Google I/O 2014 - Social networking, reengineered: How Secret became popular: David Byttow
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Google I/O 2014 – Social networking, reengineered: How Secret became popular: David Byttow



alright guys welcome to our second day here at i/o or so excited to have you guys here have a packed house for the YouTube distribute talks and basically what we want to get at here is there's the design and development part of the process but once you've built a great product how did you get it get it out there and I couldn't think of a better example than secret and all the amazing work David you've done to get your product out there so thank you so much for joining us of course we're it's awesome so why don't you let it let us I know I've been using the app obsessively so take myself out of the picture can you tell us for people who haven't haven't used secret what exactly it is how do you how do you interact with it sure so secret is I would say probably the first anonymous social application which might seem at odds with each other but what we do is we connect people with their friends but anonymously so when you come on in post you post things as you think and feel and your friends know it's you but they don't know well they know it's one of their friends but they don't know who it is exactly and this has created a really really interesting network of content awesome and and take us back through the dates when did you guys launch yeah so we launched January 30th of this year it was about five months something like that ago so let's move on back those five months what was what was day one likely when you put it out there tell me about your search users so I remember well we started building it mid November yep so in mid November we you know we had an app before that also called secret but it was more about anonymous 101 messaging yeah but one of something that people would come back to every day so you're like well you know what if we build something where you just broadcast out to your friends and so it's something that they can see and come back to everyday a stream of stuff so we tested that with about 200 of our friends over that period of about two and a half months and you know January 30 for like you know it's good enough to launch we think you know design is it's okay like I'll just put it out there and kind of slip it out there quietly and so I remember I was introduced to Mike Isaac who was formerly a tree code and I'm like hey you know we met over beers I'm like hey dude like we have this app like maybe you want to write about it I don't know so when I just kind of get it out there is so he did that he wrote one article and then you know there was a bunch of people joined here in Silicon Valley and because the product works where it connects your social graph it was immediate that such a dense network here that people are just instantly connected and they were connected to stuff that meant that was interesting to them it was like tech stuff and things of rumors and all that so it just like kind of blew up and took off from there and bunch of people started writing about it and we just started hanging on it yeah it seemed that you guys did a terrific job overcoming the networking effect that that a social network like yourself needs yeah I mean especially in a dense network like this but then after that like how do you break out of that how do you get into other areas right we saw a lot in the beginning in California you know mostly Silicon Valley and then la in New York these are kind of our dense networks and people like well all the secrets are just about tech they're just about ever but over time you know it's become much more mainstream and now even other countries I mean Russia caught on very very big honestly I can't give you a formula for how the library grids in Russia there's a lot of it was a perfect but you know as far as distribution goes I think you know it's just about making a product that people want to use and and when you know you have a network effect like that you have people who you know they join they're like oh you know I want my friends to see this they show their friends that kind of thing it just it spreads and I think you know most of its been in a word-of-mouth that way I love it I love it and and something else I think that odds were so far against you because I want to bring in a quote here from the president of Y Combinator Sam almond you said that anonymous social networks thus far I've been in a category of services that they get worse as they get better unlike Facebook and Twitter they get bigger ID today they get better as they get bigger when I heard that quote I thought of you guys I'm like wow David and his team are proving him wrong do you believe that and how are you going about that yeah that was an early quote I think he mentioned that it would kind of eventually trend to negativity and we knew that that would be in the death knell of a secret if that were turning that way so we did everything we could in our power to kind of you know moderate as much as possible like do you know always promote you know positivity and mostly it was productive secret sent our products so we do little things and design like you know little comment box instead of like write a comment it says like say something kind right like just just like little drop little hints so that you know hopefully things stay like a well-lit space and it was funny to read that quote because you know here's a VC who believes in solving hard problems and this is a very hard problem it's not only inspired us to like really push and and show that we can do anonymity and do it well yeah of course I I guess you guys like pinning up his quote like locker room material I go maybe I did this picture it's a peekaboo little post a secret awesome what other challenges did