Media Archives

Concerned About Twitter, Concerned About Design

I am concerned about Twitter. I write this as someone who loves the service, but lately, I can’t say the same for the product. I know people lament about Twitter every three months, but it’s different when it’s coming from me — that’s because I literally filter the entire web through Twitter, and I have for the past six (6) years. I also tweet — a LOT. I’m closing in on 60,000 tweets. That means I’m “all-in.”

Yet, I’ve caught myself tweeting a variant of this line often lately: “I don’t use any native Twitter products.” That means, specifically, I do not use the mobile (iPhone and iPad) nor the website (Chrome browser) that Twitter produces in-house. Instead, I use TweetBot for all iOS, and on the web, I use TweetDeck in the browser, which I know Twitter HQ manages now, but still, it’s not normal, regular web-based Twitter.

There are myriad concerns about the company overall. I won’t go into all of them here, other than to suggest that while Wall Street and public investors push Twitter to grow their user base, I don’t think Twitter is a mainstream product in terms of absolute users — instead, I think Twitter should focus on extracting value from the users (like me) who are wholly addicted to the service. Sell me things, point me to apps I’ll buy, or tickets, or items. Allow me to pay for premium services and even ads. Anyway, back to native products…

The native products made by Twitter just don’t work for me, and I think they’re going to change even more as the company searches for growth. As a result, the visual design of the website, for instance, is nearly unworkable for me. For instance, if I search for a popular term, my feed consists of the following, in order: a promoted tweet, a random tweet related to the search term, a collage of 4-6 large photos, and then, after scrolling through an entire screen on my laptop, I then finally see what I’m looking for. That’s no bueno. On their native mobile apps, the sliding screens and buried functionality makes it hard for me to go through, not to mention that preloaded images, while annoying on the web, are really bad on an iPhone. If I come across two tweets with images, it can take me three phone-screen’s worth to get to the next non-image tweet. No bueno, tambien.

I don’t know what the solution is. I’d guess the simple answer is that, right now, the end result of the design just doesn’t work. An editor-in-chief, focused on design, might not be a bad idea.

Language And Leverage On Twitter

If you’re reading this, you know I tweet often…a lot. I’m approaching 60,000 tweets, after opening my twitter account in mid-2008. Despite the noise I create, twitter has been critically important for me to shape and test my ideas, to share my ideas with others, and to meet other people across networks interested in technology, startups, and investing. Recently, I found that I made a list — I know what you’re thinking, “Lists are silly.” They usually are, but this one seemed different. It was created by a startup called PeerIndex. They picked about 75,000 accounts in the space of technology, startups, and venture capital, and then monitored how all 75K accounts shared content and interacted with each other in order to find which accounts drove the most attention and influence. [Click here to see the full PeerIndex list and methodology.]

The list is below, and while I did come up on the list, I thought it was a better exercise to show how the top accounts stack up in terms of number of tweets and number of followers — note, the study did not take into account the number of followers a person has, so that anyone can move up (or down) on the list over time.

For me, that was the insight, that despite the noise I create on twitter, it is an important medium to participate in — it is through twitter that someone like me, with very limited experience, was able to learn, interact, and be a small part of the conversation with some of the most-respected minds in technology and investing on the medium that commands everyone’s attention today.

And, as someone who loves language and words, I wanted to list out the Top 10 accounts and briefly unpack the style in which each person uses this medium to their advantage. Naturally, nearly everyone on here is a current investor, analyst, writer (some all of the above), as most operators wouldn’t have the time to do this — Levie being the exception. As you’ll see, the styles are very different — of course, this isn’t a list of real “influence,” it’s only looking within twitter so it’s imperfect but fun nonetheless:

Aaron Levie (~2,700 tweets, 94,000 followers)
Levie has won twitter through humor, mixing the timeliness of pop culture news with a smart brand of nerd swagger. His tweets are so funny and/or insightful that they’re retweeted and favorited at a high rate each time. He focuses on broadcasting, using interesting images, and doesn’t engage in @replies or conversations.

