SuperFan founder Rick Marini on Social Games, Virtual Currency, and Battles


rickmarini_superfan_interview_socialnerdiaRick Marini is the founder of SuperFan, a site built around the idea that people are passionate about all kinds of things, from bands and celebs, to brands and video games. In short, SuperFan is a social hub for the things you love. It's also a great way for companies to get acquainted with their true fans. It is no coincidence that Rick, an experienced entrepreneur and Harvard MBA, has gained not only loyal super fans, but also advisors like Dwight Howard and Shawn Fanning. Below are some questions that Rick answered for Social Nerdia. Enjoy!

1. How do you define the word "fan" and why do you think it has become such a key element of the social web?

I define a "Fan" as someone who has a genuine interest or passion for something and is proud to be associated with it. People around the world are passionate about their favorite music, sports, entertainment, games, books, places, products, schools and so on.  Everyone is a fan of something.

2. From Second Life to World of Warcraft and $1 gifts on Facebook, virtual currency is becoming.. normal. What is the future of online currencies and micropayments?

The future of "Web 3.0" will be centered on social games that utilize virtual currencies and micropayments.  Most of these games are free-to-play but also include special features where players can enhance their playing ability by purchasing virtual currency to exchange for virtual goods.  Some examples of virtual goods include clothes for an avatar, plants for a virtual farm or garden, power-packs for more energy, or tools/weapons to complete game tasks faster.  The virtual goods market in the US will be $1 billion in 2009 and is expected to be $1.6 billion in 2010.  The Asian market is already at $5 billion in 2009.

3. As a Harvard MBA, what do you think post-recession MBA programs could do to better prepare technology and business leaders?

"Post-recession MBA's" have the benefit of experience and that should be applied to business leadership.  The risk-reward ratio was out of line for the past several years and that drove short-term greed.  I think great business leaders have a long-term perspective.  They understand that there can be bumps in the road but they also realize that getting to the final destination takes a lot of hard work and taking short cuts rarely works. And sometimes those short cuts can have an enormous impact on the ability for everyone to drive towards those long-term goals.  We are now digging out of that unfortunate situation.

4. What are your thoughts on Facebook and what kind of relationship does SuperFan have with them?

I am a huge fan of Facebook.  They have created an incredible eco-system to include 300 million users plus thousands of app developers working within an open platform.  That was initially a risky move that has paid significant dividends.  SuperFan has integrated with Facebook using Facebook Connect and also launched 3 Facebook Apps which have been a huge success for us. We see them as an important partner.

superfan_rick_socialnetwork_socialnerdia5. SuperFan is a social game so I'm assuming your users are both social and competitive. What are some other insights about them that you can share with us?

Yes, SuperFan is both a fun social entertainment site bringing fans with similar interest together, but it is also a social game where fans compete with each other to become the #1 SuperFan.  It has been great to see fan bases come together to express their passion for their favorite things.  It has also been interesting to see how competitive fans can get, especially around their favorite sports teams.  Most sports fans truly enjoy rooting for their team... as well as against their biggest rival.

6. The Facebook "Battles" app has really taken the "Hot or Not" concept to a whole new level. Who/what are the two most popular fighters?

Some of the most popular Battles have been around college sports especially with the long-standing rivalries.  Some of these rivalries go back many decades and it is awesome to see that team pride continue today with each new college class.  SuperFan's Battles allows the fans to vote for their favorite teams and then post that to their Facebook page to proudly show their team pride.  Then all of their classmates can see the SuperFan Battle, for their team, and then other fans share that with others.

7. What would be your personal "ultimate" offline battle (i.e. Battle of the Bands)?

I am from the Boston area originally and a huge Red Sox Fan (my dog is named Fenway) so I have to go with the classic battle of "Red Sox vs. Yankees".  They are both great teams and the atmosphere at those games is always electric.

superfan_lalakers_mac_socialnerdia8. What kind of SuperFan promotions or giveaways have you done recently?

We have not done a lot of promotions yet so most people are becoming a Fan because they truly want to express themselves and share all of the things they love.  We recently did a very successful promotion with Dwight Howard where he gave away copies of his new NBA Live 10 video game.  We have also worked with Britney Spears, Lebron James, The Pussycat Dolls, Weezer, etc.

9. SuperFan has quite a spectacular board of advisors, including Dwight Howard, AdBrite's founder Phillip Kaplan and Napster's founder Shawn Fanning. How do they contribute to the success of the site?

Yes, we are very lucky to have guys like Dwight Howard, Philip Kaplan, Shawn Fanning and other incredible people involved.  As a top NBA star Dwight Howard has a huge fan base and he loves connecting with his fans through SuperFan.  He is a great guy but also a power user of social media sites like SuperFan, Twitter and Facebook.  Shawn Fanning brings deep experience in online music (founded Napster) as well as online gaming (founded Rupture).  Philip Kaplan has been in the Internet for over a decade as the founder of F*cked Company and AdBrite so he has a great long-term perspective as well as being a tech guru. We have other Advisors that cover technology, social gaming, viral marketing, etc.

10. You were the co-founder of Tickle, which was bought by Monster for $100 million in 2004. Can you give a summary of how you turned the idea into reality and what some of your biggest challenges were along the way?

My business partner and I founded Tickle in 1999.  Tickle was the largest online quiz site and grew to become the 18th largest site in the world with 200 million registered users and close to $40mm of revenue.  Like SuperFan, Tickle was based on creating a platform for people to express themselves. With Tickle it was through quizzes and with SuperFan it is around media-driven social games.  The challenge with Tickle was that we started the company in 1999 and by 2000, the Internet market crashed and we went into a recession for 3 years.  But we persevered and by 2002, we earned the Webby Award as the fastest growing Internet site and then the rest is history!

11. Tickle has now been closed and this is something that we see all over the web. What did Monster do with Tickle and how does it make you feel?

Monster acquired Tickle in 2004 and I stayed with the company until the end of 2006.  In 2007, Monster went through a major management shake-up and replaced the entire senior team at Monster.  The new team was focused on Monster's core business in the jobs market and unfortunately Tickle was outside of that focus and ultimately shut down in 2008.  Some of the most popular apps in Facebook are quizzes and Tickle could have been the leader in that area.  It was a significant missed opportunity for Monster but then again, that was not their focus.

12. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a start-up but doesn't have a technical background?

You don't need to have a technical background to start an Internet company but you will need a senior member of the team with deep technical expertise. Every Internet business needs technology leadership as well as business savvy therefore you need to find the right tech partner if you come from the business side.  As for advice, having done two  start-ups, I think new entrepreneurs should know that this stuff is hard!  Ideas are easy but the execution is hard.  Execution includes building a product that millions of people care about, hiring and managing a great team, raising VC funding, scaling the company and ultimately selling it.  And as a founder, you think about your company 24x7 and that is not an easy life.  But when it works... it feels damn good!

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.