From Tupperware Parties to Facebook: Adam L. Penenberg’s Viral Loop
by Tim Frick
According to Adam L. Penenberg’s new book Viral Loop, they all used the power of referral networks to grow at lightning speed and, in the case of online businesses, achieve multi-million and sometimes billion dollar valuations in record time. Throughout the book, Penenberg explores how Paypal, Bebo, eBay, Rock You, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and several others caught the wave of viral coefficients and rode it to internet wealth and fame, sometimes in the space of only a month or two.
If you read Fast Company, Inc., Wired or any other business pubs you’ve likely heard some version of these stories at least a dozen times. Even if you don’t, the internet start-up success story is almost archetypal at this point. After reading a handful of the accounts inside Viral Loop you start to feel an inherent sense of deja vu, as the similarities between them are many. It is through Penenberg’s deft balance of science and personal details that the stories really come to life, making this book, in my opinion, a much more enjoyable read than similar titles on the market.
O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Strategy Guide by Amy Shuen, for example, also delves into the science behind network effects and how they can be used to build successful internet-based businesses, but after a while you start to feel like you are reading a thesis paper. That is somewhat to be expected from an O’Reilly book. Penenberg’s book engages the reader by balancing technical information with scrupulously detailed storytelling redolent of his professorship at New York University’s school of journalism and extensive experience writing for an impressive array of publications, including The New York Times, Forbes, and Fast Company, among many others. The result is, as one might expect from a writer with such a long and lofty list of credentials, a captivating and comprehensive overview of viral expansion loops and the companies that rode them to success.
If you are tossing around the idea of building a killer social app yourself, Viral Loop provides not only a blueprint for potential approaches but also a captivating set of stories rich with specifics and a few cautionary tales thrown in as well.
Added bonus: you can also calculate the value of your worth on social networks with the Viral Loop Facebook App, according to which I am apparently worth $150.40 to Facebook. Thanks Mr. Zuckerberg. I accept checks and money orders.