Marc Andreessen (~12,000 tweets in less than 4 months, 96,000 followers)
Out of nowhere this year, Andreessen decided it was time to tweet. And, wow, he’s extremely active and engaged. He also replies to many and favorites tweets all the time, each time firing a signal to the creator as if to say “Marc Andreessen is listening.” He’s almost branded his signature “1/…, 2/….” tweetstorms (which are mini blog posts), and naturally, everyone pays attention to him because of his extremely high influence based on outstanding career contributions (Netscape, a16z, etc.).

Hunter Walk (~20,000 tweets, 61,000 followers)
Walk smartly mixes links to his site and firm (which contains his original content) with fast-paced, news-driven @replies with nearly everyone in the community. As Levie uses humor to cut through the noise, Walk uses transparency.

David McClure (~49,000 tweets, 207,000 followers)
McClure is high-volume, with brash tone, and lots of conversation. Oftentimes, it can feel as if he’s sharing his inner-most thoughts, fuck-ups, controversies, and all highs and lows with everyone. He’s also cultivated a truly global audience through his global firm, 500 Startups, which helps him have a broader network (geographically speaking), which help him spread his ideas. You could say McClure wears his heart on his tweets.

Benedict Evans (45,000 tweets, 31,000 followers)
Evans is a long–time mobile thinker, consultant, strategist. He’s expert at thinking about the mobile technology landscape, so good that he was discovered by Andy Weissman, and investor at USV in NYC. In turn, Fred Wilson wrote about Evans regularly, and Evans grew his tech readership, and has now been hired by a16z. Evans uses twitter to think out loud, as if he’s forming his next blog post in his head, a deeply analytical feed which engages selectively.

Om Malik (~37,000 tweets, 1.38M followers)
Malik is the experienced, old-school journalist, gumshoe, reporter, and now investor, a long-time tweeter with a big audience, the former head of an influential blog and series of conferences around the world. His feed is mainly about curation, about using his experience to signal what is actually important in a noisy world.

Paul Graham (~1,400 tweets, 161,000 followers)
Perhaps one of the truly most influential people in the space, online and everywhere else. Anything PG tweets or links to is analyzed. He has generated a movement and uses twitter to curate a few things, share notes about companies in YC that are doing well, or use his influence to share thoughts about the ecosystem, especially through his blog.

Brad Feld (~25,400 tweets, 168,000 followers)
Feld is an OG entrepreneur and investor, and is very active on twitter, sharing links to his ideas, books, blogs, and more. He’s built up an engaged audience online, but also offline through his evangelism of the power of offline community building, which in turn translates into more attention online.

Fred Wilson (10,300 tweets, 327,000 followers)
Again, OG investor and tweeter, one of the original investors in twitter and a board member there. Like Paul Graham, a must read for everyone in the industry, though he doesn’t tweet often, choosing instead to link to his posts daily — and less of a broadcaster.

Swell For Android, Now In Beta

I’m excited to announce we have opened the beta for Swell for Android! Sign up here to get on the list: Swell for Android (beta).

Like many mobile-first technology companies, we built Swell first for Apple’s iOS platform. As an audio player app for news, information, podcasts, and more, we had an intuitive sense that, prior to our initial launch, consumers would primarily use Swell while on the go — while commuting to work, driving in the car, exercising at the gym, going on a long run, and so forth. As we put version 1.0 of Swell (for iOS) into the market, we confirmed our intuition about how consumers would engage with Swell.

This feedback gave us confidence to quickly build Swell for Android in parallel. This is a big milestone for the team, as we launched iOS only nine months ago and built Android in parallel with our v2 for iOS with the same small team. It’s worth noting a few things. One, we are in Beta, so we’d ask kindly to have your feedback as you use the app, and also keep in mind we are still polishing a few edges of the app. Two, I’d kindly ask in advance for your patience — my colleague Justin (who is running the Beta process) is running the Beta and will get you up and running as soon as we can. Three, we will be out in the Google Play store in due time, so everyone on Android will have access.

I know I have many friends personally (I’m looking at you, Kevin Meyers!) who have waited patiently for Swell to be on Android, and I’m happy to begin to help spread the new app slowly. The Swell team is doing an incredible job of building this in parallel with iOS v2.0 (which is also coming soon). Lots of building going on here, especially for a small team — exciting times!

