OPW CEO Interview -- May 1, 2005 -- I've been intrigued with Tribe.net for a while now; 'Craigslist meets Friendster.' Marc Pincus started it not long after Jonathan Abrams started Friendster (purportedly friends). But Marc is handing the CEO's baton to former Pepsi and Proctor and Gamble exec Jan Gullett. I interviewed Jan to find out a little more about Tribe and where he plans to take it. - Mark Brooks
Is Tribe.net a dating site? - Dating is a fairly specific activity and we're a general social community. Building relationships is at our core, but dating is only one kind of relationship. We’re much broader in scope and certainly not a dating specialist. We have a local focus and we help get people together. Knowing who people are is really critical to knowing if you want to do business with them. We think people are hungering for relationships with people they can trust and ‘community’ relies on people knowing one another.
You mentioned recently you'd be taking a more proactive approach to marketing, but given that Tribe.net is a social network, why the need, it grows itself? - We’re not as big as other social networks but we have good organic growth, so additional marketing will accelerate our growth. We have attractive fundamental metrics that we want to take advantage of. We’ve had a nice compound annual growth rate for the last year now. It just remains to be seen how fast we can step on the accelerator.
What do you think of Craigslist? - Craigslist is a great service to the community. Tribe.net is quite different in approach, and people are better off for having both of us.
Why did you decide to join Tribe? - Tribe.net is a real benefit to the community, it’s fun, and I believe there’s a great opportunity for growth. We had an individual who had cancer and raised $100k from local people through the site. This just wouldn't have happened if he went out and stood on a street corner. Helping people pull together to help one another is of great interest to me.
Is there any similarity between Tribe and Starbucks? - Besides being equally addictive? The reality is we have incredibly intense usage by our members. The involvement, time and relationship with the site is really very strong. People hunger for relationships and friendships and being a part of a larger social group. There’s a hunger to be in groups of people with similar interests. As we live in more crowded areas, with less public space and fewer places to hangout…it seems like most of hangouts have gone by the wayside and are being replaced by commercial real estate. Starbucks and Borders have become the new local hangouts. In a way, we’re the online version of that.
What's the caffeine? - Personal satisfaction from high-touch human relationships.
What do you think of the background checks legislation? - In the early days people communicated anonymously online. Now there’s the concept of wanting to be known as a real person online, no longer wanting to do stuff surreptitiously. I believe in honesty, and being comfortable being a real person in the online world is important. For young people, the online world is their world. It’s not artificial for them, not a separate playground. It’s where they live and they want to be associated with others as real people. That’s why we’re investing a lot of time and effort in building out the ability of our users to represent themselves on the web.
And what of Yub.com’s ‘affiliate program for everyone’ site model? - Amway made a lot of people successful. I would say there's business promise. But there’s the sanctity of social friendships based on merit and fundamental essence of goodwill. We don’t want to pollute Tribe.net with an external economic motivation. We’re an online hangout…for very good and valid reasons. Gratifying reasons. Rather than capitalize all out, we’d rather benefit everyone from the Tribe.net goodwill.
What have you learned from Tribe.net users? - We measured response rates of listings from people with profiles and those without and the difference is phenomenal. We have actual proof of the value and leverage of having real people, known in the Tribe.net community, list items...they get an order of magnitude greater response rate to their listings. This is at the core of who we are: providing a rich environment where local people can connect with each other ‘Thin’ services run the risk of burnout.
How will Tribe.net make money? - We’ve put a lot of thought into this. We’re a media business...sponsored tribes, listings and display advertising. These are just different types of marketing messages which we intend to monetize.