Geni: Earning That $100 million Valuation

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When genealogy site Geni announced that it had raised a venture round from Charles River Ventures valuing the two month old startup at $100 million, more than a few eyebrows were raised. For the last couple of months, people have referred to “Pulling a Geni” when they try to raise money at a super-big valuation immediately after launch.

At launch, Geni appeared to be like many other “family tree” websites, just with a better looking and easier to use (Flash) interface. The site is extremely viral. When I first created my account I added my mother and father, along with their emails. They added more family members, who added yet others. Seven weeks after launch there were 126 people in my Geni family tree. Today, Today, after 15 weeks or so, there are 305 people in my family tree. All but three, myself included, were added by others.

Geni, The (Family) Social Network

Geni won’t be successful if all they can do is get people to add themselves and a couple of relatives and then rarely revisit the site. They want viral growth and the kind of big page view numbers that the large social networks see – up to 20 per day per visitor. To get there they’re adding a few proven features to the site. And by adding these features, they are essentially creating a social network with the family, as well as family friends, as the core. There’s a direct analogy to facebook – instead of colleges and universities, Geni is focusing on family units.

New features include:

  • photo uploading and sharing
  • map view of people in your tree by birthplace or current location
  • calendar of upcoming birthdays, anniversaries and other family events
  • Add family friends as “friends of your family tree”
  • Gedcom export – export your tree in the standard genealogy file format

All of these features will incentivize users to use the site frequently, even daily. The photo sharing feature is modeled on Facebook – users can upload photos and they are then available to everyone in the family tree. Photos can also be tagged with the names of anyone in the tree or any family friends. Those pictures will then appear in the profile of those users. That means people’s profiles get built out even without their active participation.

Geni also has more features planned in the near future. These include Gedcom imports, family tree mergers, and an internal messaging system.

Geni will never have the sex appeal of MySpace of Facebook, but they may finally crack the older demographic and get them participating actively in social networking. If they can become the (or one of the) de facto ways that people share family experiences like weddings, funerals, anniversaries and birthdays, it could become an important part of people’s online life. If that happens, the $100 million valuation will look like a steal.

Our previous coverage of Geni is here.

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