you face in the early days I guess we're still in the early days of accurate and trying to get it out there you mentioned like keeping in a well-lit space what other hurdles did you have to overcome I think that's the biggest one the other one was security right here we are with a bunch of people coming on a platform and you know telling us telling the platform you know the things that they're thinking and feeling and you know rumors with whatever like you know some deep heavy stuff yeah and so it's our job to keep that lock down and secure and no system is perfect you know and and and so that that's obviously an ongoing area of research and an ongoing challenge for us to make sure that you know the data is safe and we even build things into the product to allow people to say you know what like everything I've posted like I don't want to be associated with it anymore right so things like that we're constantly evolving because honestly it's like you know it's like I'm 30 million credit cards you know being breached or something like that for it you know like we can't allow that to happen so that's another challenge as well so security privacy in addition to growth you know it's it's a delicate delicate balance of course of course and talk to me about your engagement numbers I was looking at the stats and it looks like 75% of people with more than five friends come back to your platform every single day I mean that's just unheard of for for a network that is around let alone it started just a few months ago yeah I think conversation is the key and it's it's amazing to see so much rich and deep conversations on an anonymous platform again it's like you wouldn't really expect that but what we see is we have two cohorts in our system one is zero friends people with you know basically they don't have anyone that they're connected to their attention is a little bit lower it's have more forty to fifty percent which is still very very good and then there's the people who have more than one friend trending more towards 70% and then even higher as that goes up it gets higher higher up to about 80 85 percent in some cases and so the key is to get people to engage in a conversation right and that keeps that hook of coming back like who wrote who wrote back who you know who's saying what about you know what I just wrote and that's really really key and you're right like those retention numbers are the most important thing to me you know even all the press in the world like this is what I've learned all the press in the world will not immediately get you like overnight a millions of users especially if your iOS only or Android only like it just doesn't happen right it mobile like these things take a little bit of time there's a network effect it needs to build up right and so you know I would say that instead of looking always at absolute numbers even though over time that'll take care of itself if you have good retention and good engagement and that's what we're focused on and that's why those are the numbers we like to talk about and what other I think I truly believe other developers need to be focused on is just retaining users and the other thing I'll say is that there are many ways under the Sun to distribute your products through you know tap draw or ads or whatever you can put a lot of people at the top of the funnel question is what happens when they get to the next step of the funnel right are they staying around so that's what you need to focus on absolutely so let's talk about the top of that funnel then we'll move down towards how did you you mention that you're in different markets all the way spanning into Russia how did you did you proactively outreach did somebody you know hear about secret get on a plane go to Russia like I definitely like by expanded there how exactly did it did it grow so fast it's a fascinating process you know I wish I could honestly wish I could break it down to some sort of formula we've always had grand plans like oh we're gonna have ambassadors go to colleges we're gonna do this and that but again it's just it's been happening pretty quickly because we've tapped into this new you know this new network effect right and who doesn't want to like come out of platform like read secrets from people like that's just that the story tells itself right as far as like rush to and I remember one morning I woke up there was like 3 a.m. I'd gotten paged because I still I'm still like our main backing engineer so so I have to deal with all that but I got paid tonight and I woke up and I opened my laptop and I'm like I looked at the grass just kind of like goes straight up yeah and I was like what's going on and then I looked at the secrets like on our on our moderation thing it was all Russian I'm like we're under attack like what is happening and it took a little bit you know I'd used some Google Translate and whatnot I'm like okay these are actually people like creating real secret yeah to this day I can't explain how or why that happened it just you know I just picture one guy you like doubt like randomly finds in the App Store and like shows someone and it just goes from there there's definitely been some press we've done like when we rolled out international we went to like Netherlands and some places that are you know like Netherlands like 93% of people are connected Internet like it's it's huge dude and so these are great in there they're amazing with social networks Brazil Netherlands like they are like first adopters right and so we went there put out some little press things get some people into it and then the rest has take care of itself right and so that's kind of been our strategy so far the next step for us is to like break a little bit out of tech and more into like lifestyle and and and and more of a mainstream audience and see how they do but again you know timing is everything and