Five Years And Seven Bets Made By A16Z

Some people are not going to like this post, but it’s on my mind and I have to write it. Don’t worry, it will be short. Let me state up front that I have many friends at a16z, I’ve interviewed for a few positions there, and they’re a small early investor in the company that I work for, Swell. With that out of the way, I’ve been thinking about a16z’s model and performance of late. Now, I know they engage in lots of PR (smartly, I may add), but I wanted to peel back those PR layers and look at some of the fundamentals in their model. Keep in mind that this summer, a16z will mark its 5th birthday. Here are seven (7) bets the firm made as a matter of strategy, and how those bets may set them up for true success and reinvention of the venture category:

  1. Bet #1 – The Rising Tide Of Technology: The initial thesis of the firm was that, following the 2008 recession, technology was approaching a mainstream inflection point with strong fundamentals and without the trappings of what occurred during the Dot-com bubble. The public markets for tech have roared back and show little sign of stopping. There’s a new floor.
  2. Bet #2 – Technology Valuations, As A Result, Should Be Adjusted: The rising tide of technology would therefore render early-stage valuations of private companies to be readjusted to this new reality. If a firm has conviction about a startup investment, paying over the market price is OK because of Bet #1.
  3. Bet #3 – GPs Must Be Startup CEOs To Sell Executive-to-Executive: GPs sell the a16z vision and brand, as well as the services underneath, which creates a clear bar for LPs and future GPs in the fund, which in turn leads to Bet #4…
  4. Bet #4 – Agency Model Of Services In Venture: In order for GPs to focus on courting new investments, they’d build a services network underneath to (1) serve companies they’ve invested in and also (2) to help build up the firm itself.
  5. Bet #5 – Over The Air Marketing From Day 1: Almost from its origin, the firm rooted PR and a strong, bold new media presence as central to its strategy, going over-the-air with a mix of marketing messages that communicated the new model, the brand, and so forth.
  6. Bet #6 – Building An Engineering Recruiting Graph: Technology companies win by building the best products in the best markets. While the firm can evaluate markets from a distance, in order for those products to exist, the best builders must build them — hence, the firm invested in and built two types of databases for engineers (college, experienced) and use double-opt-in techniques to pair interested engineers with their companies. They’re creating a long-term relationship with engineers, not just companies. (As a commenter pointed out, the firm also does this for design talent, which is also critically important at the early-stages of product-building.)
  7. Bet #7 – Seed To Learn The Market, Shift To Fast-Follow Series B To Capitalize: The firm began investing at all stages, but eventually (recently) moved to a focus on later-stage deals, what I’d call “Fast Follower” after A rounds. This is what Greylock perfected in the mid-late 2000′s, and now a16z in pumping even more money into those winners who emerge from the A rounds and make it over the Series B Crunch. This fits their strategy as they have a big fund and need to deliver big returns. Oculus to Facebook after four months and a $75m check epitomizes this approach, and they played it masterfully.

Again, there’s a ton of PR and noise around a16z’s activities (it’s a full-court press), and this activity generates adoration (as we see on Twitter and in the press in general) as well as jealousy (as we see on Secret). As someone who is interested in investing and venture capital, I’m taking a more historical evaluation of what they’ve done in five years and wanted to present this as my own personal observations of the bets they made and how they’re on a track to be right on all of them. I have no skin in their game, I just wanted to look back on the bets they made and reflect on how prescient (and disruptive) those moves have been and may be as 2014-15 unfolds. I know some people will not like this post, but I think the facts are the facts. Yes, there’s a long way to go, but their early bets are proving to have been pointed in the right direction.

For Facebook, An Orthogonal, Astigmatic Move Into Virtual Reality

Some brief thoughts (while traveling) on what is yet another fascinating move by Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, including some open questions, the potential ripples across venture capital, and some fun wordplay with optics — I couldn’t resist ;-)

The rising tide of all tech markets (public and private) is affording Facebook a strong tailwind which makes strategic M&A possible. Public tech stocks and hyper-growth, late-stage, private tech companies are the hottest equity items on the markets right now. Whenever this topic surfaces in conversation where a participant is skeptical, I usually pose the question: “Where else would you put the money right now?” The implication is that there aren’t other good places at the moment. Anyway…Facebook’s own acuity is not in question, steadily seeing its market cap creep up and flirt with $200bn. With this acquisition, Zuckerberg calculated that spending 1.3-1.5% of Facebook for Oculus VR is good business, especially at a time when the market values his stock at a premium. (Note the deal is 80% stock-based, so Facebook spends little cash and instead spends equity, which right now may be slightly overvalued by market — about $2.24bn total.)

