A glimpse into the thriving business of family history

Published: Wednesday, April 9 2014 10:50 a.m. MDT

Gilad Japhet is the CEO of MyHeritage.com.


Gilad Japhet launched MyHeritage.com out of his garage in 2005. He mortgaged his home, poured all his money into the business, and was not afraid to take a few risks.

Almost a decade later, the startup MyHeritage has revenues in the tens of millions of dollars, continues to see significant growth and has more than 160 employees. Its 75 million users have built 1.5 billion profiles and millions of family trees in 40 different languages.

So, yes, business has been good, Japhet, MyHeritge’s CEO, said in an interview with the Deseret News at RootsTech in February.

“Family history is a lucrative business,” Japhet said. “The main reason is people are passionate about it and it is very meaningful in their life. … Anything that people are passionate about, which involves a lot of word of mouth, has to be good business.”

Japhet’s story illustrates how many family history/genealogy businesses are thriving today.

Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry.com, and Annelies van den Belt, CEO of FindMyPast.com shared business reports similar to Japhet's as they discussed factors of success, challenges and new advancements in genealogy technology. Smaller family history businesses have also found sustainable models in preserving individual life stories and experiences.

There is also tremendous room for growth, Japhet said.

“Family history is an activity you can do for life,” Japhet said. “Once you have a customer, and you are giving that customer a great service, they become a customer for life.”

Factors of success

Founded in 1983, Ancestry.com has grown into the largest genealogy company in the world. According to its website, the company has 1,400 employees worldwide, including 1,000 in Utah. Revenues have increased from $166 million (2007) to $586 million (2013). Ancestry has also benefitted from its sponsorship of the family history reality show “Who Do You Think You Are?

The company estimates that 83 million people in the United States are interested in using an online family history service, Sullivan said, and as a result, Ancestry has aggressively invested in digitizing new content.

“There is a universal interest in who we are and where we come from,” said Sullivan, who was also interviewed by the Deseret News at RootsTech.

Investing in digitized content and creating a positive user experience are two factors that have contributed to Ancestry’s success, Sullivan said.

A third way is creating technology that helps users find and share content with their family members.

“The size and scale of our community — 2.7 million subscribers, 10 million people visiting the site at any given month — is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration with distant cousins,” Sullivan said. “It really comes down to always providing our subscribers with new discoveries. If we can continue to add content … improve our technology and tools to help people find that discovery … we can keep our subscribers engaged on the site for many years.”

Similar strategies have been beneficial for the United Kingdom-based FindMyPast.com, van den Belt said.

“Technology helps us to be connected,” she said. “This is about opportunities. The industry has seen significant growth in the last couple of years because digital tools have made it easier for people to find records.”

Catering to 40 languages, developing family tree matching technology and giving free access to one subscriber’s entire family have been major parts of MyHeritage.com’s business plan, Japhet said.

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