we need to like make sure we're not going too fast you know too far and and kind of growing at a very steady you know solid rate so let's talk about that how do you move into the mainstream because I think somebody start up see that TechCrunch bump they see a press come in lots of initial users people get excited and two months later you don't hear about those starts again how are you what are you doing to avoid that you know I think it's right now for us it's a game of show-and-tell right it's it's always showing the kind of content that's created on secret whether we are you know kind of collecting secrets and showing it to people and showing them like this is the kind of content you can find on secret right that way you know people and you know Midwest or wherever like they see things that relate to them right that that's I think I think the real key when everyone when you know the goal is whenever anyone signs up the secret the first few secrets I see should be something relatable something close by something in their camp is something they're interested in you know that kind of thing and they need to make that deep connection with the product right and that's you know that kind of content is what helps people especially mainstream kind of connect and want to use it so it seems like your development in your distribution go hand-in-hand when a user comes on they want to see content that's compelling that keeps them coming back how do you make sure that those first three posts are most engaging is the algorithms what are you doing to make that so there's a few things I mean we have a moderation team that's always curating some of the best content right they are going through stuff and in finding it and kind of picking out things so that when people do come on that they see that kind of stuff to kind of set the pace and the tone for what the product is right I fully fully believe that beauty begets beauty like what they see is what they're gonna want to want to like mimic in representor and that's that goes back to the original point of battling negativity right if you join you see something extremely negative you see something that's hurtful you see something that's like you know whatever right and it not-safe-for-work stuff like that you're like you know what is this what's what's going on right you kind of want to help steer people in that direction and that first experience is the most important the best experience of course is when they join and they're instantly connected to their friends yeah and they have somethings like this is from a friend it's like you know someone says very even the simplest things right it's like some of those like romance me and it's like from friend you're like like is this someone and you connect with it on a deeper level rather than you go to you know some other products where it's just a public feet and sarandon people you're like romance me like whatever like I don't care about that so take me through when was the moment when you were first building the product where it resonated with you when you were like wow I think this could be something as big as we see today with what secret has become like when did that happen for you so I remember when we were testing with our friends again we only had about 250 people on the platform it was a little bit before Christmas and someone had posted and said you know I'm gonna I'm thinking of you know asking what girlfriend to marry her or marry me on on Christmas Day like is is that poor form like what do you guys think all these people my friends and my co-founders friends is the intersection of all you know all of us we're like you know giving feedback and talking about it and I was like this is really interesting like I wonder if she's gonna find out like what's what's gonna happen you know then a little bit after after Christmas that my friend rich had posted on Facebook like picture ringg just got engaged everybody who's kind of like a reveal yeah and that got me thinking like you know what there's this new class of communication that things we think and feel things we want to put out there or we just saying private like a dinner table that you can't really put out there and and like feel and get your friends to like respond to it right so that other side of this story and that's what I knew like that we had something because I fully believe especially with social networks you look at new apps like slingshot or you look at like all these like new things it has to create a new kind of a new type of content a new class of communication you can't just build another Instagram build a better right because we're all on Instagram like why is this going you know so you can always you always got to find those new places there's new things where people have a have a new way to express themself and something that is is you know resonates with everyone so that's when I kind of like knew something was there absolutely and tell me give me give me a glimpse into the future what what's coming up for secret I know you guys are having a lot of exciting developments to the product and and and adding more experience for users so even more resonates what are you doing with secret to allow the distribution to only grow yeah so you know I think the most important thing any product that once you had product market fit or you feel like you've hit it you need to constantly tightening the bolts and making sure that the product is is is robust and strong and and things aren't like falling off you're not missing things not losing things like you know you take a product like again snapchat yeah I love snapchat I love how they've grown the first year you know they were slowly growing they were not it was not an overnight thing it took you know you Twitter very very long time right these things take time and you just have to build up that core and strengthen it