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James Hong

Monday, July 09, 2007

Reinventing HOTorNOT, Part III

This was actually the beginning of Part II, but I realized it was a bit too long and so I cut this part out.. In the interest of keeping it, I've made it a separate post. This gives the higher level explanation of how we came to our strategy


To explain how we came up with our new strategy, I need to first explain how we think about our business. There are actually 2 points I want to cover:

1. The way we see our business is different than how most people see it
2. Our name is extremely valuable, not only as a brand but also a context setter.

Point 1: The way we see our business is different than how most people see it

When we first launched HOTorNOT, we used to wonder if the site would die quickly like many other web memes. After all, we saw it as most people saw it:an a fun but silly site where people looked at other people’s pictures and said if they were Hot.

Fun and innovative? Yes. Sustainable? Not as likely.

But then one of our former advisors, the late Richard Newton (former dean of Berkeley Engineering, venture partner at Mayfield, pioneer of SPICE simulators, and advisor to the founding teams of Cadence and Synopsys) said something so insightful it made us realize that HOTorNOT was more than we had originally thought...

“PEOPLE are the killer app,” he said. Richard realized that what we had was a platform that attracted people and could connect them. Around those words, we decided that our company’s goal would be to become “the ultimate people router”.

Our focus on connecting people, not just on showing pictures, would be the core of HOTorNOT’s sustainability. Connecting people around dating was the first obvious extension of our service, so we launched a dating section on HOTorNOT just 3 months after launching the site… but dating is only a subset of the types of relationships people have an interest in, so to keep it generalized we named the section “Meet Me at HOT or NOT” instead of something like “Date Me at HoN” or “Find your soulmate at HoN”. It was our hope that people would use the system not only to find their soulmate, but also just to meet new friends around common interests.

Richard saw the potential of the Internet, and of our site in particular, as a means to deliver something more important to people than even information or search. We want to deliver people, because people are the killer app.

So as I mentioned, how we see our company is not how most people have seen it over the years.

Our company is not about rating people, it is about connecting them.

Point 2: Our name is extremely valuable, not only as a brand but also a context setter.

The word HOT is interesting because unlike most other words that are used to describe something as being really good (like awesome, killer, tight, rad, groovy), the word HOT is not a fad. According to an article I once read, the word hot has been used in that context for at least a millennium. In other languages, the equivalent word for hot is often used in the same way.

The article hypothesized it is based on your human physiological response to anything you find exciting: your heart races, you start to sweat… quite simply, you feel hot. This is why spicy foods are also often referred to as being hot.

In a nutshell, because we are all human, the word HOT is not a fad.

And then there’s the NOT part. Not rhymes with Hot, which makes HOTorNOT insanely easy to remember. Rhyming may very well be the best mnemonic device we have, and it makes things catchy.

All of this makes HOTorNOT a great name… sustainable and memorable. But there’s one other thing that HOTorNOT does really well… it sets the right context.

Countless companies, many of them huge megacorps, have tried copying our picture rating service under different names. AOL tried, Myspace tried. But none of them really got their products to take off. Somehow, for some reason, the name HOTorNOT sets just the right tone of being fun and puts people into the context of sharing opinion on things in a way that the names “rank” and “rate my buddy” don’t.

But is HOTorNOT limited to setting the context around rating pictures of people? No. The word HOT can be used to describe lots of things as being good… a movie can be hot, a car can be hot.. Almost anything can be HOT. So, it turns out, HOTorNOT is a great name to create a context for sharing opinions about ANYTHING.

So this got us thinking... HOTorNOT as a picture rating/dating site could certainly be a profitable business, but an empire could be built on top of the brand HOTorNOT once we start extending it and applying it to everything.


Blogger Jason Rubenstein said...

Your thoughts about context remind me of what Brian Eno said about context & listening. ( I think this can be properly extrapolated to context & *experiencing*... and correctly, given the example you cite of you guys vs. everyone else who've tried to copy you.

And, after creating a HotList for the first time today, there's more "context" to be had.. or maybe "subtext" is more accurate: I created a Stylepix for David Hume (why? I'm a geek.. geddoverit).. clearly not a "product", but also clearly contextually linked to some books out there somewhere, sold by some bookseller.. so not only can people express themselves with product icons (go Triumph motorcycles!) but also with icons of ideas, heroes, etc. etc. that carry a contextual (or subtextual) link to some product at some level (freaky magic -> Penn & Teller tickets?) or (David Hume -> Amazon books).

I get the sneaky feeling that what you've hit on here is going to be huge.

(pardon the late-night-dorm-room tenor of this post.. but boy the wine is good up here in S.F...)

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just wanted to say whether you guys at hotornot are free or not, its a great site. been on there now for about four years, and have always been entertained. thanks for at least trying to make the site free for a while. hey, nothing ever really stays free, right? BB

6:10 PM  

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