One exchange in the interview I particularly enjoyed is when Warner ponders WhitePages’ target demographic. Realising that he, his colleagues and his friends don’t use the site, don’t talk about the site or even hear about the site he asks who are the people that bring in this revenue: who are the users?
Algard’s answer touches on something I discussed with a friend recently: that many (most?) entrepreneurs and software developers produce products and systems targeted at people like them: computer-literate, progressive power users. The huge market of barely-computer literate casual users who are enthusiastic about the Internet (yet need help for basic tasks) is largely ignored.
Andrew Warner: Well tell me about it, because you know that all I hear about everyday is Twitter and Facebook and some of the hotter sites, some of the sexier sites. I don’t hear people talk about WhitePages. I don’t remember when I went on WhitePages, or referred WhitePages to somebody else, but obviously a lot of people are on the site. What am I missing here?
Alex Algard: For one thing I think we do a good job in catering to what the typical American needs, as far as content information goes. A lot of our friends, I think, tend to be a little bit more focused on, you know, what’s hot in the Bay area and so forth. So I think it’s very important that we, every once in awhile, pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that not everyone in the world, or in the US, is necessarily living on Twitter, or quite yet on the social network. Certainly that’s the way things are moving, but I think we’re doing a good job on addressing Americans’ needs as of the here and now. Like I said, I’m a here and now kind of guy. I think that’s also how our company thinks.
When asked if anything in particular sticks out that helped him separate himself from the competition, Alex replied:
I think in retrospect, it was just being really, really focused around what users are looking for; providing a relevant service; really trying to put myself in the users’ shoes. In the WhitePages scenario it’s finding contact information, so doing a better job than anybody else: being singularly-focused on helping our users find the contact information that they’re looking for. That more than anything has helped our success.