and eventually you never know when when you know it resonates in it and it goes mainstream like that so number one is we're just constantly is making sure that push notifications work everything works people are getting quality is stuff in the stream like the core is there then we start looking at other things like well you know we see what our users are doing like they want to message each other they want to have these private little conversations when they connect in a normal conversation so should we build a direct messaging product and of course we want to do that but like I said timing is everything and it needs to make sense and you know everything you every time you add a new feature to your product it's kind of like a story you have to go back to the beginning and beginning and reread that story make sure it makes sense cohesively right and so you know with that I think direct messaging is really really important and again just showing more content there's so I can't you know I can't like stress enough how much good stuff there is on our product that a lot of people do see but a lot of people don't and we want to like be able to just show some of that right and have our users really be proud of the things I've created maybe they don't take credit for it like you know like this was mine of course but just to show some of that really really good stuff and I think that's really important too so I something you mentioned that last one really stuck out for me not taking credit for what you put out there because I think like on Facebook Twitter so many of us just think about like oh wow that's got so many likes it's got favourites it's got retweeted but on your network none of that matters but people still keep coming back well why it's well so everyone loves the that sense of of connecting with others and in the heart or like whatever's lightweight you know feeling that someone I connected with someone out there right there's someone out there that that liked what I did and that's just it's a drug it's it's addictive right people love that but I will say that what's the funniest thing to me is when people do take credit for their secrets they will like literally post them on Twitter posted on Facebook and say oh man I got 2,000 likes on this thing yeah they'll come back a month later and say which of three thousand likes and there's two things there was secret because things continue to spread through networks the half-life of a given secret is can be weeks if not months yeah so someone post something and it just keeps going as new people come on they see the secret and they like it and they they do it but yeah my mom does this all the time she'll post something and then literally I get like a play-by-play of how many hearts she's on for whatever Givens secret it's just if you live do i David of it yeah mom I guess like it's good but yeah she she she loves it that's awesome so I'm not gonna ask you to share what secrets your mom has put out there but I want to ask usually it's like you're just like I can't wait to move out to California I can't wait – I love my boys I'm like Gia this is really heart-wrenching secret they're really exposing yourself there was one where I was there was someone who posted it was like you know I miss I missed the beach I miss the whatever and I'm like oh that's cool you know I hearted it and I was like my dream one day is to move out to California and I wasn't like thinking like just a friend and a it's like picture of a beach and I'm like you know you can you can do it just like you know like you know is just kind of like support yeah and then and then the comment was like I will my boys are out there and I'm like so that's happened more than once so tell me about it just oh you are the the creator of secret I want you to be able to let's have a heart-to-heart year what's a secret that you could tell us about your early days starting this startup and maybe it's a regret or a mistake you had you know something you could share this forget the crowd is here there's no camera this is just a secret that's gonna be totally oh you say that but why don't you share something that maybe from your early date or an insight that maybe you wish you could go back and tell yourself you know I hate I wish I could have done this differently I'm extremely stubborn I'm extremely to a fault and you know I think in the early days I I had this idea for the ability to send these anonymous love notes and love you know it was like very personal to me right to it to my my girlfriend and I'm like you know I want to be able to like tell her I love her without her knowing it's for me like just focus on the words kind of like digital flowers right and this just meant so much to me and I remember I showed my now co-founder Chris like I'm like hey I'm working on this thing like let's do it and you know in the very first I guess two months we're building this you know he was always pushing me like dude you know I think we need to this is there's gonna be bullying here there's gonna be you know issues like we gotta like try something else to do you know again the broadcast model whatever and it was good month where I was just like holding strong like no we have to do it this way this is what I want and eventually took it took a few things but mostly it took Apple basic coming down at us and saying nope you can't send like anonymous SMS and like that was the you know we couldn't do it yeah we switched and pivoted and like immediately a friend started using it more it was like it was something we were proud of and and I think you know the biggest thing there was just I was I was far too stubborn with my own idea and like what I wanted to do at that time because I'd built this little thing than actually letting go and trying to pivot you know I think a lot of companies make the mistake of you know they will hold