Recession — and social network glut — be damned! Frank DeRose, managing partner of Ferrata Capital Management, plans to invest at least $1 million into Total Prestige, an invitation-only networking site for one of the world's most underserved internet demographics: the super- and super-duper rich.
The 15-year-old organization used to just be a Rolodex with 50,000 names -- a sort of offline LinkedIn of the Rich and Famous doing introductions in all the non-digital ways. But it's now catching up with technology and taking on an online presence with a social network that launched in September, with plans also for a global rollout of quarterly print magazines in some glittering world capitals.
There are currently around 637 members on the site, and an additional 400 high-profile people have decided against creating a public profile but can still view all the content. Ten members are billionaires. Most of them come from Europe and the Middle East, and range from royalty and entrepreneurs to entertainers.
To get an idea of what these folks are blogging about: One recent post seeks advice for avoiding pirates while yachting up the African coastline.
But after hours activity is not the main thrust -- there are several other networks for that out there, including A Small World and Decayenne (and others mentioned in the comments). This one's not about play. "It's sort of like going to a conference," DeRose told Wired.com. "You're there to network and conduct business."
The network is invite-only, but DeRose offered Wired.com an exclusive pass into its world to check it out. Note: We weren't allowed to show any screenshots to protect the privacy of members.
The site is built on the Ning platform, so it has all of the basic functionality that its other networks have, but DeRose says they will be looking for a developer to update it in the near future. Of course, the design and platform is irrelevant compared with the exclusivity of the company with which you're rubbing virtual elbows.
Some names that we had permission to disclose are Princess Elfi Odu-Dua of Benin, an international trader based in Germany; Jamal A. Al Akkad, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the Middle East; Countess Vanessa Kosta Pomponi from Monte Carlo, and actor Daniel McVicar from The Bold and the Beautiful.
The homepage, or "Lobby," plays classical music entitled "Beautiful Day" and displays online users at the top of the page. There are also widgets with content from sites like CNN, Golf Digest and Forbes.
"Unfortunately, right now I can't offer you a glass of Champagne or Scotch for a welcome toast, but I sincerely hope to meet all of you very soon," Perez writes as a welcome in a sidebar.
There are various sections including "The Lounge" for live voice, video and text chat and a marketplace for buying/selling goods (some items listed now are luxury cars, jewelry, and a pair of islands in Bora Bora). There's also a "Social Diary" tracking events like galas and fundraisers, a link to view the online magazine from within the network as well as a place to blog.
And, of course, there is always the VIP room within even an exclusive club: A new feature introduced to the site Wednesday offers a premium membership that allows members to write content for the online magazine that can include advertorials and infomercials to share their businesses and products. (Cost: $500 a year for club members and $900 a year for nonmembers).
DeRose says he has already gotten a slew of e-mails from other interested investors and bankers after reading about the site in the NY Post and thinks the site will have significantly more members in the coming months.
The first big expansion for the company, currently based in New York and London, will be in the Middle East, he says, where they've been especially popular. A series of quarterly print magazines will roll out in 2009 profiling members and places in major cities, including: Paris; Berlin; Cape Town, South Africa; Moscow, Rome, Copenhagen, Denmark; and possibly Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Amid their planning for the future, DeRose and Perez are also working on organizing a gala in London scheduled for next spring, wherein about 300 members will attend and can get to know one another and conduct business in person. Think of that as a millionaire's Meetup.
The investment makes DeRose co-chair with Rose Marie Perez, a communications veteran who currently runs the operation, and is a first step toward building up and expanding the new global media enterprise. DeRose is counting on ads (ad recession be damned!) for most of the enterprise's revenue, targeting folks who want their businesses in front of big spenders.
Is this abusiness model? DeRose compares his site to Facebook, which allows any old person to join and received a $200 million infusion from Microsoft. His target demographic is a stratospheric group of "accomplished professionals."
"If a business model like that carries a value of a billion dollars, I think this far surpasses Facebook," he said.