RealTime IT News

What's It All About?

Investors looking for a company that combines the best of critical mass and vertical communities might want to think about About.com (BOUT). Its site now ranks #10 on Media Metrix's top 50, with 13 million unique visitors per month.

The company offers a portal-like interface with 28 main channels of content that are divided into 700 niche environments (sites). In addition, an expert guide oversees every site. By breaking the site into niche verticals, users stop by, stay, and come back often because their specific needs are being addressed. Of course, advertisers enjoy the large base of users. The real value, though, is About's ability to target users in any of its 700 vertical sites with advertising and commerce offerings. Four hundred six companies advertised on the About network during Q4:99, up from 167 during Q1:99.

We recently sat down with About.com's founder and CEO, Scott Kurnit to discuss the company's competition (Yahoo!, Lycos, AltaVista), market valuation, business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce initiative and its recent acquisition of ExpertCentral.com.

Reporter@Large: From a user stand point Scott, what really separates About from the likes of a Yahoo, Lycos, or AltaVista?

Kurnit: We really view ourselves as a content network and we're commonly confused with your average portal because we cover everything. About has 50,000 topics, covered by 700 guides, one million links in our directory, along with 250,000 articles. But what separates us is that we're not only a broad play, but we're very deep in each of our verticals. We are actually this elegant place sitting between the broad horizontal portals and the singular verticals.

Reporter@Large: So you're really building About as a network of destinations that compliment both spaces (portals and verticals).

Kurnit: Exactly. We're in the business of bringing people into an environment that is rich with content, directory, and commerce offerings. So our view is use Yahoo! and About.com, use Women.com and About.com.

Reporter@Large: Are advertisers joining your network for these same reasons?

Kurnit: What we can deliver for an advertiser is complete contextual messaging. You can buy a search term somewhere, which catches a customer on his way some place, sort of like an advertisement on a bus breezing by. In our case, we're capturing our customers within a destination, so they're "inclined." You get better click and ultimately transaction results from inclined customers.

Reporter@Large: Are we seeing this vision and execution in your top line?

Kurnit: Definitely. We had a blowout fourth quarter with $13 million in revenue compared with $2.4 million in the first quarter. Advertisers will pay premiums when they can get a contextual environment of high quality. The beauty of About, if you're an advertising agency, no matter what client you have, we have at least one vertical (out of 700) that fits your needs. Thus, we become a must buy in almost any campaign. That's true for e-commerce partners as well.

Reporter@Large: The difference in market capitalization between About.com and Yahoo! is often in the range of $90 billion. Are there any trends, developments, or investor recognition of the respective business models that you could see closing this enormous gap?

Kurnit: Yeah, investors will start to see over the next couple of quarters that we have indeed built a platform. While we have garnered positive market value for being an efficient content network, we are not getting credit for having built what is really a business accelerator. The platform can now spawn businesses that are doing well as independent entities with a lot of value, and they're buried under o