OPW INTERVIEW -- June 16, 2006 -- WAYN.com is unique as a social network. They are successful and are making money with a paid VIP membership. Here’s my recent interview with WAYN.com Director/co-founder Peter Ward. - Mark Brooks
How is WAYN different from other social networks?
WAYN has always been aimed at trying to differentiate itself from its competitors. We are based on locations, travel and people's whereabouts. Second, we are a premium social networking website service. We offer a premium paid membership; 7 pounds 50 a month through 60 pounds a year for the VIP membership offering. Whether a user chooses to upgrade or not there is still a justifiable reason for using the service, which means we get the best of both worlds where we can trade a lot of traffic.
How did you start WAYN?
WAYN was the vision of my colleague and good friend Jerome Touze, who came up with the initial idea when he was traveling on the Pacific Highway on the West Coast of the U.S. with some friends. He just had a brain wave. Given that you meet so many fantastic people on your travels, wouldn't it be great to have a website where you can see where all your friends are at any given time. Jerome mulled over the idea and when he came back to the U.K., after we both had our year out to travel, he finally upped and told me about the initial idea. Of course, I'd just been vacationing around the world for one year, so I immediately related to that and suggested that we meet up over a beer to discuss it in more detail. We met up in Poland and in Marseille to brainstorm and brought it to one of my good friends, Mike Lines, who at the time, was the Systems Manager for Friends Reunited. We obviously needed somebody to build the website. We developed the proposition to a point where we could pitch it to Stephen Pankhurst, founder of Friends Reunited. He immediately fell in love with the idea and agreed to give us initial investment capital. We incorporated in September 2002 and went live in May, 2003. We then spent the next year and a half or so tweaking, testing, customizing, and improving the overall customer experience.
WAYN has a paid membership level. What was the thinking behind this?
On the basis of advice received from Steve, we decided to implement a paying membership service offering. He felt that this was something that was crucial in order to ensure that we have a profitable and viable business model. We tailored the service around how we could differentiate ourselves from our competitors by setting up a premium service. It wasn't until March 2005 that we really hit the point of critical mass. In March 2005, we had 45,000 registered. Now we have almost 5 million members. We grew by over 400,000 last month alone.
How did the site grow so quickly?
First of all, the idea was to set up the service which allows you to keep track of your friends from around the world based on where you've been, where you are now and where you're going. We realized that the real value was to combine that with the ability to make new friends. Different people from different places. And, of course, if you plan a trip in the future wouldn't it be great to see who else is going to be in the same place as you. Say, if you're going to San Francisco in two months time, you could actually make some friends who are also from say London and hang out with them while you're there.
Does advertising work for growing social networks?
I think actually that it probably does if you have a good visibility over your customer acquisition costs. There is also an argument that says it can work in terms of developing a brand. One of the most important things in business is to create a trusting and well recognized brand and advertising can help play a part in that.
How is the membership program working out?
The membership program is working well for us. We are seeing membership numbers rise and we see a huge opportunity to increase that number over time by providing more payment mechanisms as well as more services which can be added on top of the existing membership platform.
Users can SMS each other through WAYN. How is the SMS option working out?
SMS as you know has been very popular in Europe and is a very well understood method of interacting. But interestingly, in the last few months we've seen an increase in the U.S. I think there's a lot of interesting talk about mobile content, a lot of investment, and a lot of hype. I think clearly the future is there. We're seeing a lot of the new handheld devices coming out, which are going to support access to the Internet. The key is to provide customers with a service that's useful and relevant. SMS has a lot more opportunity to grow before we even reach for web enabled or download-able outlets.
What's the future of social networking?
I think the social networking space is at a point of critical mass already. There are so many providers trying to take a piece of the action. Some of the traditional ways that social networks have grown to popularity are becoming diminished in value. Everyone has received an invitation from their friend inviting them to join one site or another. People are quite familiar with the services that are out there today and are trying to just understand what the best type of service for them is. The next wave of social networks will be very focused networks on target audiences, whether it'd be farmers or people who are interested in flying planes.
What are your plans for 2006 through 2007?
As you know in the Web 2.0 world things move at the speed of light and we're always trying to keep ahead of the game. One of the things that we're looking into is how we can set up a closed social network, which is secure, for the teenage market. The service will be only for those between the ages of 13 and 19, will be by invitation only and only existing contacts will be able to contact each other by default. So watch out for that one. Also, we're developing more advanced tagging for photos and we will provide our members with the ability to show streaming video, and to customize their profiles, with a focus on travel and lifestyle. We're doing a number of other things to strengthen our brand position in the travel and lifestyle sector and are looking to partner with some of the leading players in that space. We want to be the number one online membership community for those interested in travel and lifestyle. Social networking is a very exciting industry to be involved in and we couldn't have been in it at a better time. Good luck to all the people who are trying to be winners in this space.