Not many start-ups hit profitability from the get-go. The Los Angeles-based developer of the Whisper app might be the exception.
The iOS app, developed by childhood friends and neighbors Michael Heyward and Brad Brooks, allows users to anonymously share and post their ideas and “deepest, darkest secrets” through pictures and texts.
The sharing platform (data is not stored) launched officially last November and already has more than 1 million users. The app is free but its direct-messaging feature has to be purchased, and according to iTunes, those purchases have made it one of the top sellers in the digital store.
From an early stage, the start-up put private messaging behind a paywall as a way to ensure the quality of the content that users shared, while also driving revenue from the beginning of its launch. Users pay $5.99 a month to communicate directly with one another inside the app (it is free to the recipient who participates in the dialogue). More than 800,000 messages are sent each day on the app.
“One of the things that we saw very early on is people wanting to connect their shared experiences,” said Heywood, 25, who saw Whisper as a way to help people share parts of their lives that they were less inclined to put on social networks, such as emotions like anger or anxiety.
For users, there’s the promise of something almost cathartic and emancipating about putting into words an unknown fact, jokes, inspirational moments, secret doubts, challenges overcome, and so on, that you might not have thought you could face, and sharing it with the world — all while not having it tied to their real identity.
So much so, that the app caught the attention of investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partner’s and led the company’s $3-million Series A round, which also included Trinity Ventures, Shoedazzle founder Brian Lee, and Flixster’s Joe Greenstein.
Jeremey Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, which also invested in photo-messaging app Snapchat last year, said he first noticed Whisper when it was rising in the app store charts. Liew said he had seen the same high levels of retention and valued the “compelling social content” on Whisper.
Whisper is reminiscent of Post Secret, the mail-based community art project that lets users anonymously share their secrets on the back of postcards. Post Secret launched an iOS app in September 2011, but it was pulled from the App Store three months later due to abusive content. To prevent malicious content from appearing on Whisper, its founders said there is a flagging feature for users to report inappropriate content.
Here is how it works:
Before the download is complete, the app requires that you confirm that you are 17 or over.
After creating an account, you are able to read whispers (posts) in three sections: the most popular posts, the latest or most recent posts, or posts that are “nearby.”
To post, choose a photo — either from the Internet (which you can search for through the app) or from your own cellphone — and then type your thoughts, comments, opinions or observations.
Other users can see it and either “like it” or leave a comment. You are notified if someone has left a comment.
Latest posts are updated every time anyone posts a "whisper." Under the “nearby” section, the only identifying mark on each confession, which is an optional location tag that gives users a general idea of where the user is when posting the message. This feature, allows users to connect to the secrets of people in their own neighborhood or, for college students, on their own campus.
So will Whisper be the next best thing? Right now it is popular among college-age users, but that is exactly how Snapchat gained traction.
Whisper works as both a browsing and creation app, and is currently available on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. It will be available for Android later this year.
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