Montenegro, a small country tucked into Southeast Europe, bordered by Bosnia and Hezergovina, Serbia, Croatia and Abania, has just over 600,000 residents. Among its most valuable exports of late has been its attractive .me domain, the country code TLD behind fast-growing personal page service About.me, who was snapped up by AOL almost immediately after public unveiling, and now says they are nearing 1 million unique accounts - well beyond the population of Montenegro itself, after being open for about 4 1/2 months. Company founder Tony Conrad, also known for selling Sphere into AOL back in 2008, recounted the story behind getting the brand name at a Media Roundtable day at AOL West Coast headquarters yesterday in Palo Alto, and says adoption has been phenomenal.
About.me was initially referred to as "Pumpkinhead", but was never intended to go by that name even from the service's inception. Conrad said the plan all along was to acquire the about.me domain, and it took considerable cajoling and back and forth calls with Montenegro government representatives between 11 at night Pacific time and 4 am to push for the service's getting the attractive name. All told, he said there were thirteen phone calls, each one going higher up the food chain and having a larger audience. Eventually, he gained the domain name, telling the Montenegro officials that the exposure of the new TLD would be more enough payback for giving up the lucrative URL.
"If you call them, they will say it was the best thing they have ever done," Conrad gushed yesterday. "About.me was the perfect marriage with the product we were about to offer, and it was going to get them incredible exposure."
The idea behind About.me came from the far-flung URLs many of us are using to define ourselves, be it our blogs, our Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles, LinkedIn resumes, and more. Conrad wanted to offer something controlled by the individual that could aggregate content from disparate sites, present a clean visual appeal, and avoid the step of going to Google to "dumpster dive" and find the right person in a sea of names.
"The opportunity was to create a page that was truly about myself," he said, "something simple that you could put in your email signature that makes sense."
The appeal of a simple "About Me" page has struck a chord with initial users, who are reportedly adopting the service faster even than well-known sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Foursquare, something Conrad gave credit to Twitter for, as the service has been leveraged to increase virality and visibility of the service. Now, he sees many people using the platform in creative ways beyond a simple dynamic business card, including "tons of baby announcements", and job searches.
Wanting to avoid the common aggregator problem of enabling scads of far-flung third party services (see FriendFeed or others), About.me will be introducing an API in Q3 that lets external sites integrate with the platform directly - beyond those that were "obvious and strategic for us to do", Conrad said.
For those of us initially skeptical on About.me's mission in a world crammed full of start pages and abandoned aggregators, the approach seems to be working - letting people creatively describe themselves with simple onboarding. This has been a key focus for the company even after becoming part of AOL - Tony's second stint there, and one he swore up and down is more fun than the last.
"That regime (following the sale of Sphere) was a bummer," Conrad said. "Under the old regime, I would not have come today (to the media briefing.) I would have been sick. But when I left, Tim Armstrong asked me to be a special advisor and I stayed around the table in a very abstract way. "
Continuing his proximity to AOL, upon About.me's founding, the company was funded by AOL Ventures to the tune of $25,000. During a regular check-in call, Conrad says Armstrong said, 'I want to own more', which came as a surprise as the product was barely off the ground and was considered a project.
"To his credit, he understood the vision we were working towards," Conrad said. "He made a very generous offer that impacted my team in a positive way."
About.me is rapidly approaching a million unique accounts. You can find my About me page here: http://www.about.me/louisgray. Tony Conrad's is here: http://about.me/tonyconrad. The company is hoping to further kickstart registrations and use with a partnership with MOO cards, so if About.me represents you, the URL should look great on your business card.