Lucky number three in the Capitol Hill Tech series is King of the Web.
CHS has profiled the start-up with an all-star cast of backers in the past. Think American Idol or America’s Got Talent for the Internet — King of the Web hosts competitions between internet celebrities who invite their fans to vote for them to win in a variety of categories, including the cash-prize winning King of the Web.
King of the Web is in the third floor of the Odd Fellows building, with a killer view of Cal Anderson Park and Substantial’s roof deck.
I met with Maggie Finch, CEO, and Casey Selleck, vice president of marketing and business development, for an interview over coffee at Oddfellows, King of the Web’s unofficial cafeteria.
Before we jump in, we’d also like to talk to more small, one and two-person (OK, maybe three-person) start-ups around the Hill. Have a story to tell us? Drop us a line.
How did King of the Web get created? Why a competition?
Maggie Finch: This started with a conversation with a guy named Nick Hanauer. It was also a conversation with Rich Barton. We got talking about the digital sensation that is the web cloud and about digital influence. A lot of young people found themselves in the catbird seat of telling people how to feel, how to act. They are looking from this great perch, all these young people are looking to them for product wisdom, for cultural wisdom. It’s currently through written word, and largely through video. We got talking about that, and [Hanauer] had the idea to tackle it by doing an American Idol that would let people win some attention and some cash. It was supposed to be fun and fizzy. We got it [the platform] built, the hard part was creating the tools for real time voting and scrubbing for fraud.
Every one of us here might have 600 Facebook friends, but we’re really lightweight in the sense of [online] clout. There are these people who are really celebrities of influence, and they showed up. We didn’t know that before. We do now. All their talents are rooted in relationship entertainment. It doesn’t matter if they’re singing or dancing or gaming or talking, they all have to have a base skill of building relationships
They’re really good at building relationships in a way that [traditional] celebrities haven’t figured out. They’re really working hard to have a genuine dialogue with their followers. They follow up with 50% of the comments, they’ll call people on the phone, they really work hard to build relationships with their audience. We thought a million people would campaign, but a thousand people campaigned and a million people loved them.
People ask how we grew so quickly. It’s because of this handful of kids with a huge influence. When they go onto Facebook and say “I’m trying to be king, vote for me”, their followers will do it. Kim Kardashian can tell people to buy hair extensions, and she’ll get a good amount of people to buy them. But by percentages she won’t be able to mobile the same amount of people as these kids.
Why have offices on Capitol Hill?
Finch: We were getting showed around. One of my investors & cofounders, Scott Howe, he and I were looking at space. We looked at all the classic places to be, and we’d ask brokers to show us Capitol Hill and they wouldn’t know where to show us. I feel like brokers should know more.
I have a lot of friends in spaces with classic drop-down ceiling, Dilbert land, and they’ll ask us how we got our space. They want to wear cool clothes but they’ll be in triple pleated khakis because they feel like they should be wearing them [in their office/ architectural environment].
We didn’t want to be under a drop-down ceiling, fluorescent lights and cubicle walls. For once this is going to be cool and not feel like we’re selling copiers. Every place they kept showing was “If I worked for Dunder Mifflin, this would be a great space. But I don’t work for Dunder Mifflin!”
When I got here, even our dorky tech selves could feel the vibe and the mood shift from corporate to artist, which was really nice. When you’re going to launch and enter a business like we did you want to be immersed in a space that feels germane to what you do.
I live on Capitol Hill, for the record. One of the small perks of having your own company is being able to work close to home. I’ll admit I wanted to be able to work close to home. What’s attractive to me with 3 kids is that I can have breakfast with them because I don’t have to do the 520 bridge.
To me Cap Hiill is youth culture and we want smart, young, ambitious people. Smart, young, ambitious people come to Capitol Hill and say “I can go to Oddfellows, I can ride my skateboard to work.” I feel like it’s attractive.
Another reason for Capitol Hill is its diversity. I think that every company wants to have a diverse crew work for it. In particular we built a company that has people coming from Russia to compete, and from Peru. We have categories that range from comedy to gaming. We want a group of people that can understand and relate to every possible personality and talent venue that might compete on King of the Web. We don’t want a bunch of people who understand selling real estate. I feel like Capitol Hill attracts that. I think it attracts an open-mindedness. I think Capitol Hill has a sense of humor about itself while being smart. Having a sense of humor and being smart are the two must haves of social media.
Where else can a company have a Christmas party at [a] Dina Martina [show]. Maybe HR will stop us from doing that when we get bigger, but HR set it up this year. Tequila shots and Pabst at Dina Martina. That was us down at Rebar. We all ended up back on the Hill afterwards at Pony. It was great, from Dina to Pony.
Does the King of the Web crew have any favorite Capitol Hill hangouts?
Finch: Oddfellow is like our second home, we call it our cafeteria. Casey and I will go to Yahoo HQ, we were at Microsoft, and they’ll bring us to the café and we’ll say “Pish, we’ve got Oddfellows”. Molly Moon’s too, we always say that’s where the second bottom line of the company grows.
Selleck: The dev guys always go to Marination Station, Po Dog, and Kentucky Fried Mexican — Rancho Bravo.
Finch: We just renewed our lease. We told our broker, wherever we end up, it’s just gotta be on Cap Hill. That’s our criteria.