For entrepreneur Bill Staniford, the obsession many people have with supermodels was an initial turnoff.
A fan of the NFL's New York Giants, Staniford was searching for sports content on the Internet last year. Even though his team and the New England Patriots reached the Super Bowl, the word "Giants" often yielded non-sports results: Namely supermodel Gisele Bundchen, wife of Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady.
"Why do so many people care about these models?!" Staniford said. "It angered me at the time."
But in a case of "if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em," Staniford turned that anger into a new business. In August he launched Model Launcher, a website that features amateur photos of aspiring models. The public votes on their favorites, and a handful of winners have moved on to book professional modeling gigs.
Staniford hopes his website will make the modeling profession more transparent. He argues the industry is too opaque, and revolves around young women and men hoping for a break with big-name photographers or other industry insiders, he said.
"I started to think about, 'How do you become a supermodel?' " said Staniford, former chief executive of real estate website Property Shark. "I set out to create a platform by which people could become a model."
After the public votes on the finalists, Staniford and the Model Launcher team select the final contest winner. Contest categories are based on gender and age groups, and every contest takes about 1 1/2 months. Contests are open to all amateurs, and the cost is free.
Contest winners are flown to Miami Beach, Fla., treated to a photo shoot and offered mentorship. "Those are the types of things that really separate us from the 'hot girls on a website' model, " Staniford said. "I do think that the professionalism from beginning to end is important, " he said.
Some observers say Model Launcher's genesis has notes of Facebook's beginnings. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in a late-night hacking binge in his Harvard University dorm room. Site users rated picutres of female students, a scene that's detailed in the film, "The Social Network." Coincidentally, Model Launcher's Facebook page has more than 31, 000 likes.
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Not Just Another Girls' Website
Without a doubt, a key part of Model Launcher's appeal is gawking at and passing judgement on beautiful people. But Staniford argues the website is also about creating a new business platform for would-be future supermodels. Recent winner Brandi Nicole has walked for "Project Runway" and the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
"Psychologically speaking I do understand the appeal of looking at attractive people, but that is not the point of the website, " Staniford said. "We have men and women."