Takahashi: Three who had the right idea at the right time
By Dean Takahashi
Article Launched: 01/02/2008 01:54:35 AM PST
This column is about people you hate. They're overnight successes in the Internet business and they make the rest of us look dumb and unlucky. Guy Kawasaki, a veteran of many start-ups and Apple's former evangelist, interviewed them at the recent AlwaysOn Venture Capital Summit for a panel titled "Why Take Venture Capital At All?"
Inside the swanky Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay resort, Kawasaki talked to entrepreneurs who had the right idea at the right time. Their businesses took off and they barely needed funding at all.
Drew Curtis, the founder of the humor Web site Fark.com, said he has managed to get 52 million page views a month from 4 million unique visitors. I enjoy Fark, which basically is news of the weird that makes you laugh. People submit ideas for funny stories, and he and his crew put the best ones on the site. Curtis lives in Kentucky, drinks beer and plays a lot of soccer to counter the effects of the beer.
He got the idea for Fark.com as a "complete accident" back in 1999. "I did it because I was annoying the people I was sending the stories to," he said. By the time it gathered momentum, the bottom had fallen out of the dot-com market so Curtis didn't raise any money.
"Still, it was basically my own personal Web site," he said. "It's almost on auto pilot."
They get about 2,000 stories a day and then sort through them. He notes that every late-night talk
show and comedy show uses stuff from Fark.com but they don't credit it. He reads through them from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., when his soccer game starts. He says he is usually so drunk at night that he signs off early.
"I'm having trouble feeling sorry for you, hanging out in Kentucky," Kawasaki said.
Curtis said that four friends help him do the sorting because they have the same kind of sense of humor that he has. Sometimes he disappears and no one notices.
Markus Frind of Vancouver, British Columbia, runs a free online dating site, Plenty of Fish, out of his apartment. He gets 1.2 billion page views a month from 50 million unique visitors. Frind said he started the company because he needed to learn a new software program dubbed ASP.net.
"I needed to learn so that I could get another job," he said. "I built it in two weeks and it started to get traffic. It never occurred to me to raise money."
He and his girlfriend worked on it and he said, "My girlfriend didn't really want to do anything so I hired an actual employee." Kawasaki asked him, "What is the biggest single check you've ever gotten from Google AdSense?" Frind answered, "$900,000. That was for two months."
Frind said he beats out eHarmony and others thanks to "lots of automation." He said one person goes through the site and "forwards me the police requests." Kawasaki asked how many police requests come in. Frind said about two a week.
The traffic is taking more and more servers. He now has 12 servers in a vault, storing 50 terabytes a month. About 300 million files a day are sent out.
Blake Commagere, co-founder of San Francisco-based Mogad, said he had a "string of unsuccessful companies, none of which you've heard of." But in his last project he created something that is spreading like wildfire on the Facebook social-networking site: the Zombies and Vampires social game. In five months, there have been 20 million users. But there are about 5 million unique visitors who are active and the monthly page views are just shy of 500 million.
"How much?" Kawasaki asked in disbelief. "Half a billion," Commagere replied. That means the players of the game are committed and they're generating hundreds of page views each.
All Commagere was trying to do was annoy and amuse his friends. They were annoyed with him when they found out he disappeared for two weeks to create a dumb game. "It was created as a joke, just to make me laugh," he said. "As it took off, I said, 'Oh god, I have to get resources into this.' "
Commagere said it's a very simple game that is designed to spread from person to person. The reward system gets users hooked so they can get to the next level and see new pictures of zombies. He figured he shouldn't even try to ask for venture capital because he would get laughed out of the room.
"People would probably be terrified if I told them about how off-the-cuff everything was," he said.
Contact Dean Takahashi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5739.