Instagram was the near-sighted threat; Oculus is part of the far-sighted, astigmatic vision. As Zuckerberg pointed out in his note about this acquisition, he feels his team has corrected its vision with respect to mobile, so he’s scouring the field for possible platforms which integrate with Facebook’s mission — to make the world more open and connected. Of the new platforms emerging, such as Bitcoin (the protocol), drones (also, incidentally, benefiting from the dividends of the smartphone wars), crowdfunding, wearable technologies, 3-D printers, Internet of Things, and so forth, part of Zuckerberg’s job is to monitor these and strike when he sees a fit. The consumer-level experiences of Oculus VR could be part of the next era of gaming. If one thinks of Carmack as Facebook’s Tony Fadell, and if one considers Facebook’s offerings to be about killing time, leisure activity, and social, bringing the feel of a game to the Facebook experience is a bold vision of extending the platform — such as this.

With Oculus VR, Facebook not only acquires the company, the team, the brand, and the IP, but they also bring in “their Nest” of software and hardware makers into the company. I wrote a longer piece breaking down the Nest acquisition, which you can read here. Part of that discussion focuses on the broad, horizontal nature of what that particular team could do for Google. Larry Page didn’t wire $1bn to Tony Fadell’s bank account to have him making other connected home devices — he wants Fadell to marshal his troops to build brand new hardware for Google, across a number of categories. If we extend this to Facebook and Oculus VR, Zuckerberg now has a world-class integrated software and hardware team at his disposal to complement with his cutting-edge web and cloud technologies talent. The talent inside Oculus VR alone would perhaps make up over a quarter of the deal’s final value. (A side note, it’s becoming hard to imagine a hardware company remaining independent given how much money the current tech giants have. Distribution is hard, and getting to a point like Apple with true vertical integration between hardware and software requires a unique founder, decades of pain, lots of financing (and dilution), and much more. Oculus VR, as one of the most promising integrated companies to emerge recently, is part of this trend. Investors, beware! It takes a lot of green to make this stuff stay out of the red.)

Marc Andreessen, the co-creator of Netscape and the VC firm which bears his name (which invested $75m into Oculus VR about four months ago), is also very close to Zuckerberg as one of the original angel investors in Facebook and a current board member. I have never met Andreessen, but based on watching many of his interviews on YouTube, enjoying his endless Twitter stream, and the bold thesis of his firm (which has correctly predicted many things — I’ll write on this aspect soon), he strikes me as a true intellectual polymath — not just conversant or convincing on a range of complex topics, but one of the earliest people to connect the dots of high technology at the highest of levels. Given his access to and rapport with someone like Zuckerberg, it’s not difficult to imagine the two of them discussing the future of technology platforms over the course of the years. Part of Zuckerberg’s job is to constantly be aware of what could be “next,” and who better to share ideas with than someone like Andreessen? His firm, a16z, has recently made huge bets across a range of industries which could present platform-esque characteristics — the software layer for drones, the software for three-dimensional printing, the software for transferring value across the Bitcoin protocol, and so forth. In Oculus, they likely envisioned yet another emergent computer science platform which could rewrite how people communicated with the Internet. No doubt Zuckerberg pays attention to what his board member pays attention to, and Zuckerberg can conduct his own brand of due diligence like none other in technology. [On the venture side, (a) early firms in Oculus should be noted for their early conviction and will be rewarded with a likely 20x return in about 20 months or so; (b) for a16z, their $75m investment in December 2013, just four months ago, presents them with a staggering IRR and highlights Andreessen himself as the modern standard for venture capital today -- there are many ways to win in venture, but he's effectively leveraging his relationships, his technical know-how, his robust team at the firm, and his capital like no other in the business.]

