I had a remarkable breakfast with Yossi Vardi, whose son and three friends started Mirabilis the Israeli software service that gave the world ICQ and invented Instant Messaging.
We are using ICQ as one of a few illustrations of the power of word-of-mouth engines. It took them 25 months to get 25 million downloads. Now, Firefox has done it in less than three. Things are just getting faster.
Today, ICQ has 360 million downloads. Even after AOL bought it for $287 million, a dime was never spent for marketing.
I’ve interviewed Yossi before and he’s always good for great quotes from him. He’s one of the brightest and most open guys I know and this time was no exception.
He pointed out that his native Israel has produced three major brands, that have more than 350 million users: The Bible, Christianity and ICQ. All three used word-of-mouth marketing to achieve popularity. It took the Bible (Old Testament) 2700 years; Christianity 2000 years and ICQ less than 10 years. The difference: Technology improved the tools. "The Internet is word-of-mouth on steroids," he said.
Vardi pointed me to research that says that conversations are #1 form of human entertainment, over story-telling. That’s why we lay down a book or stop watching TV when the phone rings.
Yossi also pointed me to Emory University Prof. Gregory Burns who has done research that reveals when release the same brain chemicals when they are collaborating as when they are having sex or gambling. "We are hot-wired to collaborate, "says Vardi.
We are also profiling Firefox. Robert and I interviewed Joe Hewitt on Saturday and are waiting for Blake Ross, the 19-year-old wizard to get back to us with answers to some additional questions.
We are also going to look briefly at other examples of companies who used word-of-mouth to wildly succeed. Skype, Kazaa and Napster come to mind.
Got any others?