Based in New York
Entrepreneur Jeff Edelman – Founder of Student.com
If you want to read about the evolution of a great social website for students, be certain to check out the history of Student.com here:
I think this is a great read on how something that started “very, very small, with not much content” can evolve into a website with 940,000 members. Folks, we’re talking about nearly a million members! MO.com only needs a million more members to hit that mark.
The site was founded by Jeff Edelman in 1995. I’d venture to guess many reading this interview were not yet even ON the Internet yet in that year, let alone founding a website. I’m not even sure I could spell “www” at that stage of the game. The website caters primarily to high school students and college students, providing helpful articles, forums, blogs, advice, and much more.
Jeff, you were clearly an early mover on the web. How were you introduced to the Internet? Were you a student at the time yourself?
I was already over the hill by the mid 90’s. :) I had a friend from college who was one of the original computer nerds. He was one of the founders of Physicians Online, a successful Internet community for Doctors. In early 1995, I was the head of a catalog of New York City designed t-shirts, hats, and boxer shorts called Soho Design. My friend called me over to his office to show me the Internet and told me that I had to get my catalog online. In time, I saw that it made sense to create a community of students online just like he had created a community of doctors. And we got the site up and running in June 1995.
The domain name Student.com is a killer, descriptive domain name. As most know, I am a big fan of domains that fit this M.O. Did you register the domain name yourself? Did you have any idea at the time that you were acquiring what would later become a piece of premium “Internet property?” Can you share any “back in the day” anecdotes for us noobs that didn’t get into the action until much later?
It’s a great story how we acquired the domain. Our site was The Student Center, and our URL was http://www.studentcenter.org. At the time of the first Internet bust, the original Student.com, which was a company out of Boston, was running out of money and going out of business. This was in the late spring of 2001. When I heard what was happening with their company, we faxed them a proposal to pay them $21,000 for the domain names Student.com and Student.net and some of the content on their site. I knew that they would laugh at us and tell us to go to hell for offering them so little, which they did. But a month later, I got a fax saying that they were shutting down immediately and if we could get them $21,000 in 48 hours, we could have it. That was definitely the biggest day for our company, and I’ll never forget receiving that fax. I certainly knew that having the domain Student.com was something that would be very valuable for us. But I didn’t realize at the time how just the domain itself would be worth so much money.
Student.com has an amazing membership base of nearly 1,000,000 people. That has to feel amazing for you and your team to know that many people have taken the time to register at your website. At the same time, administering and moderating a social website of that size must be time consuming and at times possibly a bit stressful… what’s the ‘day-to-day’ of running a community of that size and are you able to do it with a ‘streamlined’ staff?
There are definitely a lot of stressful moments. There are some real serious things that happen behind the scenes, such as when a kid publicly posts that they have overdosed on pills and are trying to commit suicide, and we need to mobilize to get law enforcement involved. But for the most part, it has been a lot of fun. The key has been getting the community members involved to the point that the members themselves moderate the chat rooms and the forums and the advice sections. It’s just not cost effective for paid staff to do this. We need our small staff to fully concentrate on programming the site so that we can make decent improvements to it. It has also been fun in the sense that I have seen so many good people on the site. I think that there is so much talent among college and high school age students today, and it makes me very optimistic about the future.
I’ve read through the history of Student.com and recommend MO.com readers take a look also. Now, 15 years later, as we kick off 2010, what are some of the key areas your group will focus on going forward?
We definitely need to focus more on resources for students. If you started Student.com from scratch now, you’d never make it a pure social networking site. We are creating a very large section of articles that cover a whole range of topics that are of interest to students. There is a big future in online education. I feel strongly that Student.com should become a site where students can do many different things and find information for anything of interest to them. Student.com should be a place where you can take online courses, where you can find tutors, where you can find lots of information on colleges, and where you can take tests and quizzes on a whole array of subjects. I think it’s the best possible domain for a student site and it should offer much more than it does now.
As entrepreneurs, we typically see opportunity everywhere, but eventually come to realize we can only focus on a limited number of ventures. If you could clone yourself and spend your time, energy, and resources on another opportunity right now, what might that be? I know I find myself fascinated with the mobile space, and mobile apps in particular.
I’d actually like to transform Student.com from the site it is now, which is primarily a social networking site with lots of student resource information, into a fully comprehensive Online Education site. I can’t do this on my own or with our present small staff. I plan to make 2010 the year that we get a major partner so that Student.com can become what I feel is a more complete site for students, a place for online education and comprehensive education information, as well as social networking. So if I were to clone myself, I’d make myself focus like a laser on online education. There are going to be tremendous changes in education over the next decade and so much of it will be online. Many college age students won’t be able to afford to go away for college, but if online education is done right, students will be able to get a terrific education right at their computers. Workers of all ages will constantly need to upgrade their skills. High School students will be able to use the Internet to get access to lots of different course offerings that interest them but their own school doesn’t have the resources to provide. For example, the Internet will make it possible for students of all ages to learn a much larger variety of languages. Not every school is going to have the resources to staff a teacher to teach Chinese or Japanese. And many retiring baby boomers will have a hunger to take courses just for fun and to learn. The Internet is going to enable education to become so much better and more efficient. I’d love to be a part of that transformation. There’s no better domain for this than Student.com.
In terms of working on something completely separate from Student.com and online education opportunities, I am very interested in the world of alternative energy. I doubt I will actively plunge into that arena because I don’t have any experience or expertise there. But being a part of a company that totally changes the energy equation so that energy can be had from clean sources and also be affordable, that’s the kind of change that gets the entrepreneurial juices flowing because there is so much opportunity and the successful companies will make the world a much better place.
Find the right Domain Name for your business at Fabulous.com!