Empire Avenue is a short road in Saint John's, Newfoundland.
It's largely residential, with a sportsfield and park to one side and some run-of-the-mill houses running along the other. It's got two lanes with one centre lane for left turns. The traffic is mild, nestled between Columbia Drive and Freshwater Road.
Empire Avenue may also the next online revolution.
Founded by Duleepa "Dups" Wijayawardhana (CEO), Michael Mannion (VP of research and analytics), and Niall Brown (Digital Engineering Architect), Empire Avenue is in, in their own words, "a revolutionary online influence stock exchange combined with an advertising platform that allows individuals and organizations to convert their online influence and reach into revenue."
While still in beta, Empire already has a dozen employees, including Tom Ohle (VP of marketing and media relations), Ric Williams (VP of ads and partnerships), and Brad Grier (Social media specialist). And, while still young, it has quality investors, including Boris Wertz (who is an investor in Techvibes) and Kevin Swan, President and CEO of Nexopia.com.
Empire Avenue, which is actually named after the aforementioned street (almost named "Bond Street" by the same method), is exciting many people - users and investors alike. It's a realistic stock market system that values peoples' online content and influences. It's got the potential to be the next major social-based online sensation. I interviewed Dups himself to learn more.
Click to read on.
KT: What sparked this idea?
Dups: It took three of us to come up with the idea, simply because it took three people with three different points of view. The basic idea is that we felt that every person online creates value from the content they produce, due to the power of each individual's network. We also felt that big companies were using what you and I wrote and produced online to further their agendas, pocketbooks and so on, and we thought, what if you could see your own influence, and indeed, expand it, grow it, learn from it and then finally, be rewarded for it!
We're not about monetizing the content that people create; we believe the value lies inherently in the person that created the content. In other words, we want you to monetize yourself (if you wish) because it is you and your thoughts which are valuable.
KT: Let's go deeper into Empire's monetization scheme.
Dups: Empire Avenue is really about the value of the content creator. You decide who to endorse and what advertisements to carry. Maybe your network will believe you, maybe your network won't
For Empire Avenue to be successful, it is more important that we create avenues (pardon the pun) for you to be rewarded for your online activities, and be rewarded for having fun online and creating great content that is visible and consumed by others. We're enabling you to connect and discover influential users or users that could be influential in your networks. The more methods we put in place where you can reach out and expand your audience, expand your engagement – whether it is personal or for business – the more methods of monetization that will come apparent.
There is no one model of monetization in this arena. It could be an advertising widget you host in your blog; it could be different types of endorsements; it could simply be metrics that allow your business or personal audience to expand. Welcome to the world where people are listening not just to the content, but increasingly to the content creator!
KT: So what's monetization gonna look like?
Dups: We're in early stages of this. We have always been honest that our vision for Empire Avenue is far from realized and only the 12 of us in the company know the directions we're going in. A lot of stuff is still under wraps! But we want our users to be rewarded in a myriad of ways that can be seen as direct and indirect monetization.
We've started down the road of our "Avenue Rewards." We've had three active in the system in the past month as we develop the platform: a game download coupon, a cosmetics producer in Alberta and a cafe in Chile. Very soon, any business will be able to apply to offer rewards and we're going to take it a few steps further: you'll be able to offer rewards to those that have been loyal shareholders of yours on Empire Avenue or simply because they have a high share price and you want them engaged with you. You will be able to exchange virtual currency for these rewards.
KT: What has your team learned so far about Empire Avenue, and the people using it, since beta opened?
Dups: What we have learned is that our community is excellent. We really could not get here without them and we look forward to the incredible, dynamic and passionate product that Empire Avenue is evolving into!
We've learned that our basic premise indeed works and has great potential, but we have a lot of work to do in getting everything fine-tuned to the next level. We are inundated with requests and ideas and we love it! To create a passionate playground where people are talking seriously about online value and online content fits the original dream that Mike, Niall and I had. To hear something like, "I've met people that I would never have other than through Empire Avenue" is music to my ears.
Now, with Rewards and future plans to get rewarded from your online value and connections in an ethical, fun and unobtrusive way, that's wonderful.
KT: What is your timeline for goals, as far as ending beta and introducing monetization opportunities?
Dups: I wish I could see the future! I think we'll be in beta for the better part of this year as we get the rest of our platform together. We're launching a translation project in the next few weeks, and we're expanding most of our programs. And we have some super fun ideas that we're rolling out that people are going to be surprised with.
When will we be live without the "beta" tag? I learned a long time ago from working with the talented folks at BioWare, that quality is not something you want to skimp on. When we're ready, we will cannonball that beta from the site. Maybe literally.
KT: Finally, a tip for Techvibes readers: What's the best strategy for a user to climb to the top of the charts?!
Dups: Most importantly, build an audience, build your engagement. You need your audience to engage with you! But Empire Avenue is about spreading that influence! Buy Shares and be bought, you will go up. Connecting socially is what will carry your weight.
But you don't have to have a high share price to get to the top of your charts, locally or otherwise. How about building virtual wealth from valuing the great content out there?
Will you be a millionaire on Empire Avenue?
Can you become a billionaire?