James Hong's Pivot From Rating To Dating: The HotOrNot Story

A superficial site about rating hotties went viral and became a paid dating service worth millions. Here's how Hong transformed HotOrNot.

Two Heinekens into a lazy afternoon in October 2000, James Hong, a 27-year-old dotcom refugee from Mountain
View, CA, was listening to his roommate, Jim Young, a Berkeley graduate student in electrical engineering, wax on about a woman he had spotted at a party the previous weekend. Young, also 27, insisted she was a "perfect 10."
Hong didn't believe him. His roommate had a thing for "goth" while Hong's own tastes were more Abercrombie & Fitch.

What the world needed, they agreed, was a metric to reliably rate someone's looks.

So they built Am I Hot or Not?, a site that let users rank from 1 to 10 the relative hotness of someone in a photo. Almost immediately it became a viral sensation. At first, the two generated revenue through advertising, but during the dotcom bust they pivoted, transitioning into a matchmaking site with subscriptions. InApril 2001, they instituted a $6 per month fee to join "Meet Me," figuring it was cheap enough to qualify as an impulse buy. In its first month it generated $25,000 in revenue and by year's end it brought in $600,000.

Seven and a half years after launch, they sold HotorNot for a reported $20 million, and now the site--at least as it was--no longer exists. But here's how it looked back in 2001, and an interview with Hong which proves that the right pivot can score you a date.

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