David, it’s a pleasure talking with you. Can you tell us about your background?
I joined Friendster about 3 months ago back in December 2006. Before that, I was with eBay about 4 years, where I ran the large and growing Media and Entertainment business for almost 2 years, and I did both seller marketing and buyer marketing as well. Before eBay, I was with a start up called Blue Wireless, and then 10 years of management consulting.
How were you introduced to Friendster?
I remembered Friendster from the early days back in late 2002 and 2003, and I was reintroduced to it again when, for the first time in Friendster’s history, they were looking to hire a VP of Marketing to grow the business and help take it to the next level. I went through a thorough review of the opportunity and Friendster as a business and, of course, ended up liking what I discovered.
Why did I join Friendster? The assets and positives were simply compelling. Friendster is the pioneer in social networking, has a well-known positive consumer brand, has already won several key patents on social networking technology, achieved a massive and growing global user base (over 40 million registered users and 19+ million monthly unique visitors), and now has a high-performance technology platform that can effectively scale with the business. And, the management team, employees and investors are all top notch.
Who would you define as being the target audience of Friendster these days?
Friendster is very well positioned overall because its sweet spot is a large and very attractive demographic group – adults aged 18 to 45. Internationally, our users tend to be a bit younger, primarily 18 to 35, especially in Southeast Asia.
How do you see Friendster being differentiated from the likes of MySpace?
Friendster is a social network for adults where real people establish genuine, trusted connections and friendships online. They can find lost friends, stay in touch with current friends and make new friends online and offline.
The site is full of a host of features to establish connections, express oneself, share and communicate with friends and others onsite. In fact, we pioneered many of the social networking functionality features that you see on the site today that other sites have tried to adopt. But it’s all about sharing information, sharing photos, blogging, messaging and expressing oneself through their profile online.
What do you think of the social networks that help individuals create their own niche social networks, Ning.com and CollectiveX.com? Is this where Friendster is headed?
Well, the large social networks like Friendster have both the features and the critical mass to make online social networking truly work. It’s our belief – and we’re quite convinced – that people do not define themselves on a single dimension, a single hobby, or a single area of their life.
So as a result, the broader based social networks like Friendster will succeed because you can meet people and stay in touch with friends with whom you share one or several different areas of interest. Social networks like Friendster that are not fixated on a single aspect of one’s life are best positioned to scale.
Success will also require a critical mass of users – with 40 million registered users, Friendster is doing great there, too.
Perhaps there are one to two hundred niche social networks by now. They have a place in this world and provide some unique features to serve specific niches. And no doubt, some will get some level of traction and growth. But, by definition, they’re niche. Only the larger networks that let you define your relationships and friendships, and that help you keep in touch with your social network across a wide variety of dimensions will withstand the test of time.
Friendster completed an advertising deal with Google for advertising. Is this an exclusive advertising deal?The two types of advertising on Friendster that are now exclusively and globally provided by Google are:
- 1) contextual text advertising (text ads that are related to the other information shown on that page to the viewer)
- 2) search advertising - This is where users on Friendster want to conduct a web search off Friendster. Google will power those search results and Friendster participates in a revenue share of any advertising revenue that comes from those searches.
Are there still opportunities for companies to approach you to do more integrated advertising directly with Friendster?
Yes, absolutely. We have a direct sales team that is large and very successful. Our direct sales team works with clients to launch specific advertising campaigns as well as long term arrangements to meet the specific needs of direct advertisers on Friendster. This can involve graphic ads, multimedia, sponsoring certain sections of the site, and many other possibilities as well.
Advertisers are welcome to reach out to Friendster. As one of the 30 largest web properties on the planet, Friendster is a great place to advertise. Those interested in advertising or sponsorships on Friendster should contact our VP of Sales is Aaron Barnes.
In summary, we generate revenues from direct advertising, sponsorships, the Google contextual text ads and search advertising, and additional advertising delivered to Friendster by ad networks and resellers.
In the past Friendster was nearly acquired by Google. Is it still a possibility that Google would have an opportunity to acquire Friendster?
I am not in a position to say if all of those figures are correct, but let me just say one key point. We are focused on growing our very large business into an even larger and profitable business – that’s our first and primary goal in the next couple of years. As we grow the business, I am sure we’ll work with partners to make that happen. Google is an excellent partner that helps us monetize our traffic of 6 billion page views per month and the 19+ million monthly unique visitors to Friendster.com.
What are your goals for 2007 for Friendster?
In general, we want to make it easier than ever to use the site to make connections – find lost friends, stay in touch with current friends and make new friends. And, once you have a friends network, we’ll be making many changes to the site to improve how you can share and communicate with friends and groups of friends via Friendster.
Ultimately, we intend to grow both our US and international user base as fast as possible. So we’ll be rolling out a host of new products, marketing and PR initiatives to achieve that goal. We’ll get into those specifics when the time comes, but I will say keep an eye out in the next few months for some interesting new product enhancements that should help accelerate our growth.