myWebRoom: A virtual room of your own, eyes on Asia
By A. Asohan October 15, 2015
- Content discovery and organisation startup touts ‘unique self-expression platform’
- ‘High concentration’ of its 700K+ registered users from Asia Pacific
AMONG the many differences between the first dotcom wave and the one we are undergoing today are the strange new startups that are making it big.
On-demand services like GrabCar and Uber make sense, online shopping and travel booking have always been there in some form or the other … but then you get a creature like Twitter, which was originally positioned as a ‘micro-blogging’ site.
Think about it: When Twitter came out in 2006, blogging was already mature, so why would you have wanted to reduce yourself to ‘micro-blogs’ of 140 characters or less?
Twitter really didn’t make sense until you started using it, and then a whole new world opened up.
That’s kinda like the feeling you get with content discovery and organisation platform myWebRoom, which is touting itself as “a unique self-expression platform for organising bookmarks and discovering products through highly customisable online rooms.”
It combines the “content discovery aspect of sites like Pinterest and Taboola with the bookmarking capabilities of sites like Dragdis and Kifi, creating a whole new way to interact with content and other users online,” the company said in an official statement.
The platform is like a virtual room you can make your own, with bookmarking features (on speed), and easy access to online shopping deals and discounts … if you want them.
That last bit is important because it means there is a route to monetisation already built-in, something which investors must have taken note of: myWebRoom has picked up a total of US$4.3 million in three rounds of funding, the last of which was US$1.5 million in September.
According to one of its two founders, John Gonzalez, the site was in beta from December 2013 to April 2014. The company – the other founder is Artem Fedyaev – had initially targeted 100,000 registered users by the end of 2014, but hit that target six months early.
“Since then, we have grown to over 700,000 registered users worldwide [as of September 2015],” Gonzalez tells Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
With that kind of market reception, no wonder it is now eyeing a Series A round, and looking at the Asian market more seriously.
“We’re developing a lot of new features in the coming year and we intend to increase the number of people on our team as soon as possible,” he says.
“We will need engineers to help build more functionality for the platform, and will soon need people for sales and business development.
“Since we have a design-forward project, we will be looking for more artistic designers in the coming months too,” he adds.
As at early September, it also had more than 40 retail and brand partners on board, including Nordstrom, Sony, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, and Wayfair.
“We are currently working on expanding our network of affiliate partners,” says Gonzalez.
The company plans to utilise product placement, cost-per-click and cost-per-impression income funnels to monetise the 8.9 million products that have been placed in users’ rooms.
It is also looking to generate further revenue by collecting marketing data.
Global audience, Asian challenges
myWebRoom is also positioning itself to take advantage of the fact that the Asia Pacific region accounts for 25% of the world’s social media activity.
“Asia’s social media presence is steadily growing and with that has come the move towards content discovery sites in much the same way that it has in the Western markets,” the company said in a statement.
According to the 19-person startup, which is based in the financial district of San Francisco, its top three regions in Asia are Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
“Since the start of 2015 [to September], we have had 82,000 sessions from Asia,” says Gonzalez (pic), although he declines to say how many of its users are from this part of the world.
The top three South-East Asian countries are the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are developed economies with robust Internet infrastructure and great bandwidth; the rest of Asia is wildly different, with varied levels of Internet access.
myWebRoom is a resource-hungry website. How would it go about tackling the challenge of getting more Asian users on board?
“So this is something that we have given a lot of thought to, and we are very confident that we will be able to adapt to different levels of connectivity,” Gonzalez says.
“Our talented team of engineers has been developing several different types of scripts that will make it easier for the client-side to handle our resources.
“The cool thing about things like that is that there is new technology being created daily that will make it more manageable for us and other technology-based companies to adapt to different network capabilities.
“This is not a challenge only for us, but for every tech company trying to tap into the Asian market. So expect future collaboration and adaptation to happen,” he adds.
It has one ace up its sleeve: Its lead product designer is the Malaysian-born and Singapore-educated Ling Lim.
READ ALSO: Malaysian-born, NUS-educated, Silicon Valley-focused designer
Virtual room, one-tab browsing
myWebRoom, as your virtual room (or playroom), stores all your favourite music, news, entertainment, travel, sports and social media sites as objects in the room, so you can browse in a single tab.
First you choose one of themed layouts available (choices range from The Orient Express and Miami Beach deco to Star Trek and 007), then you start populating the various objects with the URLs of your favourites sites: The TV for entertainment sites, for example, or the newspaper for – what else? – news sites. myWebRoom also gives some site suggestions.
“We currently have 1.2 million rooms designed (and growing). There are 90 million possible unique room combinations that users can design on myWebRoom,” says Gonzalez.
You can customise further with new object designs – switch out the table with a different type, for example. Some of these objects are also linked to advertiser or retail sites.
“The links go directly to the product pages on the original retailer’s sites where users can purchase the items,” he adds.
The site also curates and streams content, based on your interests, on a daily basis. Save the ones you like.
From dorm idea to startup
Founders Fedyaev and Gonzalez met in college in Rhode Island, where they were roommates. They actually worked on a couple of different ideas for tech products, one of them being Pic Life, a photo-sharing site focused on helping college students make some extra cash.
myWebRoom is their first startup venture, which they started right after graduation.
“myWebRoom is our first ‘official’ startup venture, but we have been working on products together for over four years now, and some of them definitely felt like startups,” Gonzalez says.
The idea for this venture goes back to when they were first in college. They looked around their dorms and realised that everyone’s room was identical in the beginning of the semester, but as people moved in and filled their rooms with the objects that they loved and needed, their rooms became as unique as they were.
“We realised that a room is a deeply personal place that grows with a person as his or her tastes change,” Gonzalez says.
That led to the idea that a 3D room would be the perfect place to store and organise the excess of online content we get today.
Together, they learned the basics of HTML coding and created a working prototype of myWebRoom, according to Gonzalez.
They also wanted to present users with content related to the interests they were adding to their rooms so that they can keep up with trending topics, which is where the content discovery side of the site came into play, he says.
“myWebRoom was developed so that people can make sense of the constant deluge of online content, by creating a place that is more than just a tool or extension – a home,” he adds.
What were their biggest challenges in moving from crazy idea to actual implementation?
“Just getting myWebRoom from college project to working company was a challenge, because it required moving from Rhode Island to Silicon Valley,” says Gonzalez.
“The other challenges included learning the basic code to get the idea off of the ground, and putting those college business courses to good use when building the company,” he adds.
How did they tackle these challenges, and what have they learned from them?
“The answer to those questions is honestly an interview on its own, so I will let you in on one thing that I have taken to heart and actively advocate for when I do speaking gigs: The biggest challenge and my biggest lesson is really the same – just do it,” says Gonzalez.
“It takes a lot of guts and effort to really turn an idea into reality, especially at the beginning. Everything is so new that it is kind of scary. There are no fool-proof step-by-step books out there to help you turn your idea into a successful company, so a lot of it is trusting your gut and going with it.
“And that’s where most people give up. Right at the beginning – either because it’s too much work or they are afraid to fail.
“So for me the biggest challenge was just doing what I felt was right to take us to the next step, and slowly but surely we built enough momentum to bring us to where we are today,” he adds.
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