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Tickle: From Idea To $100 Mil Company By Clever Marketing
Tickle by emode matchmaking and online dating - Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.
Take care and best of luck. I know this because I would've been very interested in contacting you, whether the feeling would be mutual is undetermined. Take care and best of luck! She saw my profile inactive for well over a year and she decided to send me an email that is calculated to throw me into frenzy, and makes me want shoot a nasty reply back? Cleaver, but not that cleaver. This is a cheap, underhanded attempt to get me to buy a new subscription. I have to give respect to www.
What was the breakdown in ownership between the two of you back then? The reason he had more equity was that he was older and had some more experience.
If someone brings more to the table, sure you can have a different equity split. Both founders just need to feel good about that. We were going to be able to use these personality tests in a viral way to get millions and millions of users, which we did, but also to collect great data, deep data on these users.
One of our biggest quizzes was a dog test. What type of dog are you? Well, we could target the Ford advertising in order to be that personality. Same product, based on personality. Your model eventually went on to include offers that you were giving users and getting a commission every time you converted them into an offers user, advertising, and paid membership. The second revenue stream we thought we would really tap into in a big way was research. The research is nice to have and, maybe, we can bundle that in the bigger advertising packages.
But we realized, where can we make the biggest bang for our buck? And that was in the advertising. The subscription model and the CPA stuff, that came later. The subscription model came really, I guess, two years after we started the company when the Internet evolved.
The Internet really went from advertising based back in when we started the company into, we went into a recession, as you may recall back in , and a lot of the advertising dollars went away. So scrappy startups like us had to figure out, how are we going to get through this recession and bring some advertising dollars in to keep the company going?
We looked around at what was happening out there and saw some companies starting to charge consumers for subscriptions as long as they were adding real value. Whether that was a subscription to the New York Times or, for us, a personality quiz where you could get deeper results for a pretty small cost. Things like that were starting to work. We were one of the earlier companies to use the subscription model online.
First thing you did, was it to rent office space? It was probably May, and between finals we were hopping on our mountain bikes cruising around Cambridge looking for office space. We got some basement unit of a building, which we ended up literally taking all the junk out, all the trash out of there to make an office. We were there for about a year, and then things really took off for us. James and I are both from New Hampshire, so it was a pretty big move to take two New Hampshire guys who were in Boston and kind of in our home element to move 3, miles away.
I want to spend a little more time on that first year from launch to when things took off so well that you could grow and bring in more money. But I understand the first thing that you did was come out with tests like depression tests, anxiety tests, the kind of things that you imagined, tests that were similar to Myers-Briggs test that were firing up your imagination when you were in school.
How did you put those together? What was the reaction? We thought people would want these deep tests that gave them real insights — are you depressed, you have anxiety, really bring in psychology and help to people online. Again, those were really around serious tests, Ph. It turned out nobody was really that interested in taking those. Our idea on these really serious tests is not the way to go. We need to pivot. What do people, like in the Midwest, what do they think about?
Well, they love their pets, dogs, and they love their kids and babies and things like that. We probably had 12 different types. We launched that around January 1st, and we went from one million page views a month to one million page views per day on that one test.
It resonated with people, and people started to share that. You need to take the test. Let me pause the story here, because I have tons of questions already written down that I have to dig in for. First of all, when most people hear one million impressions in the first year or in the first month.
Within the first year. How does a company that had no history suddenly get to a million impressions? Well, a million impressions is not a million users, right? A million impressions over a month, it might have been 10, users, 50, The way we did it though was we did have the viral hooks in place that allowed for sharing. Some of the quizzes we had, like the Myers-Briggs, were more shareable, absolutely. The depression tests and anxiety were not. When we saw something that was more shareable.
That was also part of the impetus to do the dog test up. Everyone can relate to dogs because dogs are all around you all the time, and you grew up with them or your neighbors have them. What kind of hooks did you have in the beginning? What kind of viral hooks did you get right? And we would give you the ability to send that to all your friends via e-mail.
But this is ten years ago when no one had them. People were doing that, and they might put five of them. So, we were only getting so viral. And the pivot that you talked about, it sounds so easy and so quick. You guys are two smart guys who went to Harvard, not to end up creating dog tests but to create something meaningful that changes the world.
You got professors from top universities to be part of this. This is where the market is. Part of our vision was to change the world in a positive way, absolutely.
We wanted to touch millions of people, and we ended up doing that instead of touching thousands of people in a positive way. We needed to pivot and iterate and change the platform that was going to give us the ability to reach millions of people.
Part of that was to create more entertainment focused quizzes to get more people onto the platform. And then while doing that, in parallel, build out some other quizzes that might have more teeth to them.
