Tony Conrad
about.me

About.me Raises $11M To Rival Facebook For Simple Online Identity

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About.me, the second-time around startup that lets you create a simple page about yourself online that others can use to find out a bit more about you, is today announcing another round funding, its second since getting spun out of TC’s owner AOL after AOL originally acquired the startup in 2010.

The company has raised $11 million, money that it plans to invest in adding more features and making its platform easier to use. Or, in the words of co-founder Tony Conrad, to help plug two big gaps: “engaging the user base and motivating them to come back.”

The Series B round was led by existing investor Foundry Group, whose partner Brad Feld is joining the About.me board, along with participation from True Ventures (where Conrad is a partner), SoftTech VC, CrunchFund (which is led by TechCrunch founder and former editor Michael Arrington) and Bullpen Capital. Other investors in previous rounds include Google Ventures. It’s so far raised just over $17 million.

So where does About.me fit into the world of online identity? Facebook has become a ubiquitous way for people to sign into apps and sites that have social components so that you can share updates with friends. LinkedIn has largely cornered the market as the network where people list their accomplishments in a more formal resume style. And there are a bunch of companies that are ready and willing to manage all of the disparate passwords and login names for online services that require them.

But there remains a gap in the market for a simpler way of managing your profile online that is just a place where you can, effectively, create a page for yourself that people can visit if they want to know who you are and where you are online. This is where About.me has been trying to position itself.

And indeed this is where the VCs see opportunity, too: “There are endless options in today’s world of how to depict yourself online, but there has yet to be a singular platform that gives individuals full control of their online identity,” Foundry Group’s Feld said in a statement. “About.me gives users this ability, and we think there is something very exciting about the possibilities ahead, both in terms of the product and the team leading it.”

The company has seen some significant uptake in the last year. Conrad tells me that in January 2013, About.me was seeing around 4 million page views each month. By May 2014, that number ballooned to 168 million page views per month.

Part of the reason for that, Conrad says, has been the addition of a bunch of new features that have encouraged people to linger on the site longer, and also use it as more of dynamic utility. For example the ability to make “Collections” — a kind of “Pinterest for people” lets you tag other About.me profiles and then view them in a tile-style format. And there is now also an easier way to send messages to people on the platform — and for recipients of messages to reply.

It’s also incorporated more intelligent technology into how it presents information to users when they do search for others on the platform, courtesy of its Wefollow acquisition last year.

It’s for that reason that About.me is planning to put even more features on its platform. One big area that Conrad says will be tackled is the flow behind how people to sign up in the first place: he thinks that as simple as About.me is in its concept, it’s still too hard for many people to sign up and create their pages.

“There’s a new set of editing tools we will launch at the beginning July that will solve that, to make it easier to create a great page,” he says. “It’s dead simple for some, but there’s still too many places we’re asking people to choose from, say, 20 different fonts. The number of places where you could go wrong is amazing.”

Another is messaging. Seeing how some are already using the platform to engage with each other is leading the company to think about how they can capitalise on that more. But they also understand the limits of such a service, since many of the people who are likely to be messaged the most are probably the ones who want it the least. “Messaging and creating ability for people to connect is a big focus but we don’t have the answer yet,” he says. “It’s a clear opportunity and we’d want to figure it out.”

He says that he and Ryan Freitas, the other co-founder, “push the team to rely on services that are already out there, not create more” — so to me this sounds like a potential clue to one way that it’s messaging evolution could work. It could be a place, for example, to bring together strands of existing social networks to post to them from the single location. (So, not just look up Ingrid Lunden’s Twitter handle but then actually send me a tweet, right there and then.)

At the same time, the company is still working on more premium features. Right now there are two tiers for About.me users — a free tier and a premium tier at $4/month with added features like custom domains, analytics and the removal of all About.me branding. But there is also a third, at $9/month, that will be called “Promote.” Conrad says that “it’s a good question” to ask when it will be launched — it sounds like there are still some glitches that need to be ironed out, but the basic idea here will be that you can pay to boost your visibility on the platform.

In that regard, although Conrad says that About.me doesn’t see itself as a competitor to LinkedIn, it kind of is: “I’ve gotten messages from people introducing themselves for jobs, investing and to ask me about talking engagements,” he says. With Promote, you can pay a little bit more to add a little Conrad gold dust to your own profile, too.