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Inc. 5000 Applicant of the Week: Tagged

It isn't the next Facebook or Myspace, but this social network is giving users some of the Internet candy they crave: games, new connections, and even a hot date or two.
Tagged founders Johann Schleier-Smith and Greg Tseng are reinventing their social-networking site to be a place to meet new people through common interests and playing games.

As applications for the 2011 Inc. 500 | 5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc.com/inc5000apply/2011/index.html.) One that caught our eye was Tagged, one of the first social networks (it was founded in 2004), which aims to foster new social connections through games and linking people with shared interests. It's based in San Francisco, employs 65 people, and was ranked No. 476 on the Inc. 5000 in 2010.

When Greg Tseng and Johann Schleier-Smith set out to build a popular site for young people in the early 2000s, they ended up in direct competition with Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook. Well, we all know how that turned out.

"Yeah, we didn't win that battle," says Tseng, who is now 31 and the company's CEO. "So in 2007, we decided if Tagged wasn't the place to keep in touch with people we know, it would be the place to meet new people through common interests and playing games."

It's working. While Tagged might not be a household name, it is ranked in the 200s in Alexa rankings of Internet traffic, and the site boasts more than 100 million registered users worldwide who form more than 100 million new friend connections every month. With revenue coming from advertising and trading dollars for the site's virtual currency, gold, Tagged reported 2010 revenue of more than $32 million.

How exactly does it work? Users create profiles, post photos, give each other sparkly, elaborate virtual gifts, and interact, largely through games. The three most popular uses for Tagged are dating, games, and sharing interests, in that order, Tseng says. The most popular game on Tagged, according to Tseng, is called Pets. It's slightly Machiavellian: a user is able to "buy" another user and count his or her among his or her brood of pets.

There have been some bumps in the road to fostering social connections. After re-designing the site's registration process in mid-2009, Tseng and Schleier-Smith, now 32 and the company's CTO, were bombarded with mail from livid users. The accusation: the site had e-mailed the new registrant's entire address book inviting them to come look at photos of the registrant. Tseng struggled to remove the feature quickly in the face of user fury. In June 2009, Time magazine called Tagged "The world's most annoying website." The site was also blocked in 2009 in Qatar, where it had been among the 10 most popular websites, due to possibly inappropriate content.

But user numbers and new registrations barely took a hit. Today, Tagged is still refining its registration process, and is focusing on new games and products—such as a mobile app—to keep the site growing globally. Tseng himself is focusing on doubling the staff size over the next year, but also on keeping his growing company operating like a start-up.

"Our culture is really collaborative—we are all about team chemistry. There is no hierarchy or rank," he says. "We are all just working together to achieve our goal, which is to allow anyone to meet people."

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Last updated: Apr 4, 2011

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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