Domain Roulette

Have you heard about http://www.chatroulette.com yet?  (Separate the not-so-obvious compound word to Chat Roulette.)  If not, it’s a simple site with 1) you on your webcam 2) a random user on their webcam and 3) a chat feed.  You click from user to user, while the rest of the world does the same.  If the person on-screen interests you, stop and chat.  If either of you is uninterested in the conversation, you click next and go to the next person searching for someone to talk to.  Once a suitable partner is found,  conversation, music, wooing or a wide variety of weirdness can ensue.  Hence: Chat Roulette.  It’s caught fire in the usual way random slightly strange social networking sites will.  It’s not close to Twitter territory but the initial trajectory is there.  Here’s a screenshot from Wikipedia.

Here are the other components of the story.  Prepare to roll your eyes and shake your fist at nothing in particular.

  • Created by Andrey Ternovskiy, a Moscow high school student in November 2009.
  • He coded most of the site in two days.
  • The site now has over 1.5 million users (as reported by Andrey so a medium sized grain of salt is needed with that number).
  • Again, the site started in November and has already been featured in the NYT and on a (hil-arious) Daily Show segment.
  • 30,000 people use ChatRoulette a night and that number is growing weekly.

[So this next bullet should be an easy one]

  • Investors are flocking.

Of course they are and one can only imagine the offers young Andrey is receiving (that little punk). None of the offers are public obviously, but with the evaluations thrown around for Twitter and Facebook, even a fraction of a fraction would set Andrey on a path of life-long work-free dorkdom.

But here is what I find interesting.  If Andrey created this site in 48 hours, then imagine what a team of MIT grads could do in a week.  And if you look at the picture again, you don’t need programming knowledge to know this is just a rejiggered GChat.  So these offers aren’t being made on the strength of the technology or the coding.  Also, do you see anything catchy or memorable in the screenshot (other than two sketchy dudes).  Pretty simple right?  So the offers are not because of clever branding.  Even if we believe Andrey, 1.5 million people is a lot in the “real world” but in the world of internet-users it’s small potatoes, so we can be sure the appeal is not customer base.  And finally, Andrey is still in high school so you know investors aren’t overly-impressed with a seasoned executive team.  No proprietary technology, no indispensable brand or customer base, no all-star management .  So what does that leave us?

The domain name.

We’ve all seen Flip This House, or heard of it?  The (very cool) show where a group of guys buy a fixer-uper, work their asses off for two weeks remodeling the place and then sell it for an envious profit a month later?  It’s certainly not the first instance, but Andrey is sitting on the ultimate version of Internet Flip This House.  He bought some land in a strange town. (what/where is Chatroulette?)  He built a crappy but functional little house.  (nice site…)  And all of a sudden four office parks, a mega-mall and a ski mountain moved in down the street.  Not bad.

But you have to give Andrey very due credit in that he didn’t just get lucky and find a domain that got hot at the right time, like a guy who bought http://www.forclosure.com last January.  He created Chat Roulette and made it happen.  I am just intrigued that he holds a 7-8 figure check because of two days of hard work and a ten dollar investment at GoDaddy.  Only in the Internet.

(And Andrey if you read this…SELL NOW.  I guarantee 99% of your users have Facebook/Gmail accounts.  You have less than sixty days before either behemoth finishes their answers and snuffs Chat Roulette like a weak grease fire.)

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2 Responses to Domain Roulette

  1. Fafa says:

    Ben Folds did live chat roulette during a recent concert. Improvising little dittys about the people he came across. Pretty funny.

  2. keith says:

    This was a good read Caleb. I think there is a growing market for web cam based social networking. When Cass started studying abroad in the UK, my mind blown when when my mom informed me that I could video chat with her over Skype- for free! And this, my friend, was two years after Skype came out. So clearly if a tallented exec such as myself was behind on the technological trends, surely that suggests this is an emerging market… After recently buying a new lap top- (who knew German fetish websites could transmit viruses?) -I can knowingly report that every single lap top sold these days comes with a built in web cam. Therefore every purchased computer represents a potential new costumer, and the opportunity grows.

    That said, think about the possibilities in the context of online dating… you could link up with a potential mate and evaluate him/her through a web cam supported chat rather than make a judgement call based on three line emails and several of the absolute BEST pictures ever taken of said person. We’ve all heard the conversation before “I’m sorry, I’m pretty sure I’m meeting a different Jennifer here. She’s much better looking and 40 pounds lighter. But boy that is a funny coincidence, you being named Jennifer and all…” Sorry bro, but that is your Jennifer. And yes, she is fat and ugly. And yes, her profile pictures were taken from a high angle in poor lighting for a reason… I’m sorry man. Tough luck.

    Really it’s a glaring issue that all online dating sites face, an issue that could be solved through web cam integration…

    True, the traditional first date neighborhood bars wouldn’t be pleased with such a development. You know, the ones that have a decent reputation but stay entirely conservative with themes and decor. Everyone knows at least a couple of these joints. They reek of homogeneity and pretty much the only time you’d hit up such an establsihment would be a blind date scenario. I mean, you wouldn’t want to take your date to a non-traditional bar that might reveal your alcoholic tendecies or inner frat boy style too soon… Well, with a new web cam based online dating system, you could take her to that dingey dive, or hump dancing at a college bar, because you’d really KNOW her before you elect to take her out. It would be more like a 3rd date than a 1st date. Plus, you and I both know what usually happens around the 3rd date…

    Think about it…

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