Taipei Times (TT): What is Wretch (無名小站) and how do you position yourself in the market place?
Wretch Chien (簡志宇): We started out as a photo sharing and blog site, and now we consider ourselves as a service provider. We’re not just a virtual company. In fact, we’d like to think of ourselves as being in the business of making lives better online and in real life.
TT: Wretch has several initiatives this year to facilitate communication. Can you give a brief introduction of these initiatives?
PHOTO: COURTESY OF WRETCH CHIEN
Chien: We have built identity through extensive user profiles featuring photos. Once profiles are built, we encourage members to reach out and connect based on similar education, work experiences, hobbies, characteristics and other commonalities. To provide numerous tools and methods for users to engage with one another, we have recently introduced a new service, Digu (嘀咕), which is basically a light-weight communication tool similar to Microsoft’s Instant Messenger. You can basically “Digu” anyone you want, anytime you want.
TT: What about 2009?
Chien: Next year, Wretch wants to roll out more social networking functions and group events. Currently our movies, food and beauty groups are well established and members frequently have activities sponsored by corporations. Next year, we want to help other groups gain momentum as well and build strong communities.
We are also working on creating interactive tools and gadgets to automatically link people together based on something they have in common, rather than have members passively searching. Tools that allow them to leave text messages to each other are currently under development. Then from text, we can move to voice. Hence videophone is the next possibility as members get more comfortable socializing on the Internet. But right now the predominant culture on Wretch is still relatively conservative.
Also, a major endeavor next year for Wretch is the concept of openness.
Without the need for technical Web site building skills, Wretch will make simple tools and building blocks to help users easily create their own Web sites and provide services to other Wretch users. In the near future, individuals and small businesses can just focus on innovation and core values through open application program interface (API) on Wretch.
TT: What new and innovative ideas are you working on at the moment?
Chien: Most networking sites only focus on the past and present, Wretch would like to see if the future could be tapped. For example albums and blogs are focused on past events, while Digu is more real-time and can be thought of as focused on the present. I’m constantly thinking about how we can focus on the future and what tools would allow our users to talk about the future.
The concept of six degrees of separation really melts down relationship distances between users. Can you imagine that through six people I can be linked to [US presidential candidate Senator] Barack Obama?
If Obama had a Wretch account, I can definitely connect to him via our platform. The overall cost of Internet engineering is going down. It is becoming easier than ever to calculate how many people are one degrees, two degrees and three degrees away from you. Our site is focused on this concept to link users whose paths would never cross together.
TT: How extensive is your membership base? Wretch has an image of being a young people’s site, what are you doing to reach out to older Internet users in Taiwan?
Chien: We can’t disclose the number of actual registered users, but let’s just say most young working professionals and students in Taiwan are already Wretch users. Currently Wretch has about 10 million unique visitors every month, and an 80 percent reach rate.
Our old image used to be very young. But with the first wave of Wretch users growing up and going to work just like us, the original team, young working professionals now constitute 60 percent of our users.
We do notice that Wretch does not have too many registered members in their 40s and 50s. But to attract them, we are constantly focused on topics that might be of interest to people in these age groups such as finance, stock market, politics, cooking, pets and others.
Currently we’ve noticed these groups on Wretch often engage in very deep conversations on these various topics. Apparently there is an interest, so we’re working on cultivating these interests into stronger communities.
TT: Who are your competitors?
Chien: Wretch’s real competitor is itself. Being big is an asset, but also a liability as well.
Big corporations often times have trouble being nimble and can’t adapt to changing times. So this is something we are very wary of. I remind myself and my team members daily, to constantly innovate and create in order to meet changing user demands. I would rather have them take a risk and make a big mistake than to have them miss out on a brilliant idea because they were risk-averse.
If Wretch ever fails in the future, it would be because we missed out on an important feature or idea, not because some other site is incredibly better. It’s the small changes in the social networking landscape that can make a site a huge success one moment and a huge failure the next.
TT: What do you think of Facebook and MySpace? A lot of Taiwanese people already have accounts at these places, doesn’t that take away business from Wretch?
Chien: Facebook and MySpace are two other means to make friends. Just like in real life, there’s no restriction on where you can make friends. In fact, I have accounts at both places, and I log on frequently to interact with my friends on those sites. With the US being so advanced in the Internet arena, I also spend time on these sites just to see how these platforms have evolved over time and what new changes they are making to make their sites better.
TT: How does Wretch make money?
Chien: It’s easy to make money on Wretch. Period. We don’t have any pop-ups. Only banners and display ads.
This year, we are starting to implement social network marketing — a new form of advertising.
The traditional way of marketing is to buy ads in newspapers and magazines and spots on TV, but with social network marketing, it is through activities, beliefs and interactions to reach massive amounts of people. “Do as I do” is essentially the concept behind social network marketing. It is all about making friends while promoting your business or brand.
Big corporations don’t always have the time to build their social networks; they want to see immediate results. So we tailor-make programs best suited for each individual company.
Another way for corporations to gain exposure on Wretch is through sponsorship. Cosmetics companies are frequent long-term sponsors to our beauty section, for example.
TT: What are Wretch’s added values to Yahoo-Kimo?
Chien: Without revealing actual revenue contributions, let’s suffice it to say that Wretch is bringing in positive revenue to Yahoo-Kimo.
In non-monetary terms, innovation and passion are the two big values our 40-person team brings to Yahoo-Kimo.
A lot of times more seasoned companies have a set way of doing business or a pre-determined way of problem solving. With Wretch, we are able to inject youth and spirit to the entire company and our passion is infectious.
TT: Are you rich now?
Chien: Wretch and Yahoo-Kimo’s merger financial terms can’t be revealed. Let’s just say I have enough to allow me to work comfortably without worrying about money. I love what I do and I can’t put a price tag on it.
TT: What are your thoughts on Taiwanese Internet professionals? How big is the Wretch team and are you looking for new recruits?
Chien: Wretch started out as a 40-person team and we’re still 40 people now, despite some replacements. Good Taiwanese Internet engineers are incredibly hard to find. The country’s current investment in the Internet is too little in my opinion, and the people working in the Internet business are too few and far in between.
As a general rule, I recruit both engineering students as well as experienced hires.
Professionals can leverage prior experience, and get up to speed really fast. But they can also be set in their previous thinking modes. While students are fresh, may pick up slower, but you can always plan out their careers for them. There are pros and cons to both groups.
But most importantly of all, passion is the most crucial quality I look for when adding a new member.
TT: Do you have any advice to entrepreneurs and engineering students looking to get in on Internet business opportunities?
Chien: I’m still learning myself so I’m not in the position to dole out advice. But I do have ideas to share. I firmly believe that dreams happen through trial and error. It’s worthwhile to spend two or three years to discover your dreams, rather than live a life of regrets. I live by the motto: no risks, no rewards.
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