All eyes are on GroupMe, but there’s another player trying hard to creep in on the group-texting space.
Fast Society has the same functionality as their $10 million rival, but they’re distinguishing themselves as a brand for cool kids. And with write ups in the New York Times, TechCrunch, and more, they’re starting to gain street cred.
We sat down with Matthew Rosenberg, Co-founder of Fast Society and learned about:
- How the failure of their first startup led to Fast Society
- Cool new features that will focus more on lasting memories than fleeting groups
- Plans to close funding
- GroupMe is for hunters and grandmas
- What it’s like being in GroupMe’s $10 million shadow
Here’s the Q&A:
Business Insider (BI): How did you and your co-founders meet?
Matthew Rosenberg (MR): I got really lucky; I’ve known one founder since first grade and Andy I’ve known for 10 years now. I think we, as a founding team, are really different than other people. We came together because we really love each other and always wanted to work together. We’re passionate about creating the same thing. When you talk to other companies, they say, “I want to create a product that gets me from A to B or I want to create technology.” That’s not who we are. We’re guys that want to create amazing experiences for our users.
BI: Was Fast Society your first venture?
MR: No, we launched our first company in 2007 called Adopter. It was this platform that would track trends. It was kind of bad timing. We started working on it at the beginning of the recession and launched it at the height of the recession.
If you remember, the world was falling apart at that time. We literally had a meeting with an angel investor who ran out crying. The Dow had dropped something like 700 points and his portfolio had been decimated during our meeting.
We said, holy sh*t man, this is crazy. We spent two years on it and we gave it a really hard run. We raised a little bit of money from friends and family. We just were stupid. I think that we’re the dumbest people I know in the sense that we don’t really give up. When people tell us it’s impossible, we just keep going.
We really thought that if we put in enough hard work, we could make it work. If we were runners it would be like running until the soles of your feet just fell off — we just couldn’t go any further. We eventually said, we’ve done whatever we could to make this work, it’s just not happening. We were so close to it, we just had to step away.
It was the hardest decision I ever made. It was a low point in both of our lives. We we’re entrepreneurs, this was going to be the one that made it — and it didn’t work. It was successful in the sense that it had a lot of press, we had a lot of people care about, and it was truly an innovative property — but it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do.
It was painful thing for us. But it was the best thing that ever happened.
BI: Did that experience lead to your current company?
MR: [After Adopter], we were at a concert with a bunch of friends and we were having a really hard time communicating. We realised one of our friends would call us, another would text, but there was no real easy way to communicate as a group. We thought, We’re entrepreneurs, we build products for a living. There’s nothing out here that fits our needs, and we should build a tool that lets us communicate in groups.
We realised, after 10 years of group communication, nothing had ever really worked. There was Zoopock and Three Jam and all these other ones. To us, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
We realised the reason none of these have ever really worked is because when people go out, they’re not going out with the same group. Creating permanent groups around your experiences with your friends doesn’t really make sense because we have a lot of friends. We never go out with the same people twice. We should create a tool that reflects that Literally, at a block party concert in the crowd, that’s where it [Fast Society] was born.
BI: How did you start building your idea?
MR: We spent a year working on the product. The version you have now is the third iteration. We bootstrapped everything. There are just three of us. We didn’t just want to hack something together. We really wanted to create something that was elegant and an experience.
For us, we’re not just hackers. Clearly we’re technically-savvy people, but we’re brand guys and marketers. We come from entertainment and music. Pop culture is important to us. We can watch a great show or movie and we really feel it. We can listen to a great song and we can respect it. And it’s not because those are technically well done. We wanted to create something that really would touch the people who use it. We wanted to create something that people of all ages and demographics could say, “This is something that makes my life a little better. This is something that helps me experience time with my friends better. This is something that makes my life a little more special.”
And for us, that’s what I think success is — being able to work with my partners hopefully for the rest of my life. And being able to create something that our audience really feels is something that helps them out.
What we’re doing isn’t about group texting — whether its permanent or temporary. What we’re doing is helping people experience time with their friends better. And when you look at it like that, I think you’ll get a better sense of what we’re trying to and where the company will go as time goes on.
BI: When did Fast Society officially launch? When did GroupMe?
MR: We launched September 15, 2010. I think GroupMe launched about four months ahead of us.
To read what what it was when Fast Society and GroupMe first found out about each other, and how Fast Society is trying to make a name for themselves despite all of GroupMe’s recent press, read Fast Society: What it’s like to be the underdog company >>
BI: What is GroupMe doing to get all the media attention? How are you going to differentiate yourselves from them?
MR: I don’t know—are they getting any more attention than we are? We’ve been live for a month and a half and when we launched everyone was coming up to me saying, “Oh, Like GroupMe?” Those guys were four months ahead of us and they had all the conversation and they owned every mindshare. Now I guarantee anytime an article is written about them, we are mentioned.
We don’t have Betaworks behind us, we don’t have Ron Conway, and we don’t have the very special Charlie O’donnell behind us. We’re just three guys trying to make it happen. For three guys, we were in the New York Times and we were the lead company they wrote about, you guys are doing an article about us, we’ve been at TechCrunch twice, all these blogs care about us. It would be foolish to say that we’re not getting press or attention.
