Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Interview with Jeff Tinsley, Reunion.com
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Jeff Tinsley is CEO and Founder of Reunion.com (www.reunion.com), which provides an online service to find and reconnect with people. We spoke with Jeff last week to catch up on the company, and hear about how it's doing. Jeff filled us in on the huge growth the company has been seeing, the impressive revenue numbers, and how the firm's services compete against social networking sites like Facebook and others.
For the readers who aren't familiar with Reunion.com, what does the company do and what is its business?
Jeff Tinsley: It's a pretty simple story. At our core, we're really a people search service, which provides the best people search service on the Internet. We help people track down people they've lost in their lives. The simple fact is everyone loses touch with people as you get older. You naturally lose touch with people that you care about as you move, change jobs, get married, and have other life changing events. We are actually attracting an enormous, older audience of people who use us to track down others they've lost in their lives, and want to pull them back into their lives. We're able to do that for them, by searching all across the web--all the public records and different social networks--and get them back in touch, and keep them connected so you don't lose touch again with them. At the core, we're the best people search service out there. It's a simple idea, we're just unique around the data we pull together, and because we search everywhere. We're also very unique because we help you find people, and also notify when you when we find those people, and when people are looking for you. Plus, we've really got a business here--our audience is fortunately willing, and able, to pay for this very great content and services, and we're doing extremely well as a business.
What's with the growth you are seeing--what's driving that?
Jeff Tinsley: We have more than 40 million registered users, and we're adding 1.6M new registered users a month. That's more than Facebook is even adding in the United States a month. But, we're not getting talked about like Facebook. We've really stumbled onto something big with the people search, and also drawing an older--and more valuable--audience. New registrations are enormous, and the visitation to the site is picking up strong as well. We hit the top 100 for the first time in the Comscore numbers in May, jumping to number 90. And, we jumped to number 78 when the June numbers came out. We think our numbers will be even stronger in July.
I understand that you've got some quite healthy revenues and profits?
Jeff Tinsley: We are doing great. This year, we will generate more than $50M in revenue. Our plans show that we'll soon hit more than $100M, and do so very profitably. At $100M we'll be generating somewhere around $30M plus in profits.
It seems you might have lots of competition from Facebook, other social networking web sites. How has that affected your business?
Jeff Tinsley: The major difference, is our audience is almost inverse of the Facebook audience. If you look at who our users are, 65 percent of them are over 35. That's the complete opposite of Facebook. Using the Quantcast numbers, only 19 percent of Facebook's audience is over 35. We do people search better than anyone else, and because we search everywhere, that gives us a real advantage. Facebook only allows you to search the Facebook audience. While globally they have a large audience, in the U.S. they only have 30-40M people. We are searching half a billion records. Facebook is only searching a closed audience--while we are searching everywhere on the web for people, which is an important difference, and our difference from any social network out there. Because of that, we can provide a better service. Plus, we have an older audience none of the others are attracting. People search services are sort of an on-ramp to the older audience to get them involved in social networking.
It's unusual in that you have both advertising and subscriptions in your business model, can you talk about your strategy there?
Jeff Tinsley: It's ninety percent subscriptions. We love that. You can't just pull that off if you're a Facebook, and reaching a really young audience. Our audience, fortunately, can afford to spend a small amount of dollars, as little as $5 a month, to become part of the service. If you've got the content and services, and with this audience, you have a beautiful business model. It's not reliant on advertising, which happens to be fickle. Advertising in social networks has really been hit by the change in advertising rates, and what they're able to generate from advertising sales. We're not subject to that same kind of shift. It's a beautiful model if you can pull it off. We have nearly a million active, paying subscribers.
Do you get much competition from other people search services on the web?
Jeff Tinsley: They're all very different. Some are directories, others as white pages. They've all got a certain set of data. If you want to look up a phone number or address, you might go to one. If you want a background check, there's sites that do that. The majority of our activity is from consumers looking for friends and family. We're the place that people go for that. We have more than 260 million public records, and search more than half a billion social profiles. A lot of those other guys take very different approaches, usually around a very specific set of data, or a specific model for background information. Ours is more social in nature, you have a profile, and you can search on profiles. We also have other services that go along with our search, whereas something like a white pages you just go and then leave. With our service, you type in all the people you are looking for, and we follow up with them when we find them. We also let you know on an ongoing basis, if someone is looking for you.
Took some venture capital in April of last year, what did that go towards?
Jeff Tinsley: That was really our Series A, it was a big round--probably the biggest Series A in a social network. However, we fortunately had started this awhile ago, and grown it little by little, profitably. We had made a lot of progress, and we raised capital not because we needed it, but because we wanted to accelerate our business. That's gone really well. We used that capital to reach more customers, improve our data, and our products and services. The business is now generating lots of cash.
Having done build companies before, what have you learned on making a company successful?
Jeff Tinsley: I'm an investor in a lot of companies. The thing I see with entrepreneurs, is they don't think about all of the pieces they need to make a business successful. Some just think about how to make a product great. Some just think about how to reach their customer, and other just about how to make money. You need all three pieces to be successful. From day one, we've always been working on how to get more customers into the service, and we've been different because we actually spend money to attract them, and are always investing in the product to make it better. The business fortunately, has worked very, very well. You've got to have all three of those pieces to be successful in business, and we've been focused on all three of those things from day one.