Open Questions: As with any deal of this magnitude and orthogonality, big questions loom…

Why didn’t other, more logical acquirers get into the mix? It would be common sense to think that companies like Sony (with Playstation), Microsoft (with Xbox and Kinect), Google (just because), and Apple (immersive experiences) would be interested in a team and technology like Oculus VR. We don’t know the details yet, but it’s safe to assume all players took a hard look, and that a few were involved. In such a scenario, one could assume the team had some leverage and perhaps even chose Facebook over the other suitors (for reasons we don’t entirely know just yet, though the founders may have calculated Facebook’s platform gives them the best chance to distribute their technology at scale).

How will the Oculus “community” respond in the long-term? Check out the top comments on the blog post by Oculus VR on the announcement — not pretty. Time will tell if this was fueled by hurt feelings at an emotional time in the moment, or whether over time, this refracts into what could be perceived as the poisoning of the well. Put another way, the non-myopic view could be the loss of trust with the Oculus community, which would drive the development on top of the platform. While a Kickstarter campaign does not bound a company to a path of independence, part of the belief and adoration driving platform developers and fans may have been the dream of seeing Oculus VR come into the market as an independent company, a place where the next Carmack’s would paint the next great immerse gaming canvases. In such a world, Facebook could’ve been one game of many others — maybe there could be a Snapchat VR game! — instead of Facebook owning the platform and its future direction.

Top Referrers To Haywire

Screenshot 2014-03-21 20.49.27I was inspired by the reaction to my earlier post called “Narrowcasting,” which shared stats on the average daily views my blog has seen in nearly two years. The discussion in the comments motivated me to dig deeper into the stats, this time looking at the overall top referrers to Haywire. No surprise here, but the overwhelming majority of people who visit this site come through Twitter. I set this all up on WordPress because of the customizability of their CMS, as well as “search,” but people rarely come to my site via search. TechCrunch obviously refers a bunch of traffic, so I’d consider that inorganic because it’s kind of unfair I have access to it. Then there’s Facebook, Disqus, and Hacker News — I rarely post my stuff there, but this all got me thinking — should I be syndicating this stuff more and more? I know how to do this — it just feels spammy, as people on Hacker News don’t really care about the topics I write about, nor do folks on Facebook. Maybe I’m not thinking about this the right way. What do you all see and infer from this data? Should I change my approach here?

Narrowcasting

Screenshot 2014-03-19 16.02.39

For some reason, people approach me about something I’ve written — recently or in the past — and often assume whatever I write is “widely-read.” They assume what I write here is influential, by some measure. I respond by dispelling these beliefs. Usually, the other person doesn’t believe me, but it’s happened so often recently, I wanted to look at the data and see for myself. And, it’s true…not even 1,000 people, on average, visit my site (and about 450 subscribe via email). That’s kind of pathetic when one considers how many tens of thousands of people visit Hacker News or AVC on a daily basis. (I also write a weekly column on TechCrunch, every Sunday morning. Usually those don’t generate much traffic, either.)

Look at the chart above. I redesigned my blog to start on July 1, 2012. A few things are apparent. One, traffic is pretty low! Two, the first spikes are only the result of a very famous investor who linked to one of my posts and it went viral on his recommendation. Three, what I write isn’t evergreen stuff — it may be relevant for a day or two, and then decreases in value — some of it may not have value to begin with. For the amount of time I do put into it, the ROI is pretty bad.

That’s OK though. Despite what others may perceive, I have never written blog posts here “to build an audience.” I write because I have to, because if I don’t, my brain will go into a frenzy and eventually rot. And, when I write, I try to think of just one person who’d want to read it. That’s all that matters to me. A friend told me this was “narrowcasting” — kind of like broadcasting, but to an extremely narrow segment. I’m cool with that. In fact, I prefer it. Thanks for reading!

Well Done Versus Well Said

Do you ever hear a phrase, unattributable to anyone specific, and then it just rattles around your brain over and over again? Well, it happens to me all the time (unfortunately). And, when something rattles around my brain too long, I need to write it out. Until it’s written, the thought isn’t crystalized. A few days ago — I can’t remember where or whom — but I either heard or saw this line: “Well done is better than well said.” It didn’t register at first, but then it took root.

