Question - Why did HowStuffWorks have to become a business?
In this post I mentioned that HowStuffWorks had to become a business at some point. And the question was asked, "Why did HowStuffWorks have to become a business?"
It's very interesting how this happens, and it has happened to a lot of people. When you start your web site, you typically begin on some kind of $15/month virtual hosting account (more on these accounts next week). If your site starts to take off in terms of traffic, then you soon find that you outgrow an account like that. You need a dedicated server and a lot more bandwidth.
At that point, you are looking at something on the order of $300 to $500 per month to keep your site running. That's $6,000 per year. The great thing about simple programs like Google AdSense is that they make it easy to generate revenue, but at the time HowStuffWorks was going through its initial growth spurts, programs like that were not available.
Then your traffic grows some more, and then it grows again. You eventually end up with a configuration that has dozens of server boxes and you are consuming several terabytes of network bandwidth each month. You need people to help configure the servers and keep them running, and you have to pay them. You want to expand your content faster so you hire more writers (the IpodLounge example demonstrates that nicely -- as his traffic grew, he hired more writers). And so on. In many (but not all) cases, your web site becomes a business whether you like it or not if it really takes off.
This is, of course, a great problem to have. When that time comes for you, I would make one recommendation -- don't skimp on the hardware. Have your site hosted at a large, reputable company and make sure that you have enough redundant hardware to handle server failures and large spikes in traffic. If you don't, you will end up seeing your site go down on a regular basis.
Over the last several months, for example, Fark.com has been having hardware problems. You'll see messages like, "We're still on temporary hardware on our database server, so performance is...", or you will go to the site and it won't be there. It is very common to see Slashdot link to a cool site, and an hour later the cool site goes down because it cannot handle the load. That kind of stuff is very frustrating to your visitors, and it also cuts into revenue and exposure. As your site grows, plan ahead and invest wisely in your hardware infrastructure so that you avoid these problems completely.
[If you ever find yourself in one of these happy i've-got-way-too-much-traffic situations, write to me]