Social-networking sites such as Facebook create a massive stage for people’s public persona, but what about a place for private thoughts?
Enter Whisper. The startup’s mobile app provides a popular place where people anonymously post their secrets in stylized fonts overlaid on top of photos. These often-whimsical remarks can be daring, funny or candid and allow for others to respond with likes or messages.
Whisper has seen explosive growth. Membership has swelled to more than 3 million using the app from just 500,000 six months ago. Monthly page views have ballooned to 2.5 billion from about 500 million in the same period. All of this points to a new craze around anonymous social sharing.
“It’s no secret, people like to talk about themselves, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people share their inner most secrets with the world anonymously. Whisper is our mobile confessional, adding another avenue of communication to our arsenal of social networking apps, one of the hot categories we see growing in app stores,” says Marcos Sanchez, spokesman for app data firm App Annie.
Investors agree: Whisper attracted $21 million in a second round of funding, announced today, led by Sequoia Capital with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Trinity Capital. Lightspeed has invested in another startup whose business model works the anonymity angle: Snapchat, the app for sending photos that disappear.
“When Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo, that was at about 14 billion monthly page views, so for whisper to be at 2.5 billion, that’s a sizable proportion,” says Lightspeed partner and Whisper board member Jeremy Liew. “It’s growing like crazy and it’s hitting a nerve. These are the people that drive popular culture.”
Whisper messages run a range of emotions, and the company makes efforts to curate it free from hate speech and pornography. Posts on Whisper can range deeply personal to confessional: “After 25 years I think I’m ready to: come out of the closet this weekend. Wish me luck,” wrote one. Another wrote: “I’m a guy.. Football, Boxing, Cars, are me…No one would guess I’m crossing fingers wishing the gender of my baby to be a Princess.”
Whisper co-founder and CEO Michael Heyward has a personal favorite: “I’m scared that my headphones are going to fall off at the gym and everyone’s going to know that I like Taylor Swift.”
That last one, while funny, also point to a possible business model: sponsored Whispers around brands or even musicians. What that means is companies could pay to promote certain posts to give them more prominence in front of members. “People are already whispering about brands, so it’s a natural,” says Liew.
Whisper declined to comment on the company’s current valuation or exact business plans. But the company said it’s experimenting with different models and would consider advertising at some point within its flow of messages.
Under the deal, Sequoia Capital partner Roelof Botha joined the board of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Whisper.