“Well done is better than well said.” In today’s culture, “well said” gets most of the attention. We judge potential political leaders on how they debate, their stump speeches. We listen to talk radio, television news shows, and more, judging people on what they say. In the startup world, the competition among investors to differentiate capital and gain mindshare with founders is so intense, some investors are turning into little media brands, full with books, conferences, and other media assets.

In today’s startup world, many things are “well said.” But, what is “well done”?

As someone who keeps an active blog, engages often on Twitter, and speaks at events, I too am a small part of the “well said” crowd. “Well said” has its advantages. It is not a bad thing. For instance, it opens doors that once may have been closed. However, “well said” does not directly generate or accrue market value. In order to generate market value — or, put another way: what does the market truly value? — something has to be “well done.” I don’t mean this in the sense of being fully-baked, or cooked through, or over-cooked. I mean, it has to not only be done, but done well.

Done well.

What is done well? Uber, which started in one location, now seems to operate in nearly 100 cities worldwide. Dropbox has made, at scale, a seamless cloud-based storage service that could power the world’s next killer applications. Snapchat handles close to 500 billion images shared across various networks per day. Those are jobs done well. Investment firms like Sequoia and Benchmark, who have resisted today’s era of VC marketing/blogging, deliver some of the best returns in their investment classes. And, the market responds to it. When something is “done well,” it usually has nothing to do with that thing being “said well.” Yes, using clear language to communicate within, across, and outside of a company is very important. No doubt. The distinction I’m trying to make here — as someone who may say things “well” — is that things that are well-said are nice and have value to some degrees, but things that are “done well” are, at the end of the day, where value rests. It’s something I’m reminded of every day as I slog through the Valley.

How Secret May Uncover A New Secret To Mobile Growth

Secret remains a very interesting app. Some people love it, some hate it. Either way, it’s still here, and just got funded…

Greetings from a rainy (but always fun) Austin, TX. As is the case leading up to every SXSW, many wonder what will be the breakout app. As someone who works in, invests in, and writes about mobile, the app that’s come up the most in conversation, offline and online, is no “secret.” It’s not too surprising given Secret launched publicly at the right time (a little over a month ago), received both critical acclaim for its design and ability to motivate people to create original content (it’s a very clever app) as well as criticism for the potential negativity and bullying which could take root inside the app (which are very valid concerns), and has updates key features at the right time — most recently adding location (nearby secrets) and the ability to share secrets to the web and, thereby, spread information to an even wider audience. Most recently, it’s been reported that Secret closed a larger round of funding.

For a number of reasons, Secret is a fascinating app. It emerges during a time when many new apps allow for (relative) anonymity and aren’t built from online social graphs but, instead, from a mobile phone’s address book. It transforms the passive-aggressiveness of a subtweet into a product, creating a space for people to speak their minds with less of the filter required by traditional social networks. It created a new type of newsfeed — the SecretFeed — which is not bound by being presented the traditional, reverse-chronological manner, which allows secrets to resurface over time. Personally, while I see the concerns, I do like the app and open it about once a day because the content is so new, fresh, raw, different — despite the fact that I stumbled across a secret where my name came up negatively in the comments from a variety of users (see picture).

Like any new product that has people buzzing, questions remain. In Secret’s case, I find those big, unanswered questions to be fascinating. In my opinion, here are the big open questions about Secret:

What Will The Company Do To Control Abusive Behavior? The top concern seems to center around the app’s potential to be used as a bullying tool, especially among young folks. My belief is the founders and investors are well-aware of these unsavory risks and will build tools, as well as empowering their community, to flag, report, and trace repeated mean-spirited behavior. I prefer to take the founders at their word and the thoughtfulnessaround exposing their hashing techniques and other statements leads me to believe they won’t take this lightly. (Along similar lines, how “anonymous” is identity inside the app?)

When Will The App Be Used To Break Big News? This is an exciting one. We all assume news breaks on Twitter and Facebook, but if we pause, often someone has to leak that news to a source who then puts it online. With an app like Secret, a user could post an original photograph and write a post about it, and people connected to that user can help the secret propagate through the app’s network, as well as through the web. Of course, people will also report fake news, misreport news, and other pranks. Yet, I do think Secret will be used as a whistleblowing tool and  to break news and could be an interesting growth-driver as it expands, as journalists outside of tech could see it as a place to mine scoops (see below).

