“Myspace For Millionaires” ASMALLWORLD Pivots Into A $105-A-Year VIP Travel Club

Posted: May 14, 2013 in GT, Social, Startup, Technology

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ASMALLWORLD launched its invite-only social
network for the rich and famous in 2004. Today it’s
becoming even more exclusive and pivoting away
from its advertising model, as its relaunching as a
subscription travel club where the elite meet to enjoy
perks around the globe. With $105 a year and an invite, ASMALLWORLD (ASW) helps you make
friends with its trusted 250,000-member community
wherever you go. Though it was supposed to be ready this morning,
ASW tells me its site should go live this afternoon.
Until then the site is password-protected, but you can
get a sneak-peek below. Have you ever been on sites designed for “meeting
new people”? They’re often pretty seedy, filled with
spammers, fakes, and swarms of sketchy dudes.
They’re by no means premium, and not where you’d
want to find a stranger to hang out with far from
home. But there’s a real market for meeting not just new people, but great people. Whether for some
laughs, networking or romance, paid access to a
curated subset of humans and activities to share with
them could work. Every concert, conference and
travel method already has a VIP option for this
reason. ASW could be a VIP club for the world if it keeps its standards high. CEO Sabine Heller explains that with ASW, “You can
turn up in a city where you don’t know anyone and
you can have a social travel experience, a sense of
belonging. You can go to Capetown and through
ASMALLWORLD you’re entitled to five hotels that will
do something nice for you, five tours where you get a perk, and groups of locals and travelers you can tap
into. It’s not about logging onto the website, it’s that
you might meet your husband through
ASMALLWORLD, or get a job, or meet a whole new
group of friends.” To create a trusted community that people aspire to
join, though, ASW had to give some bad actors the
boot. “We did a round of thousands of membership
terminations,” says Heller about expelling people from
the old ASMALLWORLD club. Lindsay Lohan and
Tiger Woods were among the people kicked to the curb as the startup seeks a more reliable image. If
you’re meeting strangers off of ASW in the middle of
the night in Beirut, you might not want them to have
Lohan’s nasty habits. The business model needed an overhaul, too. ASW
was profitable for a while, which helped convince film
producer Harvey Weinstein to buy a majority stake in
the 45-person company before selling to Swiss
investor Patrick Liotard-Vogt. But with a purposefully
small but geographically distributed userbase, selling tiny ad campaigns to luxury brands around the world
was a drag. No matter how influential the audience,
advertising is still a quantity game. The startup’s new
subscription model trades on the quality of its
community. Travel destinations give ASW perks and
free services to pass on to its members in hopes that they become regular customers. Considering most social networks are free, what does
$105 a year get you? First there’s the website with
authenticated profiles to help you meet other
ASMALLWORLDers. The ASW app helps you plan
trips and read custom ASW travel guides. But what’s
special is the membership card that gives you access to a wide array of perks including: Discounts – special access and deals for hotels,
airlines, salons, spas, gyms, and luxury designer
goods Nightlife – membership to global nightlife concierge
service “The World’s Finest Clubs” and guaranteed
access to 120 nightclubs (which retails for $2,500) Events – 5o yearly events organized by ASW,
including parties, getaways and concerts Workspaces – A spare desk in New York and Berlin
where you can do some work or print something Car Service – Free airport pickup from New York,
London, Paris and Milan Vacation – A free one-week stay at a Caribbean
resort
Those perks add up to well over the $105 subscription
fee. Hell, a desk in Manhattan alone is worth much
more. The idea is that by getting high-powered ASW
clientele to try their services, these hotels, airlines, clubs, and what have you will develop loyal
customers. It sounds good on paper, but ASW will
need to show its sponsors return on investment if it
hopes to make the model sustainable. Luckily
between Liotard-Vogt and a small, secret funding
round it recently raised, ASW doesn’t have to break even right away. Today, ASW will begin emailing existing members of
its old site ASMALLWORLD.net about the transition
towards travel, and Heller tells me it will invite its
“more valued members” to subscribe to the new
service. A percentage of members will have the
ability to invite others to join. And that is what will decide whether ASW thrives or
fails. Managing membership of any exclusive
community is a dark art, requiring a careful balance of
beauty, wealth, success, excitement, and
interconnection. Too little of any and the whole thing
breaks down. Nobody wants to be in a club of creepy old tycoons, gold-digging young moochers, or boring
people willing to pay a price for friends. Creating a
vibrant, coveted community will be
ASMALLWORLD’s real challenge. With the right buzz
and people, it could have everyone clamoring for an
invite. Otherwise, it might end up a glitzy ghost town.

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