We have an exclusive interview with the interweb's hottest new social networking site, Empire Avenue. Here is the full interview with Empire Avenue's CEO, Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana.
Before starting Empire Avenue what were you doing?
I've worked with the Internet for what seems like my whole adult life at this point :). After starting to create small personal web pages when the web was young in the early 1990s, I went on to working for a small startup in British Columbia. From there it was on to BioWare Corp. until 2007, when I went to work for database company MySQL, which was bought by Sun Microsystems in 2008. The latter part of my MySQL career focused on being the MySQL Community Relations Manager for North America. My background has been in developing scalable web applications, working with MySQL, with an obviously high level of interest in games and game mechanics.
Where did Empire Avenue come from?
Empire Avenue is the brainchild of myself and two other individuals. Our goal was to show that all the content being created on the web by everyone – whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or a blog – has value, and that you personally have a great deal of influence within your online networks. We believed that if you could quantify that influence and then be able to connect that influence to monetary gain, such as an advertising platform, then you, the Influencer – not Google or another service – could see a real-world benefit!
So, what then is the purpose of Empire Avenue?
At Empire Avenue, you get to virtually invest in anyone and their content. What we are asking you to do is to create value relationships. You buy into someone because you might like what they do, maybe you buy because you think their share price will increase and you will see a greater return, maybe you buy because you know their activity will earn you more virtual currency (we call them Eaves). In return we wanted those content creators to be found by new individuals, to be made visible to their communities. It's great to connect with friends, but isn't it great to create those relationships that you normally do in the real world through social interactions?
For Influencers who are traded on Empire Avenue we look at both how people trade you, as well as your activity on sites that you connect to us. It is not enough to be active on Empire Avenue; you need to show your online influence, how people react to you on Twitter and Facebook. Our algorithms combine that to give you your virtual share price, which becomes the measurement of your online activity and influence!
When did Empire Avenue go into public beta?
We launched the site on February 23, 2010 as a small closed beta for friends and family only. After two months of revising the closed beta, on April 26th we heartbreakingly performed the "Big Reset" where the 500 people on the site had all their share prices reset and we formally entered an Invite Beta stage where people can invite other people through the site.
How has it been received so far?
In short, fantastic. We've garnered quite a large following out of the gate with 1700 people on the site as of May 18th. We even managed to trend on Twitter in Canada one fine afternoon. We've had a lot of fun and look forward to having a lot more fun with our community as we build this up to a world-wide phenomenon. Being a beta, we're still ironing out the application and indeed, we would say we are only one third of the way through our vision. Our community has been quick to give us feedback on every aspect of the site, a lot of which we have taken to heart.
Who is Empire Avenue (besides yourself)? Any investors in the company as of yet?
There are eight of us who are dedicatedly working on Empire Avenue with talents ranging from UI/UX design, legal, social media, marketing, mathematics and programming. There are also a number of people who surround, support and consult with us. We've managed to bootstrap the application by ourselves and are now in the stage where we are actively looking for investors to help take us to the next level.
I hope Canadian technology investors are reading this! What's Empire Avenue's revenue model?
Ultimately Empire Avenue is about connecting you as an Influencer and your network to advertisers and brands that you care about. We want you to choose the advertising that those around you see; not only that, we want you to benefit and reap the rewards. We will be launching our Advertising Platform in some months, where you will be able to carry advertising of your choice on your web properties wherever they may be, and we will charge the advertisers rates based on your influence and pass you the majority of that revenue. We will obviously see some portion of that. In addition, Empire Avenue will work with partners to provide real-world rewards for interacting on Empire Avenue, whether it's participation with brands on the site or participation with Influencers. We want Eaves, our virtual currency, to play a very big role in that.
How can marketers take advantage of it?
With our goal of connecting individuals and content creators, and finding and targeting Influencers across communities by interest and more, we're creating a new tool for both marketers as well as Influencers. For marketers it's an opportunity to find these Influencers and work with them, and for Influencers it's an opportunity to be found and to see real rewards from what they do online.
What are your thoughts on social gaming and Empire Avenue's role in this space?
Life is a game! Seriously, games are an integral part of the human psyche and how we function, whether it is the offline world or the online world. Social gaming is something we've been doing forever, but now we have this ability to connect with millions of users, across cultures, communities and languages with nothing more than a click. Empire Avenue is a social game with a real-world tie-in, and that takes it to a whole new level of both fun and interest.
What's next ?
Over the next month you should see some major changes to the application. We're going to build out the second third of our vision, which is to involve Community. How that works I won't get into right now, but we'll be throwing it out to the Beta folks very soon. So if you want to see how it all works you might want to get on the Beta ASAP. From there we hope to line up funding, which will help us reach our milestones. As always, the goal of Empire Avenue is to build a high-quality, fun and valuable network that is committed to connecting Influencers and people in new and unique ways.