Dreams of creating the next Facebook, fueled by new technologies that make it easy for anyone to start a website, have a started a new-age gold rush. Leading the digital pack in 2011 was the social media gaming company Zynga, with an initial public offering of $1 billion.
In Brooklyn, Ben Rubin is hoping to make his mark with My Social List, a startup that blends social media with concert listings, a ticket sales calendar and information on artists and venues. Since it launched in April 2011, the website has over 5,000 Twitter followers and gets over 500 page views a day. Ilana Novick has been using the site for a few months now, and described it as, “a clearinghouse for show announcements.”
Although Rubin is happy with the pace at which the site has grown, it isn’t enough to make it a sustainable project. My Social List is a free service and devoid of any advertising. To make money, the website is a sales affiliate of Ticketfly. If someone uses My Social List to purchase a ticket for a Ticketfly event, Rubin’s site gets a small percentage of the sale.
Ticketfly, however, partners with smaller venues like Brooklyn Bowl and Knitting Factory that tend to feature less expensive shows. Bigger and more expensive concerts use the monolithic Ticketmaster, which scaled back its affiliate program in 2010. So although My Social List features bigger acts and where to buy Ticketmaster tickets, they don’t get a cut of the profit.
“The money we’ve made, total, [is] $50, and I haven’t even asked them to send it,” said Rubin, who pays for the site with his day job as a project manager. He keeps tight-lipped about how much My Social List takes to operate, but says he puts in “literally thousands of dollars a month,” including $100 a month for someone to operate the social media side of the website.
Rubin thinks that the site could generate a revenue stream if it ever got big enough, but the problem is attracting users without betraying the Do-It-Yourself ethos of the Brooklyn music scene by turning to advertisers.
His answer is a two-pronged approach. First, he launched a campaign using the online service Kickstarter to raise money for the creation of an Iphone app that uses geo-location to direct users towards the nearest live music. In 20 days, he surpassed his goal of $2,000, and plans to release the app soon.
Second, he is sponsoring Aputumpu, a four-day music festival featuring 25 up-and-coming New York acts. Rubin has pledged some money, but mostly contributes in the form of time and using his website for promotion. He won’t earn anything from the $25 tickets, but hopes it will bring My Social List the exposure it needs. His goal is to triple the amount of users by the end of the summer.
However, bigger sites like Last.fm have launched their own mobile apps that do similar things as My Social List. Most current users don’t use many of the site’s features, so even tripling the amount of traffic doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will start using My Social List to buy tickets.
Rubin says that making money is not his greatest concern. “If I make a useful tool that the community uses, I can live with that even if I invested over five figures,” he said. “I have a passion for building websites and a passion for music. This is my hobby, my art. This is how I am creative.”
After all, it took many of today’s biggest websites like Facebook and Twitter a long time to monetize their service. But it’s a much more common story for an online startup to never find a way to be financially successful. Like the once ubiquitous MySpace, most either shut down or fade to digital obscurity.
With concert season quickly approaching, Rubin will soon know which fate awaits his project.