How Will Secret Scale Across Platforms? I’ve noticed Secret is a bit slower to load every now and then. It’s a great problem to have. While the images and posts that load appear to carry a bit of weight (which may impact load-time), I’m sure the team is working on making the system faster, as today’s mobile users have come to expect the speed of zippy apps like Snapchat. I’m sure the team is also working on their Android app, but I wonder if they’ll release it soon (to increase their user base and activity) or wait a bit. I’m also curious if they’ll ever allow user interactions through content shared from the app to the web, though that seems doubtful given the network is built from users’ mobile phone address books. (I do expect them to offer each secret on the web to be embedded as content elsewhere.)

Will Brands Find Affinity Inside Secret? I spoke about mobile at an event yesterday where many brand managers of large, international, recognizable consumer brands were in attendance. While we didn’t discuss Secret specifically, they all mentioned to me that mobile networks like Instagram and Snapchat, among others, provided a tremendous amount of interactivity with consumers. They seemed most concerned about where attention was focused. Some have tried to release their own mobile apps only to learn, after the fact, that the majority of mobile app attention is not siloed by brands, but rather through news streams and communication networks where users often opt-in to specific brands or marketing messages. If Secret grabs more and more attention (and if it grows, see below), I do think brands will pay attention and dollars will follow.

And, The Big Question: How Will It Grow? I have often argued (perhaps incorrectly, time will tell) that mobile apps which truly achieve breakout status come from one of a few buckets. There’s gaming, of course. After that, it’s apps that leverage the phone camera in some way (Instagram, Snapchat), or apps that benefit from network effects (Whatsapp and other messaging apps), or apps which aggregate consumer demand through the phone but fulfill the demand offline (Uber). Otherwise, most apps that do well have an influential “parent” with a web audience that helps move that audience to another platform.

Secret, today, doesn’t have these elements. Of course, it could (and likely will) add private messaging, as well as the ability to take pictures directly within the app. The question remains then — how will it grow into a breakout? Perhaps it grows simply on the power of lightweight web sharing combined with strong word-of-mouth. That was certainly the case during my conversations with people around the country here at SXSW. As it has done inside the Valley and tech circles, gossip seems to drive attention inside Secret, so it’s plausible to think the app would do well inside other chatty networks addicted to insider information, such as Hollywood and the Washington DC beltway.

It’s too early to call this one, and while the odds seemed stacked against Secret breaking out, any analysis is ultimately rendered moot because it will — like most things — come down to the product, to whether or not the app changes many peoples’ behavior and creates a space for people to share the things they wouldn’t in traditional manners or networks. So far, just a few months in, I’ve read Secret posts and rich comment threads on a range of topics — some trite, some thoughtful, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, and nearly everything in between. In a limited sample, people do seem to have bottled up thoughts for too long, either afraid to share them or not having the place to do so. One way or another, with all the publishing tools and sharing networks available to all of us, those secrets will eventually come out — it’s just a matter of time. It will be interesting to see this trend powers Secret’s growth outside of the echo chamber. On paper, it shouldn’t — but it just might anyway.

Talking Mobile, Investing, Bitcoins, And Podcasts With Michael Wolf

Earlier in February, pro podcaster Michael Wolf had me on his show, NextMarket. He just posted it yesterday, and it’s fun to listen back on our conversation — though it turns out that I say the word “right” a lot ;-( …I need some feedback from you all so that I can improve. Specifically in the discussion, we talk about the following topics: A breakdown of mobile app categories; Apps which run in the background (Refresh, Highlight), or which tie to offline services (Instacart, DoorDash); Stories around Bitcoins (Coinbase) and my investments in Bitcoin (Gyft, Vauram Labs, Gliph); Thoughts on podcasting and our product plans at Swell; New trends in hardware investing including crowdfunding and institutional capital (Coin, Tindie, Grand Street); Trends in investing, including AngelList, microfunds, seed funds, etc. Take a listen in the car on Swell (click here) or below via Soundcloud.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus