wikiHow receives over 40 million monthly hits and is based out of a house in Palo Alto

Posted Feb 4, 2014

If you have ever searched the Internet for some kind of tutorial, the odds are high that you have visited wikiHow. WikiHow actually has a very compelling history on how the company was founded. I spoke to WikiHow founder Jack Herrick to learn more about the company. Here is the story.

Connection to eHow
Before launching wikiHow, Jack Herrick ran eHow. eHow was founded in 1998 and was financed with $36 million. eHow hired over 100 writers and editors, but the company was “wildly unprofitable.” In 2000, eHow generated around $800,000, but their cost base was very high. This is why Herrick bought eHow for $100,000 in 2004 after the dot-com bust. eHow’s original owners were blocked by Google’s search engine crawlers because they wanted to monetize the website with landing pages with offers from various advertisers.

Herrick optimized the website for Google and the website started to hit over 6 million monthly unique visitors within 2 years without even having to create any new content. When Demand Media acquired eHow in 2006, the website hit a run-rate of around $4 million. wikiHow became Herrick’s next project after eHow.

wikiHow was an extensive database of how-to guides and it started out as an extension of eHow. The website hit over 163,000 how-to articles and is now hitting over 40 million unique visitors from over 200 countries. Any wikiHow visitor can create a new page and write about how to do something. wikiHow lets readers control whether ads should appear along the content.

The story of how Jack Herrick bought eHow
Jack grew up in Palo Alto, California and went to Stanford University. In his 20’s and 30’s, Jack became excited about using the Internet for education. He knew the founder of eHow, which is how he became involved in the project. eHow went bankrupt in 2001 after raising millions of funding. The buyers of eHow attempted to revive the website in 2001, but it was having trouble with outages.

The people that bought eHow were about to turn the website off, but Jack stepped in to save the website. He bought the website for $100,000 with his friend Josh Hannah. This was rough because he had to tell his wife he was going to spend a large amount of money buying eHow instead of using it as a down-payment for a house.

When running eHow, Herrick realized that he wanted to eventually build a how-to manual that covers every single topic. He was very inspired by Wikipedia in 2004. Wikipedia has been around for a few years around then and it became clear that Wikipedia was going to become the “world’s greatest encyclopedia.” Fortunately, Wikipedia was open source so he was able to use some of the code from the website.

Herrick told me that before Demand Media was even a company, he was approached by Richard Rosenblatt tried to buy eHow from him. At the time, Rosenblatt was the CEO of Intermix Media, which was the parent company of MySpace at the time. Rosenblatt contacted him again later on when Demand Media was established and convinced Herrick to sell eHow to him. Demand Media allowed Herrick to keep wikiHow. Herrick told me that he received bids from other companies, but they also wanted ownership of wikiHow. He wanted to keep wikiHow independent and wanted to lead that company.

The wikiHow house
Today wikiHow is completely bootstrapped and has not taken any funding. Jack and his original business partner are the ones running the service. When I asked Herrick about why people contribute to the service, he said that people are motivated by the idea of helping and reaching lots of people. Interestingly, wikiHow operates out of a house in Palo Alto, California.

The wikiHow house has a garden in the back and the employees are very comfortable there. When I asked Herrick to describe the company culture at the house, he said that the staff is “insanely productive” and is “delightfully quirky.” He added that it is amazing that only 18 employees are powering one of the top 200 websites. The house has a room called the “beach room,” which has posters full of beaches. There is even an astroturf in one room. The house also has treadmill desks so that people can stay fit. The “barefoot room” encourages employees to walk around barefoot while lounging around.

“You never hear someone say that they came up with an amazing idea while in a cubicle,” Herrick told me. I agree and that is why the Pulse 2.0 offices lack cubicles.

[Image Credit: WikiHow]