Whatever happened to Asmallworld?

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Asmallworld, the social network for a rather self-selecting elite, was launched several years ago by Swedish Investment banker and INSEAD Alumnus Erik Wachtmeister. Back then he’d deicded to tap into the evolving microcosm of social networking. In that era it was Myspace that was making its way as the leading social net aside from Friendster et al. Specialized social networks were still scarce. Wachtmeister hit up this niche of a an international network of affluent and influential people. Asmallworld grew to a userbase of initially 30,000 users, and later 500,000. So what happened?

In 2006, US movie giants Harvey and Bob Weinstein – notably being responsible for blockbusters such as the Scary movie series – acquired a significant stake in the company for an undisclosed amount and made it their first internet investment. Though this move was covered by numerous outlets, since then it has gone rather quiet with the invitation only social network.

With Facebook striving to become the world’s leading social network and managing to embrace people no matter what age, race or wealth, ASW had to redefine itself in order to prove its relevancy. Looking at the latest Quantcast data also gives you a feeling that it’s userbase has been declining in the face of Facebook’s march.

Recently aSmallWorld underwent some relatively unknown yet major changes in its stakeholder structure and the product itself. Among others changes, Joe Robinson joined the company as its CEO, Neil Capel as its CTO and Wachtmeister moved to the Chairman position.

And after a tough financial year for the Weinstein’s movie studio, The Weinstein company sold its stake to 25-year old Swiss native Patrick Liotard-Vogt as it’s lead investor, along with an Austrian Advertising CEO, Leandro Sanchez (founder of Geschenkidee.ch, who exited to Ringier in 2008) and Stephane Doutriaux (Founder of Poken).

Liotard-Vogt now refers to ASW as a “trusted community”, rather than an “elite social network”. They plan to “add a real value to reality, not only to one’s online connections”, and even thinks that “Facebook is complementary to ASW”.

As with every other startup they are obviously developing an iPhone App for making reservations at elite hotels, and allowing users to upgrade everything from flight tickets to hotel rooms. I assume that in order to drive revenue and focusing on it’s core business of “affluent individuals” they’ll start rolling out premium memberships. Clearly other startups in the premium travel and lifestyle segment prove that there are people out there willing to pay for concierge or luxury services. But ASW needs to transform itself as a product and from a business perspective it needs to generate significant revenue from a certain percentage of it’s current userbase of around 600,000 members whether they are elites or not.

New majority shareholder Liotard-Vogt plans to apply his previous experience at students.ch and usgang.ch, both sold to Axel Springer. He is also involved as lead investor and chairman of Poken.com, the Lausanne-based Start-up which won The Europas for “best gadget” in 2009.

Eventually ASW is competing with other more or less successful invitation-only companies such as SchwarzeKarte.de (Germany) or the bigger and more international Decayenne.

Being originally a European company, then becoming a US company with offices in New York City, ASW is now a European company again.

It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.

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