In the end, we had tests — 70 of them were written by Ph. But that mixture allowed us to attract literally million people. We had million people that took our quizzes. So, that was our thinking. Time and time again, you hear this from entrepreneurs.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be flexible. How was advertising going in the beginning? We were using a company called Flycast, which old school people remember that one.
So, it just went away. So, the advertising market went away for about a year and a half. And that was about the time when we were hiring ad sales because we started to have a lot of page views. Once you got a lot of page views, then you can start to build on ad sales force. Why not continue to grow the business and channel the revenues back into growth instead of going out and raising money? That makes more sense. I think the question is still a good one.
At that point, we were just kind of coming out, and we had decent traffic but not enough to support a full team. If you were going to grow this company for the long term, you had to look for outside funding, because at that point we had exhausted most of the angel money.
You spent it on what in the first year? It was almost exclusively people. James and I ran the company pretty lean and mean. Our office space, like I said, was cheap basement office space, and it was really about the people, the computers and the chairs.
Those are the three things that you want to spend money on. We were kind of a poster child back then for viral marketing. We put the right viral hooks in place, like the e-mail address importer. It was all viral. Again, you, and I think you mentioned this a moment ago, neither one of the two co-founders here were developers yourselves. James was a VC, and I had a finance background.
You have to have that person that you trust at the high level. All of our engineers came out of MIT. Harvard and MIT are right next to each other there in Cambridge. Our first office was actually next to the MIT campus. So, we had a couple guys that came out of MIT, and one of them became our Chief Architect, who is still a very good friend of mine today. He came over from Cambridge to the transition over to San Francisco, and we had a couple of guys who became kind of an engineer soul mate.
So, you need to find that person. When I started this company, my current one, that was one of the first hires I made was make sure I find that guy, that technologist that I really trust. So, you guys moved to San Francisco. The two things at that point were secure an office space and grow in the team. We got office space in San Francisco. We got that one checked off. And then it was about growing the team with the right people and building the right culture.
James and I are big, big believers in culture. I personally hire for four different characteristics of people — people who are smart, people who have integrity, people who are fun, and people who are entrepreneurial.
Tickle had that mentality, and it was something that helped us attract great employees because employees want to work with people like that I think. And it also helped us retain employees. That was our initial focus early on is to build that core team out with those values. You talked about the address importer. Where did that idea come from, and what did it look like at first? Where did it come from, and what did it look like at first? Again, it came from just having a. I remember these open text boxes that we had where you could share your results.
We were realizing a lot of people were maxing out. I think we started at five. And then after that, it just looked like a big blank page.
It was more like you probably had about to So, it was easier to scroll through a list that you could just check off. You check it off, and then we put it right into that box and it was super slick.
So, that was the thinking. This is working already. How do we make this go 10X faster? He probably came up with that idea with us, thinking about how do we grow the site quicker because people are maxing out on how many they can already send. Did you have any of those? That part I get. I saw your smile when I brought it up.
I think it was innovative. I feel like we were innovators, pioneers in viral marketing by coming up with something like that. We never wanted to be spammers, and we want people to be able to share great content. What about the writing of the e-mail that people got? If you send out a different kind of e-mail, maybe addressed from the person who took the quiz, maybe with a friendly subject line, you get a bigger response.
What kind of experiments did you guys do on that? We did a lot of testing there, and that stuff matters — the colors, the word choices, the calls to action. It was kind of the early stages of that. We were constantly testing and watching those metrics. A lot of it was just Excel driven. Our Product Manager would be following what are people clicking on and that copy worked better than this copy, and okay, that one worked better, stick with that one. I remember hearing about one kind of e-mail, not from your company but from another that really worked out well, insanely clever.
How about signing up for that? It feels a little disingenuous to me. Click here to see it. And the click rate was super high. The conversion rate was super high because it was real content from your friend. When did you guys discover advertising? I remember Tickle ads blanketing the Internet. We actually at one point were one of the biggest Internet advertisers.
Okay, so we launched our IQ test in December of With that, we realized we had something pretty quickly. Fortunately, the main advantage of online dating is that it gives each user control over who they contact and with whom they subsequently communicate.
It might take more work than relying on the site's matching system, but browsing through profiles yourself may ultimately be the best way to find the right person. Specific facts and figures for online dating are hard to come by. For obvious reasons, each individual site tends to inflate membership numbers and success rates in its promotional materials.
There are close to million single adults in the United States alone. Of those, 40 million use online dating services [ ref ]. On the other hand, there are those who think the online dating industry may have reached its saturation point. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, consumer spending on these sites declined slightly in the fourth quarter of , indicating that growth for online dating sites may be stagnant.
While some of the numbers may be fuzzy, one thing is certain —- the use of online dating services continues in huge numbers.
- Saturday, January 14, 2006
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