on to an idea and even launch it you know and then be afraid to pivot but I think that's you know you learn a lot along the way and you need to know to take that learning and and change it right never make the same mistakes twice right like that kind of thing course and that that was a big learning experience for me I think most people don't know it's fantastic so I think you apply so much good stuff here from you know i sharing insights about your early days even telling us about your mom's secrets on the platform but I just want to give you the the space to talk about maybe a final piece of advice you give to an entrepreneur or developer who's starting from day one remembering where you were at January in January and then we're gonna open up to you guys because I'm sure you guys have a lot of questions to ask Dave and we'll pass around the mic so you guys get the chance yeah I think you know the biggest thing that I've learned was its square for a year after it was Google for five years before that Google is great at managing complexity right but that's only like one piece of the puzzle the most important thing is to keep it extremely simple all right so you can keep the entire product the entire thing in your head every good idea every good product you should be able to build in a weekend like hack it together in a weekend you have something and it makes sense I mean you know you look at these look at any really successful product and how it started and started very simple even Google itself started very very very simple taking all these documents ranked them you know you novel way and then you can search them right like making it just there's these things you can hack together very quickly and I would say that again when it comes to building a product before you launch like simplicity is the key everything you add is already some form of debt right like that's the most important thing I love it cool so we'll open up to questions from you guys around the mic it will get you the mic here so everyone can hear your question could you talk a little bit about what your user growth curve looks like sure so I don't have to be the questions there Mike our user graph curve I think you know so first of all obviously any product that's growing when you zoom out we're only five months old it's you know it's just nice like you know linear curve upward but then when you zoom in and you look on like a day-to-day basis so you look week over week son like that you see very you know this kind of thing right it's just on the way up like you see really big spikes and then it dips a little bit and then spike in dip that's you know it's I would tell you right now it is nerve wracking every time you see like this giant spike and then like Oh things are slowing down you're like that's it we're out of business you know game over but then you know eventually picks back up and so you know I think we're still too young to really like have this like nice like you know gradual exponential curve but we have microcosms of it which are really interesting and nerve wracking it didn't quite catch the you started on iOS and then left and where did you go from there and how did that happen again so I started on iOS is that right cuz or somebody said you can't send anonymous SM oh yeah so we initially built the product to send these anonymous kind of messages anonymous SMS where you would like you know you pick some of the address book you you you click a button and then the server sends anonymous message to the user and so they get a thing says okay someone's sure to seek with you here's the link it's against Apple's guidelines there's like rule 22 point six I remember like very intimately but apparently I thought I read the guidelines before we started working on this and then I was really ashamed but they just say you cannot send anonymous or prank SMS and that's really more for carriers and things like that there are apps that do that but once you become you know kind of on their radar whatever like it's just it's not not good so that's why most most products don't do the whole select a bunch of people and will just send you an invite send invites to them from the server anymore we didn't do that and he just like built a new product what do you think about upcoming competitors from different countries in India Germany became in the same time but yeah they had the same ideas maybe around the time yeah so you know I think yeah that's an entire saga and the image in the life and the short life of secret with competitors we've intimately had to face this there was a clone created of secret literally the exact same thing I mean it's weird seeing your own product like exact same product and because again you know it kind of grew in Russia but in China this this competitor came out and and they blew up number one in China immediately and Here I am like we're looking like you know we there's nothing we can do because we had not launched in China we weren't ready for it they got a huge head start and you know that was really really nerve-racking and scary but you know you have to focus on building one product for the world and that's what we had to do we just don't let it get to us focus on building us one product in the meantime we built a we formed a joint venture in China we found a local team in China to build our version of secret to take it and rebuild it they launched about a week ago and as of two days ago and became number one in the App Store so you just you got a like stop and thank you thank you you got to like just step back and focus on keep keep you know what you're doing and there are clones in China and or sorry in India Indonesia and other places but you know we were there first and we got a were the innovators well so with that I just want to thank David so much for coming and

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