An article in the latest Fast Company (yes the magazine is still around) profiles a very successful website created by a 17-year old high-school dropout. Her site (check it out here) lets users download colorful MySpace layouts – for free – and also has interactive features sure to appeal to teenage girls. This story appealed to me for two reasons. One, as stated in the article, it is “evidence of the meritocracy of the internet [which] allows even companies run by neophyte entrepreneurs to compete, regardless of funding, location, size or experience….” It’s always good to see great ideas surface and evolve into a business. But even more salient is the fact this site attracts a larger audience than Seventeen, Teen Vogue and CosmoGirl! combined, and it ranks #349 (according to Quantcast) out of more than 20 million websites. That’s higher than numerous prominent, well-funded sites.
So I asked myself what makes this website so interesting…so sticky. I visited the sites of the magazines listed above to compare and contrast. The differences are not so obvious. Websites like Seventeen and Teen Vogue have all the usual bells and whistles, they look pretty contemporary and appear to have plenty of lures for their teenage readers. But that may be the point. They have a lot of cool stuff and just the right look, but nothing distinctive or unique. Whateverlife has one primary “value proposition” and that’s the free layouts. And the quirky, friendly personality of its owner Ashley oozes from every page. But ultimately the answer probably lies in Ashley’s secret to success: “It’s all about giving girls what they want.” And a teenage girl is much better positioned than the editorial team of a major organization or magazine to know what that is.