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Business Rx: Failure to recall a name leads to an idea for a new company

The Entrepreneur

Three years ago, Michael Riordan was at a sports bar hanging out with some friends when a girl he knew from high school walked in. They recognized each other right away – she walked over and give him a big hug – but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember her name. He was too embarrassed to ask, and after chatting for 20 minutes, he left without ever learning it. Back at home, he spent hours trying to dig up his old yearbook, without success. He never did figure out who she was that night—but it did spark a business idea: Wouldn’t it be convenient if his yearbook was online?

Though he’d never even been on the yearbook staff in high school, Riordan took a gamble on his idea and left his job in the commercial insurance industry to pursue Lifepages, a Web platform for creating and sharing memories across private groups online.

The Pitch

Riordan

“We’ve created the essence of a yearbook online. Lifepages is in the business of sharing and storing memories in private social networks. Lifepages starts as a digital yearbook utility for our high school and college clients where demand, engagement and viral reach is the highest. These clients pay for their students to have access to official school content.

“At many schools, our platform complements the printed yearbook – it takes the physical yearbook online and expands it with user-generated content inside private networks. We also offer a stand-alone great alternative for high schools and university that can’t afford pricey printed yearbooks.

“Students create a password-protected account – similar to a Facebook account – and can interact with their friends through the system, leaving messages and posting photos and memories. Unlike Facebook and other social networks, Lifepages offers privacy settings and sharing controls that restrict access to content to users only in the group.

“We market directly to schools and contract with these institutions on a subscription basis. Then they market to their students through campus ads, flyers, e-mails, etc. to drive traffic to our Web site. We also have free contract arrangements with some schools that don’t pay an annual fee, but provide Lifepages with university e-mail rights to allow us to do our own student marketing to get individual users to sign up and pay for the service. Lifepages users market virally through shared content.

“We went live with the first yearbook in May 2010 and this past spring launched at 12 universities and high schools, including Syracuse and Louisiana State universities and Langley and Chantilly high schools in Northern Virginia. We’re expanding to more universities this fall. Right now, our biggest challenge is getting the sales and marketing in place to expand rapidly while continuously improving our technology for users.

The Feedback

Elana Fine, director of venture investments, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“The value of your platform to universities goes beyond putting the yearbook online. LifePages may solve a larger alumni relations problem by providing a low-cost tool to re-engage alumni. University development offices are constantly searching for creative methods to connect with graduates. Your product could replace traditional venues such as sporting events and local happy hours, which require time commitment and are limited by geography, with interactive tools that reconnect alumni with current campus activities.

By simultaneous engaging the yearbook offices and alumni development offices you can increase the number of potential users on each campus. Your 12 live campuses should be viewed as an opportunity for significant user growth with lower acquisition costs since you are already established. Use the current yearbook offices as your advocates to other areas of the university that typically aren’t engaged with each other on technology purchases. Test different strategies of selling/pricing on a few campuses and then refine the strategy to approach the remaining clients. Campuses may be more willing to purchase your technology if they see multiple applications and benefits.”

The Reaction

Riordan

“We’re starting to explore partnerships with some of the big yearbook publishers, and we’re looking into additional markets. The alumni association idea is a great one to help us grow — that’s next on the horizon. Right now, we’re in road mode — now it’s time to grow it. The great thing about our service is it isn’t geographically limited, so we’re targeting universities nationwide. And there are a lot of submarkets we can target as well. We’re really excited.”

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