Graduates.com’s founder Jason Classon
Graduates.com is a network that the early adopters of the internet will identify with nostalgia. To some, the free alumni website paved way to social networking and the growth of social networks around communities.
In a one on one interview with HumanIPO, Graduates.com’s Canadian founder Jason Classon explains how his network has served more than one million graduates worldwide since 2003 .
HumanIPO: How did graduates.com start?
Jason Classon: Graduates.com is actually a second attempt at a free alumni website. The first site was called Gradfinder.com which was sold to a company called Highwired in 2001. I started Gradfinder as a side project for my high school in 1997 to help alumni keep in touch.
Highwired actually went bankrupt about one year after and Gradfinder was sold again to Friendfinder.com in 2002. After Friendfinder acquired the site, it was re-programmed, broken and mostly neglected.
I was sad to see a site I put a lot of time and effort into, fall into such disarray, so I created Graduates.com in 2003. The new site was much simpler and had very few features.
What sets it apart from other social networks?
Other free alumni based websites tend to focus on US based high schools. The goal of Graduates.com is to list every school from elementary all the way to university in every country. About 25 per cent of our entire user base is from Africa which is atypical of most alumni sites.
What were the challenges you faced setting up Graduates.com in 2003?
The site itself was fairly straightforward to create and operate. Attracting an initial base of users was a challenge. It required a fairly large marketing effort to get the first million members. It now essentially grows by itself organically.
What is the major challenge posed by social networks?
I think reaching critical mass is the primary challenge for all social networks. After that point it comes down to keeping users engaged when there are several competing social network sites just a click away.
How does Graduates.com integrate social networks not to compete with them?
We allow people to post links to other social networking sites on their profile or from any page on the site. We plan to use Facebook connect in the future to allow Facebook users to join Graduates.com using their Facebook login and user data.
Ideally, all social networks would share their data in a computer readable format (eg XML) so that a person had one universal identity which worked on several platforms.
How does the site generate money? How much is it grossing yearly?
We don't charge a fee and money is generated from banner advertising. Revenue is fairly low, but it covers our hosting costs and some minimal development costs.
What is the future of Graduates.com? What new innovation awaits?
In the next few months we hope to launch a friendfeed feature which will allow members to better see what their friends are up to. We also plan on launching a photo album feature and reunion planner.
Another major goal is to continue to add more schools to the database. We currently have over 400,000 schools, but there are likely more than a million more to add from large countries such as China, Japan, Nigeria etc. We also plan to eventually translate the site into many languages.
What would be your advice to those who want to get into the social networking arena at this time?
My advice would be to not enter the space unless you have a very detailed niche that hasn't been done yet. Since there are many free or inexpensive social networking platforms now, anyone can launch a small network at very little cost. I would also think that any future sites will need to cater to mobile first and the desktop second.