How hpG Used Design Thinking to Innovate and Survive the Dotcom Boom

The first wave of digital entrepreneurship was before the Dotcom Boom. It was the period of time when innovation in the digital space was discovered. Some of these innovations from the first wave set the standard of what becomes the internet today.

Meet hpG (home page Gratis), one of the first cohorts of Brazilian-based startups that endured the Dotcom era. hpG at that time was the largest Portuguese language web hosting service. In the 1990s, internet users use Geocities (a web hosting service) as a tool for self-expression and information-sharing to create content, upload media and share with their peers.

A Chilean entrepreneur, Rodrigo Martinez observed the problems with Geocities' web URL (www.geocities.com/neighborhood/˜username/) and identified several unarticulated needs along the way:

  • Geocities' URL was too long that causes users find it challenging to remember their own URL, let alone others.
  • Because of the nature of Geocities' URL, users do not feel like the site they created was theirs because it did not feel personalized.
  • Large populations of Portuguese-speaking countries did not understand English, hence unable to use Geocities, but desire to use it.
  • Geocities' user interface made it hard for users to create content and navigate the site.
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Having truly understood the pain points from both technical and behavioural standpoints, Rodrigo and his partners transformed these needs into innovation opportunities and built the first Portuguese language web hosting service - hpG.

hpG was created with a better user interface that allows Portuguese-speaking users to create content easier than Geocities. What was simple yet innovative about hpG's solution was that they changed the URL structure by flipping Geocities' username from the back to the front.

From www.geocities.com/neighborhood/˜username/ 
to www.username.hpg.com.br

By going the opposite of what other web hosting does with its URL and placed the username in front, hpG uncovered (then) latent desires of users they did not know they want. Users wanted to feel like their site is personalized to their tastes and feels like it belongs to them. This was key to user adoption.

User base skyrocketed as Portuguese-speaking users flocked to use hpG's service. In merely 18 months, hpG was acquired with the largest acquisition deal of that year by iG (Internet Group), one of Brazil's largest internet portals of the time for R$ 55 million (US$ 23 million). It's simple URL structuring has since gone mainstream to become the internet standard we know today.