A Chronological View of My Entrepreneurial Endeavors
Infobases, Inc. 1990-1997
Dan Taggart and I co-founded Infobases, Inc. in 1990, with the goal of identifying the most important books in every field of human knowledge and making them available on CD ROM. Using the Folio search engine, we started publishing religious texts on CD ROM, then added historical source documents and branched out into genealogy. By 1995 our revenues had grown to $3.9 million and we made the Inc. 500 list in 1996. Infobases acquired Bookcraft in 1997 and then was acquired by Deseret Management Corporation in 1999. Key investors included Alan Ashton (WordPerfect), Joe Cannon (Geneva Steel) and founders of NuSkin Enterprises. I served as CEO from 1990-1997. Dan Taggart served as President. We flipped a coin early on to choose our titles.
Infobases, Inc. invested in Ancestry, a 13-year old print publishing company, in May 1996 and became its managing shareholder. In January 1997, Infobases acquired the rest of Ancestry from its original founder, John Sittner. In July 1997, Ancestry separated from Infobases. Our goal with Ancestry was to build the largest online genealogy database and subscription service in the world. One of our greatest accomplishments was generating positive cash flow by July 1998 before we raised any outside funding. Imagine that–a profitable dot com! I served as CEO from July ’97 to July ’98, when he hired my brother Curt Allen to run the company and help us raise capital. Later, after launching the MyFamily.com the company raised more than $90 million in venture capital (Curt was the key player in the fund-raising), changed its name to MyFamily.com, and then barely survived the dot com bubble bursting through a miraculous Series E funding and some amazing cost-cutting led by CFO Mike Herring. The company today has more than 800 employees and is the leading genealogy company in the world.
Note: I left MyFamily.com in February 2002 (after it had reached profitability for the 2nd time) to pursue other interests. I am not responsible for the changes in company policies, the price increases, and the dropping of most of the free services and databases that we originated. Please don’t email me with any complaints about the company’s policies.
So a little bit more about MyFamily.com. We launched this free service in December 1998 and quickly became one of the fastest growing community web sites in history, gaining 1 million registered users in its first 140 days. Our goal was to provide a free private website (or family intranet) for every family in the world. Ancestry.com was for discovering family history; MyFamily.com was for sharing with all your relatives. Led by CEO Curt Allen, the company raised more than $90 million in venture capital from investors such as Intel, CMGI, AOL, Kodak, Compaq, Sorenson, Esnet, Vspring and Tango Partners. Today, MyFamily.com owns Ancestry.com, Rootsweb, Genealogy.com and is the leading genealogy company in the world. According to the New York Times (Oct 2002), sales for 2002 were projected at $62 million. 2003 sales were $99 million. After Curt, the CEOs have been Greg Ballard, Dave Moon (acting), Tom Stockham, and Tim Sullivan (September 2005).
I founded 10x Marketing in 2002 to provide full-service internet marketing services to other companies. I had catalogued almost 200 marketing tactics that we had used at Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com to generate traffic to our sites and to convert visitors to customers. At 10x Marketing we built a system to implement many of these tactics for our clients. We grew very quickly to more than 20 employees. Our clients included FranklinCovey, Relative Genetics, Frontline Phonics, One Minute Millionaire, and Power Glide. In early 2003 (I admit I was burning out) we hired Curt Porritt to run the company as CEO, while I stepped down to serve as Chairman. 10x Marketing then focused its services on search engine optimization, pay-per-click marketing, and affiliate marketing. The company was profitable and steadily growing when it was acquired by Vista.com (now Innuity, a publicly traded company) in June 2005.
Dan Taggart and I founded LDSAudio.com to serve a niche market in the mp3 audio market. We wanted to provide audio books and religious recordings for portable, personal use. LDSAudio.com provides biblical and other scriptural texts (a free audio Book of Mormon download) and religious music (more than 5,000 LDS songs) in audio format for iPods and other mp3 players. We raised $1.15 million in funding in October 2004. We changed our name to LDS Media after partnering with Deseret Book. Our company now does electronic text publishing (CD ROM and online), images, audio and (soon) video.
In partnership with Deseret Book, LDS Media operates the largest LDS search engine in the world at LDSMedia.com. The site indexes more than 3,300 searchable full text books as well as images and audio. The company also owns LDSAudio.com, the leading mp3 download site for LDS music, talks and audio books. The company is managed by RoMay Allen.
The mission of FundingUniverse.com is to help entrepreneurs and angel investors find each other. I teamed up with web developer Trent Miskin to launch the original service for Utah (FundingUtah.com) with financial backing from David Bradford, former General Counsel for Novell. Brock Blake joined as CEO in mid-2005 and Grow Utah Ventures and Provo Labs invested in the Series A round in 2006. The company is growing fast and has almost 1,000 registered angel investors and more than 8,000 entrepreneurs. We have web sites in all 50 states and offer our popular speed-pitching events in many locations. Organized angel groups use FundingUniverse technology to attract business plans and rate them.
Provo Labs was formed in December 2005 as an internet business incubator. With funding from a private angel investor, the company helped form or fund several startup companies, including 10Speed Media, World Vital Records, WebEvident, Corporate Alliance, YackPack, LDS Audio, 10x Media, FundingUniverse and Packard Mobile.
The incubator was the most difficult and unsuccessful experience in my 17 year business career. I may someday write an essay or blog post on all the lessons learned from this. Several of the companies have been shut down, and the hopes of the incubator are now resting with just 3 or 4 portfolio companies.
World Vital Records / FamilyLink.com
The most promising company in the Provo Labs incubator brought me back to my roots in genealogy. I became CEO of World Vital Records in January 2007, and am now in the industry I love most, trying to use technology to connect families to their ancestors and to each other.
Our team includes the two original engineers at Ancestry.com, the original designer of MyFamily.com, and other talented individuals.
Our plans include finding a way to put billions of genealogy records online for our subscription services (we have 500,000,000 records as of 10/07) and building FamilyLink.com, a social network for family history, that will connect researchers around the world with each other and with the top sources of content for every location in the world.
Our Facebook app We’re Related (www.relatedonfacebook.com) has attracted more than 53,000 new users in its first five days.