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FROM PETS TO UFOs: TWENTYSOMETHINGS SOUND OFF

If you hit a Web community where they use Gen-Y argot--writing ''kewl'' for cool, for instance--you've found Tripod. The site is a hit with twentysomethings, thanks to its hip attitude and snappy content. The magic formula, says CEO William S. ''Bo'' Peabody: Members contribute their own material about everything from career dilemmas to safe sex. ''We give people information and let them talk to each other about it,'' he says.

And talk they do. Tripod has lured some 270,000 people--who sign up free, helping it rank among tracking service PC Meter's 30 most popular Web sites in 1996. In March alone, 50,000 more joined. Tripod (www.tripod.com) offers editorial content grouped into fields such as politics, health, and money. Best of all, members can construct their own Web pages and get help finding jobs with an online resume builder.

The key to luring repeat visits, though, is interaction, the cornerstone of Net communities. Dozens of conference areas, with such names as Work Smart and Media Savvy, and live chats on topics from pets to UFOs, let members pose questions and sound off. Then they come back to see how other people responded. ''People leave a piece of themselves behind, and that gives them a reason to return,'' Peabody says. It also means they stay connected an average eight minutes per session--enough time to view banner ads from Ford, Visa, Fidelity, Sony, and Microsoft. Sponsors also love the enticing demographics: About 60% of the members are 18 to 34, 90% live in the U.S., and three-quarters are male.

AUTHENTIC. Does the formula pay off? So far. Launched in 1995 with $2 million in venture capital, revenues are now on track to exceed $5 million in 1997, and Tripod could be profitable by December, Peabody says. About 70% of 1997 revenues will come from ads and the sale of merchandise, such as T-shirts. Tripod also plans to license its chat and conferencing software to other online communities. The balance of the revenues will come from the least-mined source on the Net: subscriptions. Peabody has already persuaded 3,000 members to pay $36 a year for expanded services, such as extra space for their Web pages and discounts on merchandise.

But Tripod's greatest asset is authenticity. Peabody, 25, and his staff mirror the demographics of the members. Peabody himself is a preppy twentysomething who dashes from business presentations to go snowboarding and mountain biking in the woods of New England. His business inspiration? The Grateful Dead, who ''combined content that was hard to beat with plenty of customer service and lots of interaction.'' As business strategies go, that's pretty kewl.

By Andy Reinhardt in San Francisco


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Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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