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Originally published June 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 18, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Brier Dudley

Crazy love when startup iLike hits pay dirt

Every now and then, an online prospector hits the mother lode, inspiring others to keep digging. That's happening now with iLike, a fledgling...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Every now and then, an online prospector hits the mother lode, inspiring others to keep digging.

That's happening now with iLike, a fledgling Seattle startup that suddenly, over the past three weeks, became one of the biggest online music services. Piqued by co-founder Hadi Partovi's blog describing the surge, I asked what it's like to experience the breakout moment that every Web entrepreneur dreams about.

Partovi, 34, was general manager of Microsoft's MSN.com until he left to start a company with his twin brother, Ali, a startup veteran in San Francisco. They launched iLike, a service for sharing musical preferences, in October, with Ali as CEO and Hadi as president.

Their breakout began May 25, the Friday before Memorial Day.

It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend for iLike's 23-person team. It had spent the previous month racing to build a version of iLike that people could use to personalize their pages on Facebook, the social-networking site that's charging after MySpace. To make up for their sacrifices, Hadi Partovi had promised team members an extra-long holiday break.

They finished on time, and the iLike plug-in appeared on Facebook at about 1 a.m. that Friday, shortly after Facebook opened its platform to outside developers.

By noon, 10,000 new users signed up. Another 10,000 joined by 3 p.m., then it really picked up.

"Within the next five hours we had another 30,000 users join and then we started hitting the 10,000-users-an-hour pace, which was 10 times faster than the first 10 hours," he said. "Then we realized we needed to start rethinking things."

The service had been running on two Linux servers with the MySQL database. About 40 servers were in reserve, but that wasn't enough.

That night, the Partovis e-mailed three dozen venture capitalists and chief executives in Silicon Valley, where iLike's data center sits, asking to borrow or buy servers.

Hadi had taken his family to celebrate the birthday of Ali's daughter in San Francisco, but the brothers spent the weekend racing around the valley in a 24-foot rental truck, scrounging up servers.

Meanwhile, the engineers in Seattle were back in the office.

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"Not only did we need to get more computer equipment, we needed to re-architect the entire system that we had just spent the last month writing and we had maybe 24 to 48 hours to do it," Hadi Partovi said.

"The analogy I'd make is, it's like moving from a bank that has many tellers in one bank building, to a system that has multiple bank branches with many tellers and anyone can make a deposit at any branch."

While the engineers rebuilt, the president and chief executive "shucked" the 150 servers they rounded up — stripping boxes and hooking them up at the data center.

It paid off. Since May 25, iLike grew from 1 million to 6 million users. For comparison, RealNetworks' Rhapsody had 5.4 million unique visitors last month, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Ads and commissions on ticket and song sales should make iLike profitable this year. Its trajectory reminds me of the way YouTube burst onto the scene after it was embraced by MySpace users.

Partovi sees the similarity, but he's focused on iLike's new targets.

"Our goals are first to become the dominant music player on Facebook and, second, to become profitable," he said. "I think both of those are well within reach."

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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