LOS ANGELES, April 2, 2013 — Every year has its own breakout star in social media (Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Socialcam).
The trend over the past four years has been simplification, creating a solution that does one thing exceptionally well. With well established all-in-one social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ it makes sense. Convention says that you would not want to create a retail store that competes with Wal-Mart or Best Buy.
It’s hard to compete with economy of scale in retail, and it’s equally difficult to compete with an “economy of followers” in social networks. Meaning, the longer users engage with a social network the more brand loyal they become - mostly because they do not want to recreate a following. This is why Google+ has had lower-than-expected engagement and why Facebook’s timeline feature was genius.
Pheed founder O.D. Kobo, an accomplished Internet entrepreneur, computer programmer and angel investor, is humble and honest about his exciting new business, having just visited Palo Alto and “The Valley” for the first time. Hailing from Los Angeles, a less celebrated valley when it comes to tech, Pheed’s entrepreneurs have built an all-in-one force in social media with a robust platform, clear brand, multiple solutions and a little bit of luck and timing.
Kobo credits the Instagram crisis in December partly for their rapid growth. “We reached an organic growth peak during the Instagram crisis,” he said. “Lots of photographers joined, Pheed started getting a little bit bigger. I would love to say it was strategic but we had the community and the right timing. Thanks, Instagram.”
“Concerened” the rapid growth might be too much, too soon, Kobo did something unheard of in the space and did a lockup* for Pheed. “I got an email from a VC firm in the (Silicon) Valley…Are you crazy or stupid? We were the largest app gainers during that time period, #7 in the iOS charts. The lockup was liked by our users. We wanted to make sure we fully understood the needs of our users.”
Pheed opened back up again in February and quickly entered the major leagues. “After 5,6 days,” Kobo says, “we picked up where we left before, achieving the second organic boom growth. Again, I wish I could say it was strategic but 1, 2, 3 people found out and it made the first growth boom seem small in comparison. We spent three weeks at the #1 social spot on iOS but we try not to get distracted. No one knows the algorithm to make the charts. Pheed had more downloads than Facebook or Twitter? We don’t know that for sure. We just started, had an app for three months only. So, we kept our heads down, focused on product.”
Most attribute Pheed’s growth to its large number of teen users. But it’s more than that, Kobo says. “Pheed has taken a different lifeform. Everyone thinks that teens are our large demographic. 43/44% are 20-25. We’re not gloating yet. We don’t even have an Android app. [It comes out next month.] We’re just popping our head up above water.”
Pheed’s features make it attractive to a variety of groups. The ability to share audio and live broadcast attracts early adopters and entertainment brands looking for enhanced multimedia. The ability to copyright or monitize content attracts creatives and those concerned with intellectual property. There is something for everyone, defying the convention of recent breakout stars.
Beyond features, Kobo has an intense focus on creating a brand and a patience that is rare in an industry that creates seemingly overnight success. “The fastest way to kill a start-up is to dump money on it and talk numbers,” says. “Why do you need $40-50 million? I don’t get it. They grow too fast soon, then it dwindles away.
“We’re much more concerned with brand building,” he continues. “The landscape has changed. Brand helps you sustain. We’re seeing it today. We see it with Pinterest, Warby Parker. The web has changed but is very much about brand building. Even if someone comes with something better they’ll beat them because they are a better brand. We see the power. The holy grail [for a new business] is being self-funded. And after six months we’re profitable. We have been called the Social Media Bad Boy because we’re not from The Valley. Sort of an underdog in that way,” Kobo says.
Their recent visit to “The Valley” exemplifies their background and approach. Kobo said, “We look up to anything in the valley, but didn’t know people there. We kept our heads down and followed our path. A lot of companies reached out to us and invited us to visit but we waited until we had 10 meetings to make the trip worthwhile. It was a big thing for us. Awesome to go and meet them.
“They were excited about an all-in-one, app platform, he continues. We are a return to that. It was amazing that people were stunned to know we weren’t ex-Facebook, Google or from Stanford. They asked, ‘Would you consider moving to the valley?’ We told them it’s not something we are currently considering. Not our circle. Everyone was in shock. ‘Not willing to come to valley? Are you nuts?’ Not everyone is coming from the valley.”
“We don’t advertise,” he adds. “We don’t buy media. We don’t use artificial forms. We build offline relationships. Organic, viral growth. The last two weeks, we have seen brands come on to Pheed. The company is 19 people and three don’t code. So we’re not actively seeking out brands.
“How are these brands coming to Pheed? he asks. “MTV, WWE, Taco Bell, People, Bravo, E!, HuffPo, Hurley, Blink 182. Everyone is coming and checking out Pheed. If they open a channel and want a tutorial, we’ll help. We don’t approach [them], so it’s awesome to see. No idea how it’s happening. We don’t sell advertising. So I’m not even sure what they are going to do.”
It will be interesting to see how brands use Pheed. But the main point is that brands are using Pheed. There is traction, momentum. Brands understand how important the under-25 demographic is and will always be. A platform built for creatives is evolving, due to its rapid adoption and robust features, into a tool for the masses. It hasn’t fully arrived but it mirrors the surprising growth of a platform initially built just for college students: The Facebook.
*lockup in this case means the closing of the app to new accounts.
Jeff Barrett is a recognized leader in public relations, experiential marketing and social media. Co-Founder of Status Creative, 2012 PRNewswire Award Winner for “Best Use of Video In Social Media” and record holder for Most Strikeouts in Tee-Ball.
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