don’t give up too soon. You could be walking away from a fortune.

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7 Comments

  1. Brock Blake

    Paul,

    Thanks for the comments…it’s good to see you back!

    You speak of wisdom that most entrepreneurs (including myself) do not yet understand. Most hope for a quick-hit success so that they can cash in or sell their company. It is important to be reminded that the road to success (and happiness for that matter) is often paved with small footsteps.

  2. Speaking of hard work and persistence … I just found a quote from Dell CEO Kevin Rollins about the same subject. He says Dell’s primary advantage over its competitors is YEARS of execution and attention to detail. The full quote is at jeffreybjordan.blogspot.com. There’s another great blog article about the subject of persistence at http://calacanis.weblogsinc.com/entry/1234000053039351/. (Nice to see you make a contribution, Brock! When’s the Brock Blake blog making it’s premier?)

  3. JW

    I was wondering what metrics you look at specifically? Are there ones specific to market channels or are there general metrics which are important for most online ventures?

    JW

  4. Embrace Failure to Success » Continuous Learning

    […] Success in the real world only happens after failures and after you learn from those failures. Overnight successes are often preceded by years of no fame and little awareness, not to mention failures after failures. Each failure afford us something valuable to learn, more so than success. This might sound funny and weird, but instead of avoiding failures, we should welcome and embrace them. If you avoid failures, you might just have avoided success. […]

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