A while ago I was writing about StackExchange, which is a platform to create simple web 2.0 questions-answers community sites. StackOverflow was the first community site created by Joel Spolsky using StackExchange. I sometimes browse through another StackExchange offspring – OnStartup Answers, which is themed around startup industry. Ironically, one of the questions asked on the OnStartup Answers was the following: Do owners of sites like OnStartups.com and Startups.com have any revenue off of these websites? I was skeptical about it and got slammed by fellow OnStartup lovers. Meanwhile, Jason Cohen, a co-owner of the OnStartups himself wrote that the site “is like blogging. It’s almost impossible to make money off ads and blogging, even with thousands of readers (you need many 10s of thousands). But blogs can be a fantastic way to drive traffic to other things that do make money, like a startup or like consulting time.”
So guess what happened. Joel started looking for VC money to fund his StackOverflow project. Funny enough, he also wrote in that post that it is a sign that you should NOT be looking for VC money “if there is any other way to raise the kind of money you need, for example, by selling actual products to customers“. In other words, he doesn’t think that he can make good money by selling actual products (ads or whatever) off StackOverflow and decided to go to VCs. This is exactly the answer the OnStartup lovers didn’t like.
It is not necessarily a bad business model for Joel and StackOverflow. This is the way to do things in Silicon Valley – you get a site off the ground, get funding, grab the audience, do IPO or sell to a strategic investor, and then you walk away smiling. Webvan, anyone? ;-)