The "Social Media Exchange" Empire Avenue has been getting a lot of buzz. While I heard about the site last year, people like Jeremiah Owyang, Peter Kim, Scott Monty, Robert Scoble, Caleb Storkey and David Armano have written very interesting thoughts in the past week or so, and the community seems to be thriving like never before.
I was going to write a few fun Empire Avenue predictions (e.g. A "Buy" button that's like the Facebook "like" button), but instead I decided to ask CEO Duleepa Wijayawardhana (aka Dups) a few questions about the past, present and future of his company. I think you'll find his answers, including a hint about Foursquare as the next network to be integrated, very interesting!
Follow @dups and make sure to add some "DUPS" and "ESTEBAN" shares to your social portfolio.
1. What do you think about Seth Priebatsch's prediction about the next decade being the decade of games and the "Game Layer?"
To be honest, I happen to believe that most of what we do in real life reflects the human mind's love affair with what we call games. In fact, in most cases a game takes aspects of what we do in life, things we can understand, and place finite scores, missions, obstacles and rewards into it and then allow us to "play" it.
What I will agree with is the notion that this decade will be the decade that the mainstream understands the use of games and gaming layers in more than just building crops and shooting enemies. I do believe we are seeing the start of a generation that has grown up with computer games and can see that games can actually teach us about Real Life and, indeed, ourselves and how we affect our environment. It'struly an exciting time in my opinion.
2. There have been a few applications/sites that simulate investing in people, websites and organizations. What do you think is the one thing that positions Empire Avenue for success?
We studied almost every single one of them :). What we realized almost immediately is that stock market sites are based on current stock market models, which, I hate to say, are complex and almost incomprehensible beasts. With Empire Avenue, we actually went backward in time to a simpler market system. We have a system of "Market Makers," who are algorithmic"people" who analyse your content and engagement, and create share prices every night. People add to or subtract from that share price by buying and selling. In effect we have created a very simple BUY/SELL/Earnings system which is not at all a real stock market -- something that has many more Bids and Asks and so on. We admit, it does take a little while to "get it," but if you start with Buy and Sell and watch your money grow, the game mechanics should lead you in the right direction. We also have a long way to make the whole thing simpler and easier. The one thing that puts us ahead, in my mind, is our team and our community. The team is dedicated, the community equally so, and they have helped us move the site to what it has become.
3. The fact that Empire Avenue helps us measure and create influence has been getting a lot of attention recently. How does the system measure one's influence?
We don't like to use the word "influence" any more. Each of our Network Scores really gives you an idea of your "Network Value," and we'll expand on the stats that give you an understanding of your network use. (By "Network" I mean, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc.). The difference between an algorithmic score and the share price is that the share price takes all your scores and then adds the Buy/Sell mechanic to it, which does indicatesome element of reputation. Naturally, in early days people will buy for games and profit, but the same happens in real life; the difference is thatthat initial buy might lead to a valuable connection.
4. What are the benefits for a brand to join Empire Avenue, and more importantly, are there any risks?
The risks are as with any use of social media by anyone, regardless of whether you're a brand or otherwise. If you are perceived as having done something bad, you could see a backlash against you. This is nothing new and is certainly one risk. The advantage is, in my mind, two-fold:
a. Depending on your ability to engage with users on Empire Avenue, you might just want to connect and use Empire Avenue to value your network interaction. This one is *easy* and requires little to no effort. In this way Empire Avenue can be seen as a training game for a business within social media. We are, after all, a "meta" social network, which connects to multiple networks including our own.
b. You can engage with users by buying and selling, using our search to find people who could be valuable to your brand (not necessarily the most popular, but the most engaged with your product or interest). For example, a search for Samsung: http://www.empireavenue.com/search/#users/samsung . This opens up a world of possibilities: we could create custom Luxury Items forpurchase and sharing with people, so that your brand name can spread; and certainly you get to speak to your Shareholders. The Shareholding concept is also one you can expand on, by rewarding those users who remain shareholders and more. The potential use of Empire Avenue for a brand, as with any individual, is endless.
5. How did your role at MySQL/Sun help you start EmpireAvenue?
Both my roles at MySQL/Sun and BioWare were essential in starting EmpireAvenue. The experience of building out sites for gamers in the millions is obviously an asset, and working at MySQL interfacing with those that produce the world's biggest websites - from Google to Facebook - was also something I valued greatly.
However, in truth, the biggest help was in working with all the talented and wonderful people that make up our small, dedicated and incredibly passionate team. Without the team, we would not be here.
6. It seems like Empire Avenue depends on advertising and partnerships to provide "Eaves" for users. How have people responded to this business model?
At the moment, we're earning revenue from the sale of virtual goods --Luxury Items and Eaves themselves -- which is something that a lot of other social startups aren't able to capitalize upon. So far the "freemium" model has paid off quite well for us, and we have other models we'll roll out in the future.
7. Do you plan on adding other services to Empire Avenue (i.e. Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR, Color)?
Absolutely. Our immediate goal is to simplify the interface some more, but we built a scalable algorithmic system to support any network or service given a certain number of inputs and parameters. Basically we can implement any network, with specific values assigned to various actions. Our next network is most likely going to be Foursquare, but it's ultimately driven by what our users are asking for.
8. Will we be able to add multiple accounts in the future (e.g. I use both @SocialNerdia and @SamsungEsteban on Twitter)?
For now we haven't offered that option, simply because of the complexity of the interface, both for managing but also understanding and connecting. Start simple, complicate life later :) We are now in the market to raise financing for our next round, and with that in hand we'll be able to growthe product as planned and pursue future opportunities.
Bonus question: Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Believe in what you build, dream big, don't give up, get a great team and founders around you, and be passionate. Life is short, so do exactly what you want to do, do it well, and do it with humility and respect for everyone else.
However, most importantly, don't be afraid of failure; we all fail, but it's a matter of how you get up when you get knocked down!