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OnlineClock celebrates its 10th birthday, proving you don’t have to be a unicorn to make it

onlineclock unicorn screen shot 2016 03 27 at 6 00 15 pm
In the tech world filled with wanna be unicorns, it seems that companies exist at two polar ends of a spectrum — either a billion dollar valuation and an IPO, or an abject failure. Sure, in theory, the middle ground exists, but the particulars seem rather shrouded in mystery. Is it possible to stay alive while keeping relatively under the radar? If you ask Tom Churm, founder of Online Alarm Clock, the answer is a resounding yes.

Launched almost exactly a decade ago, OnlineClock went live on the web for the first time on March 24, 2006. This was a time before the ubiquity of the smartphone clock, and indeed a point during which the alarm clock space could’ve used some disruption. Enter Churm, a young San Franciscan who had just taken a yearlong course in programming and development, and during one sleepless night, determined that there was a distinct need for a web-based alarm clock. The next morning, he put up using nothing more than some HTML, Javascript, and a cheap host. The rest is history.

Since its humble beginnings in 2006, Churm notes that his creation has gone from being a simple alarm clock to serving a wide range of clock-related functions, all for free, and all on the web. And somehow, Churm has managed to turn this venture into a full-time job, boasting more than 3 million unique visitors per month. Sure, it’s no Facebook, but it’s not too shabby either.

So who are the folks using OnlineClock? Churm says that some of his users are “computer freaks who will leave their laptops on all night, and leave my clock on and wake up to it.” And on the other hand, he notes, “there are those who use OnlineClock’s stopwatches and timers as daily reminder tools — you keep your laptop in the kitchen to remind you to take pizza out of oven.” He’s found that his typical user falls in the 17-25-year-old demographic (surprisingly young, given the popularity of the smartphone these days), but Churm says that he’s “tried to find ways to come up with added value for existing users” (including finding funny memes to reward his fan base).

Curiously enough, while other tech trends seem to come and go, Churm has found that OnlineClock’s popularity has stayed relatively stable over the last ten years. “The site’s traffic has actually been steadily increasing since beginning,” he says. “What I’m seeing isn’t phenomenal growth — it’s not Facebook or Instagram — but a solid 15% increase in usage year over year. OnlineClock is definitely a website where people keep coming back — of the 2.5 million unique visitors this past month, 70% were returning users and 30% were new users.”

In terms of his secret to success, Churm attributes much of it to independence. “What it comes down to is that I’m the sole owner of website — I have no VC or investors to answer to, and I’ve been making a profit since I’ve been online,” he says. “So although I’m very conscious of keeping costs down, I have no interest in manipulating the site to make huge changes or increases in traffic. For me, it’s about maintaining stability and keeping recurring visitors happy and satisfied.”

So there you have it. Sometimes slow and steady really does win the race, even in the fast-paced world of the Internet.

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Lulu Chang
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