RealSelf, Backed by Second Avenue and Rich Barton, Blazes Trail with Cosmetic Review Site

11/18/09Follow @gthuang

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skeptical and often jaded when it comes to connecting with new online communities. So RealSelf has worked hard to build relationships not only with individual doctors, but with medical associations—and also build up its content in a way that’s valuable to doctors, in terms of connecting them with prospective patients.

Investors liked the proposition. Seery says he was lucky to get early attention and funding from noted entrepreneur and VC Rich Barton, the co-founder of Expedia and Zillow. Seattle-based Second Avenue Partners has led two funding rounds for RealSelf so far. Seery wouldn’t reveal how much he’s raised, but did say it’s less than $2 million, and that the company has “plenty of money in the bank.” RealSelf, which has five local employees plus three more in the Philippines, is not yet profitable.

I asked Seery to clarify RealSelf’s revenue model, and how it compares to “lead-generation” sites or premium content sites. “We are entirely a media company. We don’t sell leads to doctors, we’re free to doctors. We’re building really rich content for advertisement to be placed against.” The company has made most of its money through Google AdSense, though it has also started doing some direct ad sales on its site. Seery says one of his investors told him, “I’ve never seen a company make money off AdSense like you do.”

Indeed, given how most consumer sites struggle to make money on Internet ads, Seery says a specialized niche or vertical focus is crucial. “Solving a problem where people are really trying to make a purchase decision is a place where I’d personally look to for finding the right business,” he says. “It’s going to be very hard for anyone to compete in generalized social connectivity. There’s not much opportunity for startups of our size and funding.” But, he adds, “vertical search remains a really interesting concept.”

Seery says the overall challenge now is figuring out “what takes us to the next level…How do we become a very large, meaningful company in consumer aesthetics”—including how to tap into much broader groups of consumers interested in blockbuster topics like weight loss and skin care (each alone is a multibillion dollar market). “We think we’re onto something really big,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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