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New online business network achieves Blastoff

Startup social media and shopping network raises money -- and eyebrows

Posted: November 16, 2009 3:03 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2009 12:19 p.m.
 

As people scramble to find new sources of income, a small company in the big state of Texas might be able to offer a new revenue stream for individuals and small businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Dallas-based Internet investors William Rodgers, Adam Smith and Scott Berman, founders of the new Blastoff Network, describe their enterprise as a "one-stop shop" for Internet users.

Blastoff Network sites can aggregate media of all kinds and generate cash back to users when they and family members, friends and co-workers purchase items and services from a site.

"Blastoff is a great system to add to any business," said Chris Handley, principal of Santa Clarita-based Lightning Strikes Productions and an early Blastof Network adopter.

"Not only do you get the information you want out of the aggregated media, but you are benefiting though Facebook-like associations of friends, and friends of friends, and creating revenue where revenue has never been created or thought of."

To some, including a few major corporations, the idea seems brilliant; to others, it sounds too good to be true.

Blastoff claims to be one of the first businesses to fully combine several key aspects of daily Internet usage -- social networking, e-mail, news and shopping - in one neat and tidy package.

A Blastoff user's homepage combines splashy of Web-based Flash programs with a plethora of aggregated news and media content chosen by the user from menus and easily installed using drag-and-drop widgets (a portable code for specific news and information).

Users pick the specific information (CNN, MSNBC), media (YouTube, Hulu), social networking (Facebook) and e-mail applications they want displayed on their pages.

The online shopping aspect of a Blastoff the site is where things start to get interesting.

Along with cash-back percentages on a consumer's own purchases (iTunes, Disney, Target, Barnes & Noble), Blastoff users who have already joined the site (as of now, the network is not accepting new startup users) are able to invite others into their "umbrella network," receiving cash percentages of their purchases as well.

The more business transacted through the user's Blastoff page, the more revenue is generated.

Despite skepticism about its apparent similarity to some multi-level marketing plans and business structures, the Blastoff Network launched publicly Oct. 27 and has already become a top 1,000 Web-trafficked site in the U.S., according to Web-ranking site alexa.com.

With major backing and sponsorship from companies such as Pre-Paid Legal and Pizza Hut, Blastoff has found nationally known brands to buy into the initiative.

"We are always on the lookout for programs and initiatives that can save our customers money," said Bernard Acoca, Pizza Hut's senior digital director. "The Blastoff Network does just that and we're excited to be among the first companies to promote the new site."

Backing from Pizza Hut, which poured $30 million into an advertising campaign, gives legitimacy to the project, which has been ramping up for two years.

Now, the Blastoff Network is available to SCV businesses and entrepreneurs through early adopters including Handley.

"I have been teaching social networking through my company, and am now teaching seminars on [Blastoff Network]," said Handley, who responded to a craigslist add posted by the Blastoff founders.

"I endorse Blastoff as my part of being a musician (on his personal site), and vice versa," Handley said. "The income starts out slowly, but in the process it can provide supplemental income for my other businesses, and push capital into them."

Success on the Blastoff Network is largely dependent on the time and effort the users put into their pages, say the developers, who provide a variety of promotional tools designed to help users build up their sites.

In a video statement to users, Blastoff CEO Rodgers estimated that 25-50 million e-mails would be sent by Pre-Paid Legal Blastoff users alone during the first week they were allowed to invite others into their respective networks.

Rodgers was looking into spam e-mail compliancy on all major services to make sure Blastoff users would not be treated as an Internet scheme.

Even with uncertainty from various scam-related watchdog Web sites (Ripoffreport.com, scam.com) about Blastoff's business model and marketing strategy, the network appears to have a bright future and a clean record sheet.

The Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles have received no complaints to date about the recently launched company.

Aaron Mathews, Blastoff's director of marketing and social media, has hinted that several more retailers will climb on board in the coming weeks and months, according to a report in QSR Magazine.

"[Blastoff] is not a system for overnight success, by any means," Handley said. "But I believe the viral nature of the network will continue to evolve and grow and add more users, just as Facebook has, and that people throughout the Santa Clarita Valley will start to find this as a great way to supplement income for families, businesses and non-profits."

Signal Intern Derek Sedam is a student at Pepperdine University.

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