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RockYou co-founder Jia Shen on doubling staff, and his company's $230M valuation
In a world where marketers care more about engagement than passivity, RockYou, a top application maker on social networks, has a great shot at being the place to distribute ads to reach today's youths. The trick is innovating faster than RockYou's oft-mentioned rival, Slide, and building a bigger and better ad sales team. To that end, RockYou, which raised $35 million at a roughly $230 million valuation, plans to double its staff to 100 people by the end of this year, Jia Shen, RockYou's 28-year-old co-founder and CTO told me in this interview.
RockYou, which makes popular applications such as Super Wall, is gunning to be a top five Web destination in the world. RockYou hopes this can be achieved as more Internet users browse and interact on the Web through a social context.
It's not a modest goal, but it's something that’s not out of reach for this first-time entrepreneur and his team. Despite what some other publications say, RockYou is bigger than Slide across Facebook, Beebo, hi5, Friendster and Orkut, Jia says with confidence.
“We’re pretty much hands down bigger than them (Slide) on every statistic,” he said, referring to the number of applications installed and users engaged on Facebook. According to Jia, Super Wall – an application that lets you send photos, videos, and graffiti to friends – is the No. 1 application on Facebook.
RockYou, which has created some 50 or so widgets and applications combined, and aggregates far more, reaches about 90 million unique users a month, of which 60% are female, Jia said. According to Quantcast, RockYou reaches 88.9 million unique visitors a month, compared to 64 million for Slide. Alexa puts Slide's traffic at slightly above RockYou's. (Look at RockYou's Alexa traffic on its profile.)
The Quantcast numbers, according to Jia, do not include users who see an application on a site, say your Facebook profile, but actual users who’ve clicked through an app and have hit RockYou’s servers. Jia also says that RockYou is generating two billion pageviews per month. When I asked him whether those figures were overstated, according to a VentureBeat article, he said that the two billion refers to pages RockYou can put an advertisement on. “We explicitly look at monetizable pages,” he said.
CPMs are also improving. Today, large-reach, channel applications such as Super Wall, can attract CPMs between 30 cents and 40 cents, said Jia. Other apps that are more targeted, however, such as Speedracing, can get higher CPMS.
What about sharing those ads with social networks? I asked.
“It’s a point of debate and is definitely a clear risk for the space,” said Jia. “The cool part about it right now is basically that there’s so many large competitors in this space and they’re all competing for developers like ourselves. Monetization is the main reason why developers actually go to specific sites.”
Regarding OpenSocial, Jia says it’s help more than hurt. OpenSocial, which was designed to provide an alternative to the Facebook platform, is a programming interface that allows applications to run across multiple social networks. “Once OpenSocial came out it was easy for us to launch across those platforms (Hi5, Friendster, etc.),” he said.
Jia also talks about how Madison Avenue is moving slowly but surely along to putting their marketing dollars on applications. “It isn’t that bad (working with them),” he said, adding, “I don’t think they definitely get it. They know about it and they’re very interested about it. There’s a huge curiosity about what they can do. "There’s not a huge adoption but everyone knows about us so the education process is well along the way.”
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