Formspring founder Ade Olonoh recently opened up about his journey growing Formspring into a massive social platform and revealed that his success came from his ability to follow the market when it mattered most.
Unlike most social media entrepreneurs, Olonoh actually had no intention to come up with a new social media platform.
Instead, the anonymous question-and-answer site launched from the unexpected success of one of Olonoh’s side projects.
It all started when Olonoh founded Recursive Function, a custom software development company, back in 2006.
Shortly after founding Recursive Function, the company launched a product called Formstack, an online form builder.
Formstack was initially a tool for entrepreneurs that would help them create any type of online form they needed, from surveys to event registrations.
As it turned out, most users wanted to use the service for something else — anonymous question-and-answer forms.
Olonoh created a separate website, Formspring.me, to help people do this with ease.
At the time, he still had no plans of focusing on building a social media website, but the next few weeks revealed there was a serious demand for what he just created.
In only 45 days, more than 1 million users were signed up for Formspring.me.
He now had two very different businesses on his hands and not enough time to devote to both of them.
“One was a social network that was growing quickly and didn’t have a clearly defined business model,” he told Verizon Wireless. “The other was a well-established business that was selling a subscription service to business customers. So they were two different mindsets with teams needed, and both were at a stage where I couldn’t split my time between them.”
While the safe move would be to focus on Formstack, he decided to shift gears and follow a clear desire in the market for Formspring.me, which was later rebranded as just Formspring.
It turned out to be a great success.
Before selling the company, Olonoh raised more than $14 million from investors, and the site garnered more than 30 million users.
He didn’t necessarily leave Formstack either.
Olonoh appointed Chris Byers to run Formstack while he took on special projects for the company.
It was certainly a daring move, but there is no doubt that Formspring became a groundbreaking site in the social media world.
It also saw its fair share of controversy, however, as some users started using the anonymous site as a way to take their bullying to the next level.
People started leaving hurtful comments and crushing accusations on people’s pages.
It was even linked to one Long Island teen’s suicide back in March 2010.
With Formspring being one of the first social sites of its kind, it’s hard to say that anybody could have really predicted the way some cruel youth would go about utilizing the platform.
Either way, Olonoh is focused on Formstack’s success and says the company has been “growing pretty quickly.”
As for the diversity issues that have been plaguing the world of tech, Olonoh said it’s “disheartening,” but he also isn’t sure what the real solution is.
“I don’t know that I present any answers — I don’t have that background and expertise to say, ‘Here’s how you solve that problem,’ ” he added. “But I think it’s a good step that we’re talking about it. The companies are releasing that data, and hopefully that’s the first step toward trying to solve that problem.”