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# Thursday, October 18, 2007
Interview with Ancestry.com's CEO Tim Sullivan
Posted by Diane

After yesterday’s announcement that Spectrum Equity Investors had purchased The Generations Network (TGN), parent company of Ancestry.com, TGN CEO Tim Sullivan was busy working the phones talking to the media—including myself. The major points of our conversation:
• Your experience as an Ancestry.com subscriber won’t change as a direct result of the sale, Sullivan states, “Other than the very rapid pace of innovation we’ve built into our cycle in the past year, and we hope to maintain that, even to accelerate it.” That innovation includes the Ancestry Press and DNA Ancestry services, international sites such as the Swedish Ancestry.se, and a Web 2.0 platform for MyFamily.com.
“The firm that’s buying our company is buying our vision. They like what we’re doing and they want us to keep doing that,” Sullivan says.
• Sullivan said RootsWeb—the free, grassroots site TGN (then MyFamily.com) purchased in 2000—"is absolutely not going away. We will never charge for what’s on RootsWeb. We’re proud to be supporters of RootsWeb.”

He adds there’s only about a 20 percent overlap between RootsWeb users and Ancestry.com users, a number his company would like to increase.
Spectrum Equity’s investment in TGN likely won’t change anything at Genealogy.com (anyone remember that site?), which TGN purchased in 2003 and allowed to languish. “We continue to support Genealogy.com, but we did make a decision that in a world of limited resources and limited hours in the day, that the best thing we could do was focus our resources as completely as we could on Ancestry.com.”
• TGN is focused on incorporating new technology, such as wireless photo uploads, into its services, and on globalizing genealogy research. “We just sent someone to China to open an office there and build a Web site for people in China,” Sullivan says.
• A few other upcoming changes to Ancestry.com include a “pretty major” overhaul of the search interface, improved tree-building experience, and of course, more digitized records.
• Sullivan wouldn’t say whether TGN would go public, just that the company’s future holds many possibilities and his staff is taking things one step at a time.
Its domination of the genealogy industry often means TGN is the company people love to hate. Sullivan’s aware of that and says “I promise we don’t sit around thinking of ways to make people angry.”

I asked about his pre-TGN genealogical interest. He knew some oral history, including an ancestor who worked with Thomas Edison. “I, like probably everybody, was enamored and fascinated by the stories of those who preceded me,” he says, but he hadn’t yet done research.

Back when he ran the online dating service Match.com, Sullivan knew TGN’s then-CEO Tom Stockham and thought he’d check out Ancestry.com. “Before I knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning, and I had my laptop in bed showing my wife documents I discovered.”

“It was an instantaneous and very strong fascination, but like a lot of people, I didn’t have a lot of time and I didn’t follow up and get engaged right away.” His company’s challenge, he says, is engaging people like himself at that time, who face busy schedules and many choices for spending spare moments.

“We’re never going to make it easy, push-button genealogy. But we’re getting close to that tipping point, where the investment and the effort people put in, they see a return very quickly in terms of satisfaction.”

Update: What do you think of what Sullivan had to say? Join the discussion in the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Hot Topics Forum.


Genealogy Industry
Thursday, October 18, 2007 8:40:02 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]