We’ve been able to change the conversation to include us. Whenever we’re going to written about, GroupMe will too. But at the same time, whenever they’re written about, we’re written about. And for some guys that had a four- or five-month head start, three dudes that are just trucking along bootstrapping, I would be a little annoyed that these guys have stolen some of our thunder.
I feel like I’d much rather be the outsider. I’d much rather be the troublemaker in the back row. I’d much rather be the guy that nobody wants at the school dance and is going to fight his way in to be prom king rather than being the quarterback of the football team. And that’s really how it is. Those guys are like the quarterbacks of the football team that seem to be getting all the love.
We’re just those dudes that nobody really understood in the beginning. But I think that by the end of this, people will see that not everyone is going to be that popular kid. It’s OK to be the outsiders; all that we can is be who we are and create the best product we can. We’re trying to follow the beat of our own drummer. We’re trying to be who we are and create our own vision. I know at the end of the day, nobody else has our vision of what we’re trying to do.
Those guys just don’t get what we’re trying to do, and I’m glad GroupMe has their own vision. Those guys are smart and they do their own thing and we respect what they built, but it’s not something we would ever want to use and we don’t think it’s what our audience necessarily wants. We’re about trying to create something special for our audience. And if we’re able to do that, then that’s a win for us. We don’t know what we would do with $9 million, especially at this stage — it’s a lot of money.
BI: Fast Society is designed to create temporary groups, but is there a way to permanently save conversations and memories?
MR: I can’t get too into it, but lets just say those kind of things are where we are headed. Capturing great moments in life and creating a diary for the way that you hang out with your friends is much more in the direction that we’re heading than adding the ability to coordinate 10,000 groups in the same hemisphere of group texting.
This is not a technical platform; it’s an experience tool. We’re not a utility. Again that’s what separates us from us GroupMe. GroupMe is all about being an amazing utility. And that’s great. Utilities turn on my lights and they help me power my cable. But we want to be the guys that are the television show that you love that you can’t wait to get to every night, or that song that makes you feel special every time you hear it, or that movie that reminds you of growing up.
We want to have an emotional connection with our users and I’ve never found a utility that does that. Utilities are great until you find the next utility and move on. And we never wanted to be something that people want to move on from. We want to be something that grows with our audience and that they really feel is part of their lives.
WR: What are your future plans? Are you looking to raise money?
MR: Obviously, we want to expand the product. Fundraising is something that we have to do at some point. We just can’t be three dudes forever. What we’ve been able to do over the last month is prove that three guys can build an amazing product that is just as capable of being competitive with a massive company. We’re three guys that have bootstrapped against a $10 million juggernaut.
In the beginning, our goal was to bootstrap until we could prove that this was a product that was worthwhile and that we’re worth paying attention to. I think we’ve been able to do that. Our one other goal is to have revenue before we took fundraising. And we’re going to be able to do that as well. We are not only going be bootstrap guys, we’re going to be revenue-generating bootstrap guys. And that feels really good.
And if it all fails tomorrow, if someone comes in and says you guys are done, I’ll feel like we did what we wanted to do. We set out there and we innovated in a space in a way that nobody else had. Not only that, but we were able to get a ton of press and a ton of people excited about it. We were also able to do that and get revenue out of it.
To me, that’s a successful company, that’s a successful startup. That just proves that we’re a team that’s going to be around for the long haul. Whether New York likes it or not, we’re going to be there doing innovative companies for the rest of our lives. We wouldn’t know what else to do. No one would ever hire us; we’re just too crazy. We would always want to make things better; it would drive our bosses crazy.
For us, nothing is easy. We see these other startups and it looks like some of them have it really easy and maybe it’s all an illusion, but for us, it’s gotten to the point that if it were easy, we wouldn’t know what to do. We would be scared to take the easy way. For some reason, we feel if it’s easy, it’s probably not right. We’re really good at working our faces off and pounding our heads against that brick wall and doing our best to break it down. Thankfully, I have an amazing team that is willing to do that over and over again.
WR: How are you going to monetise?
MR: We just secured our second sponsor. I can’t disclose all the details, but it’s really exciting. It fits our audience perfectly and we can’t be more excited to get them on board.
We’re inspired by the companies that we got to intern for and work with. And we’re inspired by the companies that create amazing products. When I use my iPhone it’s just an inspiring product; it’s what we dream of achieving.
Even something as stupid as a toothbrush — if it’s an elegant, well-done toothbrush, that’s an inspiration for us. So to get to work with a company that really has inspired us in ways that I can’t explain, and is going to inspire us for a lifetime, we’re really excited to have that deal come through.
BI: How are users responding to Fast Society?
MR: It’s all about creating temporary groups. You create a group and then it goes away. It’s kind of scary to have your users come and go. With a permanent group you know they will always be there. The fact that people are creating multiple groups, coming back, and get it is so special.
A few months ago, people didn’t get it. So the past month and a half has been trying to explain to people, “Think about the way you go out.” It’s a whole mind-shift. But when you think about it, this is really the way you go out. For us, the messaging about temporary groups has been the hardest thing to sell and the fact that people love it and are realising that it really is an amazing opportunity and the fact is that no one has done it before and we did it and were innovative, that for us is what really counts.
We wake up every day and all we think about is Fast Society and creating value for our users. It’s cool. It’s nice to be able to wake up and say, “What can we do for our users today?” We love them more than anyone else.