Posted by: goalpath | October 26, 2009

The Real Secrets to Building a Billion Dollar Web Property – Secret Number One

I am sure you have heard it all before. Get yourself a domain name and set up a web site. With the right concept, you will become rich beyond your wildest expectations. You will be jetting around the world and everyone will want face time with you. If you believe that, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you.

You know as well as I do, that it doesn’t really work that way. What I do know is that most successful web entrepreneurs built their sites based on one value proposition and before their very eyes their site morphs once, twice or three times before really gaining traction and beginning to grow virally. So where are you? Plan A, Plan B, or Plan Z? Your concept is important, but if you don’t build a platform that engages your audience, you will never achieve the level of success you expect.

Take Myspace, for example. When Chris DeWolfe bought the domain name in 2002, he initially expected the domain to become a data storage and file sharing site. The founders of Myspace, Chris DeWolfe, Brad Greenspan, Josh Berman and Tom Anderson met at eUniverse where they worked and were all members of Friendster, one of the earliest social networks. When they left eUniverse, the guys decided to strike out on their own and create their own social network similar to Friendster.

To make their social network different, they made a couple of significant changes. They designed the site to allow users to customize their profile pages and they encouraged anonymity by letting their members use any identity they wanted to use. The early version of Myspace initially targeted an 18-35 demographic and emphasized content revolving around indy rock and alternative music. Their connection to music and musicians helped fuel the early growth of the site and is still a primary driver of their traffic today.

By giving users the ability to customize their web pages within the site and upload their own photos, videos and music, Myspace morphed into a more general social networking site. Myspace’s reach began to extend to folks of all ages who wanted to set up their pages any way they wanted. As the site grew virally, their value proposition morphed into something totally different from their original concept of appealing to musicians and music lovers, and the rest as they say, is history. Bottom line, they built a platform that not only engaged their users, but kept them coming back again and again to update their profile pages and see what their friends were posting on their pages.

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, it was originally called Facemash, and his idea was to allow fellow students at Harvard to rank female coeds based on their physical attractiveness. Being a geek, Mr. Zuckerberg was trying to find the hottest coeds on campus and maybe even get a date with one of them. After toying with the original site for a time, Zuckerberg and his roommates determined that they could expand their little network if they changed their site into a campus directory for Harvard.

After recruiting thousands of students at Harvard and validating their new concept, his team then opened Facebook up to other campuses and the site began experiencing exponential growth. The design of the site was such that without purposely intending to do so, it became a social network for everyone, not just college students. The site differed from Myspace in that the users used their real identities and the site was open to application developers that developed apps that the users could use to mess with their friends. It also minimized the banner ads that overwhelm Myspace’s pages. And another accidental internet empire was off and running. Bottom line: build a site that your initial users embrace and they will come.

Neither of these two sites became successful based on the founders’ original target market, value proposition and vision. And they are two of the most successful web sites in the history of the internet. So lesson Number One is: If your site design does not truly engage your users day after day, month after month, and year after year, then regardless of how brilliant your original vision or concept might be, you’ve got nothing.

It is important to understand that you can’t build a successful site based on content alone. Unless you have a very large global staff of extremely talented editors, journalists, copywriters and reporters, your content will not keep your visitors engaged. The best way to keep them engaged is by ensuring that they are the ones generating the content and interacting with the content generated by the others on your site.

By the way, Facebook is overtaking Myspace in unique visitors and members world wide. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp bought Myspace in 2005 for $580M. Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson initially stayed on to manage and guide Myspace. However since April of this year they have, for all intents and purposes, given up their active participation in the day to day operations and management of Myspace. Mark Zuckerberg is still the guiding visionary at Facebook and the company remains private. He relocated the company to Silicon Valley and has hired a number of highly qualified executives to manage the day to day operations of Facebook.

When I told my wife I was writing this blog, she asked me why I haven’t created a billion dollar web site…if I knew all the secrets. My response was that we are in the process of enhancing our web opinion portal,, currently and will launch the new site design before the end of the year. And within a year or less, we should be able to put a down payment on my new Ferrari and arrange financing on that Chateau on Lake Como near Milan. Okay, maybe a new corvette and a house on Lake Travis. We wouldn’t want to fritter away our entire fortune the first year would we?

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you have a different idea about the secrets to building a successful web property? We want to hear about it. Post your comments and tell us what you really think. Stay tuned and next week, I will reveal secret number two in this series.


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