When Facebook hits the inevitable user plateau, perhaps it should take a cue from Eastern Europe. Latvia’s largest social network, Draugiem.lv, conquered its home country’s social landscape, then expanded to become a self-described “breeding ground for IT innovations and startups.”
Launched in 2004 by Lauris Liberts and Agris Tamanis, Draugiem.lv is one of few social networks to still beat Facebook in their home country; Draugiem boasts 1.2 million Latvian users over Facebook’s 327,000, according to Jānis Palkavnieks, Draugiem Group spokesperson.
“Five hundred thousand log in to the network every day,” Palkavnieks says. Active users average 44 minutes per day, generating a billion page views per month.
But what’s cooler than a billion page views? Owning the entire Internet (in one’s native language, at least). “Its about 44% of all Latvian internet,” Palkavnieks says.
Advertising revenues on social networks are notoriously abysmal--Draugiem brings in under $20 million a year. To squeeze more revenue from its grip on Latvian Internet users, Draugiem has opened up something akin to New York City’s Betaworks to incubate ancillary tech companies.
“The biggest stock holder Agris Tamanis is a big fan of gadgets and that's why we are producing technology also,” Palkavniesks says.
From digital vending machine monitoring to smart home systems to lead-gen analytics, the social network has sprouted 11 startups to date. It’s created Latvian versions of RescueTime and Groupon, an inspirational quote site, and even a “design your own bracelet” store called FriendlyBracelets.
“Latvians mostly prefer local brands, and on top of that, we’re able to react very quickly to change or invent something,” Palkavnieks says.
As the premiere innovation hub in a 2 million-person nation, Draugiem is quick to brag about its “Google-esque” offices, complete with dope, modern decor and all terrain Segways.
“We have the most wanted job in Latvia,” Palkavnieks says. “Our management and office is so wonderful that anyone want to work there.”
Facebook's Palo Alto HQ  is hard to top, but the social giant's New York offices have nothing on Draugiem. Perhaps when Facebook cracks 44% of American Internet it can pivot into startup incubation and find that elusive revenue stockholders are praying for. And maybe invest in more furniture for all of its offices.