New York Techies Talk About Turning Secrets Into Viral Success

113 Spring is a staple of the New York tech scene, home to a handful of quickly-rising startups. On Wednesday night, there was PBR.

About 50 people from the New York Viral Meetup drank cans on the second floor, in the red-walled office of meme-maker BuzzFeed. Their eyes were on the Power Point presentation at the front of the room which was scrolling through Texts From Last Night, a site that got over a million hits in its first five days posting late-night gems such as “i’m sitting in the second floor bathroom drinking coronas in the shower. do not find me.”

The presenter was TFLN co-founder Lauren Leto, a self-described “bookish entrepreneur” now on her second startup built around conversations that were considered private in more innocent times. Her new venture, Bnter, is a site where users send in excerpts of conversations, which can be tagged and commented on and are occasionally illustrated into a cartoon.

The night’s event had a clever conceit: How do you build a service on something people normally keep private–text messages, for example–and make it viral? The presenters also included Eric Wieson, a venture capitalist with RRE Ventures and Jared Hecht, cofounder of GroupMe, a system that makes “reply all” group text messaging possible on any phone.

If you can make a user laugh, you’re 80% of the way to being viral, Leto said. Also be quick, sensationalist, relatable, and anonymous–Leto stayed away from allowing photos on Texts From Last Night, despite user requests. You don’t want to cause real damage, she said.

GroupMe, the other text-messaging based startup, has a different virality: it’s kind of like a pyramind scheme. Each user has to recruit other users in order to use the service, founder Jared Hecht explained. By adding friends’ phone numbers to form groups, one average new user introduces six more (cue slide: 1 = 6).

Wieson, the investor, had only one slide: his name.

Venture capital investing is actually viral, he explained, despite the secrecy and paranoia surrounding it.

Investors tend to hear about a company getting funded and get excited about it. If they can’t fund the venture themselves, they look for other companies that are similar–which is why there seem to be so many daily deal sites and closed social networks right now. “I get what I call ‘deal fever,'” he said.

This viral investing phenomenon is fairly new, he said, but now RRE is careful to plan for how word of a deal might spread for every investment it makes.

If you want a meeting with Wiesen–as many of the audience members seemed to–it’s necessary to get some viral traction for your startup, he said. Build your userbase, or just get yourself talked about, and hope your name gets in his ear. It was starting to dawn on the audience that secrets often have more value when they’re broadcast.

ajeffries [at] | @adrjeffries


New York Techies Talk About Turning Secrets Into Viral Success