Saturday, February 16, 2008

More on the Pitch: Ad Revenue Model

An interesting conversation during Friday’s pitch was around the business model.

Now, I think if you’re a potential investor in Linkspank and you’re going to choose to focus on any one part of the business to discuss and you choose the revenue model, it’s probably a sign that you are not comfortable with really discussing the business. Because Linkspank is the kind of beast that requires growth in users to make any money at all; and conversely, if you can achieve this growth than you ARE going to be able to make money.

But revenue is still important :-), and like I said I thought it was an interesting conversation. It’s a chance for me to try to clarify my thinking, improve it with your feedback, and also if you don’t know any of this stuff and you’re vaguely in the business than heads up.

I told them that Linkspank had some exotic opportunities for business models, but that we would start simple and turn on contextual advertising once we hit one million users.

“Contextual advertising” (currently limited essentially to text advertising) is advertising that is placed on the page and chosen according to what the page is about, as determined by a scan of the text on the page. You get a Linkspank about the Nicks, and next to it are advertisements for Nicks jerseys, Nicks videos, Nicks tickets.

This kind of advertising makes such a small amount of money that you need to be serving massive traffic for it to get you anywhere, but it has an advantages. First, you can turn it on about as simply as flicking a switch. Google and other services are the ones actually providing the advertisements. There is no need to sell advertisements, find advertisers, any of that crap. This kind of advertising is (basically) what has made MySpace and facebook businesses that rake in lots of cash.

Here’s the model I showed for how linkspank would make its money:

So, when we have 1 million users, we make $33 million in revenue per year. Here’s how the calculation goes: you have so many users, and the view so many pages, and they click on one or more of the ads a certain (very small) percentage of the time, and you make so much money per click, and you add it all up.

They found the number too high and we took it from there. The ads per page is not really disputable – if you’re going to put 6 ads per page than ok then! The CTR (click through rate) per ad is a little more disputable. If your ads look cool like facebook’s, and not ugly like generic AdSense ads, maybe your CTR will increase a little. Or it might for other reasons. But certainly I have seen real world examples where the CTR is at least this low. I think it’s worth considering a case in which the CTR is 0.1%. (That would cut the $30M to $10M).

The page views per day per user is the key number. Well, sort of. The REALLY key number is the top figure, the number of users. As I contend, the key question for this business is the growth. But this second line is key. It currently asserts that on AVERAGE every spanker will view 150 pages per month, which is a lot.

The second line really involves forming an opinion about how growing size will affect the stickiness of the site and user activity. Users are not currently viewing 150 pages per month; they are viewing more like 10 to 17, depending on how you count.

So why would the figure multiply by 10 when the site grows? It wouldn’t necessarily. It depends basically on whether your site actually does something, or people sign up for it and it’s crap. Let’s contrast LinkedIn and facebook (speculatively, not like I have inside numbers). Both are supposed to become richer and more valuable for you the bigger they get, the more potential connections you have and people you can learn about or whatever. Most users will confirm for you the following reality: facebook strongly benefits from having all your friends on there and it makes it much easier to stick around longer. In contast, LinkedIn for most people is a site that they visit occasionally to approve someone’s connection request and then they pop out. Every now and then someone will spruce up their profile. But they don’t seem to be doing much more than they were when the network was younger. I don’t quite think LinkedIn is crap, but hey these are the (anecdotal) facts on this particular issue.

So far all our data indicates that Linkspank will go the way of faceook on this issue and not the way of LinkedIn. The fundamental logic of what spanking is also supports the claim. Will this really bring us up to 5 page views per user per day? I’m not sure that anyone can answer that question definitively. I’m willing to consider a lower forecast. It still shapes up to a very profitable business – IF you get the growth… which once again is the real question.

That really just scrapes the surface of the conversation, but it's enough for Saturday morning. :-)