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Here we interview Chris "Spark Guy" Downie, founder/CEO of SparkPeople:
1. Wow, big growth-- what is driving this? Are you buying traffic or growing organically, or both?
ANSWER: SparkPeople has developed a program that truly works and helps people reach their goals. Every day members tell me that SparkPeople has changed their life. Here's a simple example from this week:
SKINNYNANNY 3/2/2008 12:19:17 AM This sight is amazing. so much more than weight loss! My life is forever changed! I hope I can inspire others the way you all inspire me!
As a result, many members reach their goals and then tell family, friends, and co-workers. We do advertise, so the growth is a combination of advertising and organic growth. Our goal is to continually improve the site so more people reach goals and spread the spark! We're very excited that successful SparkPeople members have appeared in major media outlets in 2008 including: The Today Show, People Magazine, The Ellen Degeneres Show, Woman's World Magazine, and E! TV. I've been involved with high-traffic consumer websites for over 11 years now and have never been more excited than I am now with SparkPeople.
2. What is Healthtainment?
ANSWER: Healthtainment is a term we came up with that describes our program and philosophy. We try to make it fun and entertaining for people to reach their health goals instead of a negative experience. I believe it will be a uniquely American solution for a media-related company like SparkPeople to play a significant role in solving America's obesity and health crisis.
3. Are annual operating expenses still about $2 million per year, or different from when Chris wrote his "State of SparkPeople" some 18 months ago?
ANSWER: Our annual expenses are now higher than that, but not significantly. We will continue to invest in very talented employees to improve our site, launch new features, and launch new sites like SparkRecipes.com and SparkTeens.com. We have spent a good amount of time building a great corporate culture where we "live the brand" and do things like pay a significant bonus to our employees for following a consistent fitness and health program. This is one reason we have never had a key employee leave the company.
4. What firms do you see as your primary competitors, and how is SparkPeople you different?
ANSWER: Our primary competitors are diet sites like WeightWatchers.com, eDiets, and others. But, indirectly we're a goal-setting site and we'll continue launching more sites and have other sets of competitors. We do feel there will be room for several winners in these categories. Many of our competitors are good companies, but I'd say we are fanatical about building a great consumer experience that helps people make a healthy lifestyle change and reach their goals in life. I developed the SparkPeople program to help me conquer anxiety. This worked and helped me reach personal and professional goals I never thought possible, like selling the first company I co-founded to eBay. Those experiences made me realize the SparkPeople program really could help millions of people. Now I'm just a small part of a great team working together on this mission.
5. Are you monetizing the site by selling ads yourself, or as part of a network? Are you finding revenue is ahead of or behind plan, and why?
ANSWER: SparkPeople recently received investment from Revolution Health, AOL Co-Founder Steve Case's new company. We are also happy to be part of the Revolution Health Network for our ad sales. We're happy with our ad sales to date and look forward to growing this area as part of a major network.
I think there will continue to be consolidation in the online ad sales category. It's extremely hard, expensive, and time-consuming to build a national ad sales force.
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