Perkins Miller Talks About the Simple But Non-Invasive Business Design of Fandom
A few years ago, Jimmy Wales (co-founder of Wikipedia) stated to multiple media outlets that he preferred to maintain the status of the multilingual online encyclopaedia as a non-profit organisation in hopes of maintaining a peaceful lifestyle
So, how does a non-profit Wikipedia stay afloat despite its promising profitability?
Fandom, formerly known as Wikicities (before 2006) and Wikia (2006-2016), is a wiki hosting service that caters mainly on entertainment. It is a social website for fans to discuss their interests and passions. In contrast to Facebook, it doesn’t require too much information to open a profile. In fact, one can just surf around, and read the reviews and discussions. This non-exclusive and non-committal platform empowers the audience to use it more freely and frequently. I had the luxury to interview Perkins Miller, the CEO of Fandom, during the Collision Conference here in Toronto before he flew back to San Francisco where Fandom’s headquarter is located. What amazed me during the interview was that he is on top of pretty much everything. There is nothing that he is unaware of. Here’s how the casual interview unfolded:
Rhunah Soriano (RS): I’ll be honest with you; I’m not a fan of anything (movies, shows, books, hockey, etc.) but of Formula One. I navigated myself around the website, and I didn’t find a lot of content pertinent to my favourite sport. Why?
Perkins Miller (PM): Great race last weekend! I guess we can talk about [it] all day long! [Lewis] Hamilton did a great job. I’m a huge Hamilton fan; I’m cheering for him to come back. That *finish last year… (shaking his head). Fandom is dedicated more to gaming, movie, tv and anime; it caters to the imagined world. Sports is not an imagined world; although, they are really well-served.
RS: What I like about Fandom is that users do not need to reveal too much information about themselves, as opposed to Facebook where it feeds (more like imposes) users’ trends based on information they share, react to or like. Fandom seems to only have one factor in mind: a fan of ____.
PM: Yes, it is for fans to create content. You log in and create content. Let’s say you were at the Formula 1 in Montreal, you snap a picture with you [and your favourite driver], and write the experience, the race or the crowd, etc. That is the purpose of the login, and it is a very small part of our audience, about 1%. The 99% of the audience just review and read the [in this case the driver’s] profile; thus, they are not required to log in.
RS: So how do you monetise Fandom with little information in hand?
PM: Through advertisements. We have a few businesses; the biggest is Fandom. All those Wiki communities, we run ads with over 40 million pages of content. We have an e-Commerce business called Fanatical where we sell games. The FanLab, which is a [market] research group, is part of our platform. We created a business that is data-driven called Fan DNA, where we have a data science team that sort of indexes the platform that creates virtual profile of behavioural interest of the people who like to watch e.g. The Lord of the Rings also likes to watch Game of Thrones, etc. There’s an intersection there, which is based on the taxonomy platform and behavioural data. And then, we have FanLab that does research profiles that files surveys who are part of the FanLab and asks specific quantitative questions that we marry up with our data science to come up with business insights to develop our products. For example, these are your top three favourite [TV] shows; it will then recommend three [TV] shows you may like.
RS: Is there a chatroom on the website?
PM: We only do chatroom immigration. We try to integrate as much as we can. The platform maintains the same model as Wikipedia where fans discuss contents. We were [and still are] sponsored by Wikipedia, [capitalising] on the 48 million contents, discussion boards in various places, whether [fans] believe the backstory of Han Solo or of Loki. The discussions are about these imaginary characters, so there’s only a virtual world that is created there.
RS: Does Fandom organise events or fans initiate them? If not, does the website sponsor these activities?
PM: We get involved in a number of events, more on the sports side. One of them is called Futhead for FIFA Community, another one is called Friday Night Football by Muthead. They have a huge database of gameplay. We also run and participate in comicons in San Diego, Poland, etc. We allow those things to exist, even before I got there, and they do a pretty good job. Events are very complicated to run, as you can imagine. We thought about investing in events business, but I’ve worked on five olympics, for the NFL, for WWE, and I ran StubHub, so I am very familiar with how hard it is to run events. We prefer to run the promotions, provide sponsorships.
RS: I am very happy to see that Wikipedia is being funded by Fandom. The former being a non-profit and Jimmy (Wales) maintaining it as a non-profit organisation as much as possible is an admirable decision, and perhaps, one, if not, the best decisions he ever made.
PM: These are separate; Wikipedia exists outside of Fandom. Jimmy stays on the board of Wikipedia Foundation; he also sits on the board of Fandom. It is owned majorly by a private equity firm called TPG Capital.
RS: Thank you for your time; I am aware that you have a plane to catch. I hope you enjoyed our chat. By any chance, is it your first time here in Toronto?
PM: I have been in Toronto a few different times over the years for business; it’s a great city. I like the communities here… the arts. My wife is Canadian by birth (Winnipeg, Manitoba); both of our kids have Canadian citizenship, so [I’m] a big fan.
RS: Is it good to be back (i.e. travelling and attending conferences)?
PM: I think so. I have been travelling a fair amount; I have been vaccinated and fully boosted, trying to be very careful. It is nice to be back in person, but it depends on where you are. In California, we still have some risks. I don’t think we can do this kind of event.
Perkins Miller is an e-commerce and media tech executive with experience launching and operating complex ventures, from large-scale ecommerce (StubHub) and major media tech (NFL, WWE, NBC) to pure startup (Vocativ). He is currently the CEO of Fandom.
Take away: Perkins Miller’s knowledge of Formula One is mind-blowing. First, it is rare to meet people who actually know about the sport. Second, I have met people who claim to know that F1 is the most prestigious and fastest motorsport in the world, yet Miller is acquainted enough to know the major actors. And lastly, he is aware of the newest circuits involved. Now, that’s a fan marketing genius at his best! He is not only focused on the fictional world of entertainment, but he manages to learn possible markets outside the target client of Fandom.
*The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the last race on the 2021 calendar; it was also one of the most scandalous races ever in the history of F1. Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ Team Principal, expressed frustration and disappointment publicly, even appealing the result, fearing it would ruin Hamilton mentally. It has been hard for him to get back to his normal fighting spirit for the next season, which is in reflection of Hamilton’s current performance.
The interview took place at the Enercare Centre during the Collision Conference in Toronto. Join us next year by registering now and save 50% on Collision tickets. Click here to learn more.
Rhunah Soriano interviews leaders in their respective industry as part of The WorkRoom’s CEO Series. She is also an event organiser based in Montreal and Toronto (Canada). She holds a BA in Political Science and a Certificate in Community Service from Concordia University, and started a Graduate Diploma in Management: PR and Communications from McGill University. She is also a Member of the Campaign Committee for Education for Women Now, a global charity based in Paris. Here are some of her past interviews from another publication.