Ted Rheingold Interview
Interview with Ted Rheingold of Dogster.com. Since launching in January 2004, Dogster.com (and its sister site Catster.com launched in August, 2004) have become the fastest growing pet destination on the internet and are now a top-five overall pet destination.
“Todays interview is with Ted Rheingold – Top Dog at Dogster.com and Catster.com.
Fancy starting a website in 2004 and growing it to 500,000 Members serving more than 22 million pages a month to over three quarters of a million visitors? Ted and his team have done this. Ted is with out doubt a Master Community Site Builder
1) Tell us about your main project, Dogster.com ? Why did you launch Dogster? Where are you at now with Dogster?
I launched Dogster as a side project that I felt I could complete in my own time on top of the paying work I was doing for clients. This was 2003 and my goal was to get some monthly income to offset the payment gaps contractual work generates
2) How did Dogster become so popular and profitable?
I simply made something that many people wanted. Half the visitors wanted to show off their dog. The other half just wanted to look at all the dogs. I knew people would like the service, though I had no idea how many. From that moment, however, it’s been a daily job to keep offering features and offering services that the customers (aka website visitors want) It’s critical everything comes second.
We’ve become profitable by working very hard to find advertisers that want to communicate with our customer, and helping the advertisers understand how to best share their message. We committed to a direct sales model early on which most web sites prefer not to do, but there’s almost no money in online ad networks unless you are serving millions of pages a day.
3) What advice would you give someone who wants to build a community driven website?
It’s critical to realize that making the website itself is not the challenge. Anyone can make or have made a decent community site. The challenge is building the community itself. Without the community of passionate members all you have is a bunch of unused web code.
4) What would you say is the number one reason for your success with Dogster?
Putting the customer first and focusing on how to make it a business right after that. We decided early on that VC and investment are a tool to maximize your business, not prove it. So many people focus on the future when the reality is that you have to focus on this month and this quarter or you’ll never get very far.
5) If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what business related advice would you give yourself?
I’m rather pleased with how it went. I waited to see repeat long-term usage trends before even trying to make it a real business and then I bought in a cofounder to lead the business side as that wasn’t my strong suit. If you are not going to be the person generating revenue you have to find someone that will. Revenue will not come to you no matter how clever or different you think your service will be. Know your business if you expect it to be your business.
6) Is there anyone that you look up to and model yourself on? (You can name more than one)
Early on it was HotOrNot.com and LiveJournal.com They were making large sums of monthly revenue from members paying for services. Any web business that can avoid advertising, affiliate or other 3rd party revenue models means it will do just fine. Also, neither of those companies took/needed VC.
Today it’s Feedburner, Tickle, Etsy, and many others.
7) Do you have any favourite business related, webmaster or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
Lucky or Smart by Bo Peabody, the founder of Tripod. It’s no more than 100 pages and it will keep your ego and expectations in check.
8) What is the best advice you have ever been given?
You can’t hedge your own bets. All you can do is put all your efforts into what you think is your best move and do your best you can. Later you can change plans, but you can’t do two things at one time as you’ll never know if you did either of them as well as you could.
9) What advice would you give to a Young Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Spend as *little* money as possible and don’t spend one more dollar than you can afford to spend. A tiny budget forces you to make the best decisions, you don’t waste money on decent idea, you only spend it on the best. Only spend money you can afford to spend. If you get in a whole your options become significantly limited as your business has to compensate. So many times a slow-growth business fails to mature because it went bankrupt before it had a chance to get there.
10) How many hours do you work daily and what are your daily tasks for your sites?
I used to work about 80. Now it’s 60. The first two years I did whatever it took. I learned everything I could so I could avoid having to pay someone to do something. Now we are a team of 15. I lead the company and oversee all departments, but I also answer the phone, fix broken code, copy edit, and anything else that can help my team be the most it can.
11) If the Internet had not existed – what do you think you would be doing?
Working in the international development sector, slowly working my way up a very slow ladder before I could actually start affecting change. Sadly I’m not spending my time on the world at large now, but I’d be so bored if I was doing anything else.
12) What do you like best about the Internet?
It levels almost every playing field and widens it for the whole world. It’s an amazing equalizer that we haven’t even begun to comprehend how radically it will change the life of every human on the planet.
13) What do you like least about the Internet?
The always-on mindset it has induced in the business world. Civilities and pleasantries are being lost as people forget that everyone else is still just a person
14) Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
To work as little as I have to. To make of my existence that most that it can be.