Let’s take a look at the evolution of user generated content on the web. In the very beginning, the was reserved for scientists. In the nineties, webmasters procreated and ruled the web. Then blogs came along and millions of people became publishers overnight, using simple html templates that required small or no coding knowledge. Israeli startup Wix.com is the next link in this evolution process, empowering users to easily create flash websites and widgets on the fly, with no coding experience whatsoever.
The Story of Wix
I first wrote about Wix when the company launched its private beta back in October of 2007. Now, As the company prepares for a public release in the coming weeks, I spoke with Allon Bloch, Co-CEO of Wix and ex-venture capitalist, to learn more about the company and its future plans. Click on the images along the way to enlarge screenshots of sites created with Wix, or watch the demo at the bottom of this post.
AB: Wix was started by 3 entrepreneurs: the Abrahami brothers (Avishai the co-CEO and Nadav, VP of R&D) and Giora (Gig) Kaplan. Avishai and Gig are serial entrepreneurs. Nadav came from Israel’s Oberon media and he’s an amazing programmer. Gig comes from an elite programming unit in the army, the same one that prduced Checkpoint’s founders, and Avishai co-founded Sphera, an infrastructure for hosting providers, and served as an executive at Arel Distance Learning.
AB: I was a General Partner at JVP for year, leading investments in media companies. I met Avishai through Sphere, a portfolio company of JVP. After a few months of part time work, I joined full time in February as co-CEO with Avishai. The responsibilities are shared between us – Avishai does guerilla marketing and I perform as the operational manager. Since I knew the entrepreneurs before, the transition was pretty smooth. In terms of location, I’m based in New York, which is great for Wix.
VC Cafe: Just how of curiosity, how do you compare being based in New York vs. Valley?
AB: The time difference with Israel makes it easier to sit in the East Coast. Also, the valley is not a media center. Wix is a software product but the idea is to integrate with media companies, which are more present in New York.
AB: Wix is a web-top publishing platform. It’s a software company pretending to be web 2.0. Wix lets you access publishing media, it’s liberating. Widgets is just a format for them. Wix provides a unified platform that let users take input from any source, clip art, flash elements and either embed into their own flash site or turn it turn it into a widget, flyer, blog, etc. The product took 2 years to develop and it is very robust.
AB: The company was conceived from the entrepreneurs frustration to start websites that look good and are easy to program. If you know html and flash and you can work with dreamweaver, great. The majority doesn’t. At that point, your other option is templates, like template monster. There is a void in the middle for consumers and small businesses. For example a flower shop – you want to create a site and send a flyer for your 500 customers when you have an event. It’s hard to do – you need to contact designers, programmers etc, but Wix gets your a professional flash site with no prior knowledge required.
VC Cafe: Can you tell me a little bit about the funding of Wix?
AB: So far Wix has raised $5 million from Bessemer and Mangrove (investors of Skype) and private investors including Alon tirosh. As a VC I’ve seen the good years and the bad and it gave me a lot of experience in building companies. We have money, a good product and a great team.
VC Cafe: So what is your target market exactly?
AB: We’re giving a wide variaty of people the technology to do something that they couldn’t do before. Graphic designers that couldn’t program, suddenly can offer service for the web. Small business owners can now develop their own sites and content creators can now make their own widgets.
VC Cafe: I’m sure some of the readers are wondering – Business model?
AB: A few elements will drive revenue:
1) Advertising in the flash editor – Users on Wix are engaged and spent a lot of time on the site.
2) Virtual content – people will buy premium content
3) Partnerships – today there’s a partner API that lets you take the Wix editor. We can partner with advertising firms, media etc to drive user generated content in the form of design contests, etc. If you can give users engagement, deep, with content that they own, they will blow you away.
4) Another element is hosting and other services. Pricing will be low and the value that the user gets is high.
VC Cafe: Isn’t there a problem with flash and SEO? (Search engines can’t ‘read’ flash content)
AB: Google reads our site like a regular site. Everything on the site is searchable. Google receives an XML feed, and to test it you can try searching on Wix.com. Our site is built on Wix technology.
VC Cafe: The market is pretty saturated with companies offering users content creation tools. What’s your penetration strategy?
AB: At the end of the day, we’re going to succeed or fail for the product quality and all the other strategies are ’nice to have’. We are still in closed beta because we are testing the scalability, among other things, so having a great product is definitely a priority for us. We need to see how easy it is for us to acquire customers. Opening the beta for everyone is a big milestone for us.
VC Café: What have you learned from your users during the beta?
AB: We’ve pleasantly surprised to find that a large percentage of our users, use Wix a lot. We’re constantly testing new UIs on our homepage and keeping the changes users like. We’ve also received plenty of feedback from our beta testers who helped us QA the system and asked us for features like ‘Undo’, which will come out in a few weeks. Users also asked for Hebrew support, but unfortunately it’s dependant on Adobe. We have a list of 1000 features in the queue.
VC Cafe: What companies or services do you consider as competition?
AB: We were compared to Sprout, although their product is aimed for professionals that want to create widgets and banners online. Wix is primarily addressing consumers, and not only widgets but also full site creation. Competition is a good thing, you can do market education together.
*Side note: Sprout recently raised $5 million led by Polaris and Global Venture Capital, bringing them to a total of $8.3M to date.
Want to check out Wix for yourself? Sign up here to get access to the beta or watch the demo: