Q&A With Whisper CEO Michael Heyward: We Are Your 'Stranger on a Train'

Entrepreneur: You also said at the recent TechCrunch Los Angeles Meetup that “Nobody moves to L.A. to start a tech company.” Why did you choose L.A. over Silicon Valley?

Heyward: It wasn’t a conscious choice. It was more of a natural evolution. I live in L.A. I’m from L.A. Great companies are built everywhere, though. There are great companies literally coming out of everywhere -- Colorado, Ohio, Iowa, Idaho, Florida, Texas. Yes, tech companies are forming in L.A., but I think that generally people don’t relocate to L.A. with the intent of starting a tech company.

Entrepreneur: Whisper now has 30-plus employees, including talent from some heavy hitter tech companies, like Google, Hulu, Gawker and AOL. What’s your talent recruitment strategy?  

Heyward: If you have a good product that people enjoy and that people like, you’re going to be able to get good talent to want to work there. Ultimately you’re going to get people that want to be there, which is the most important thing in identifying the caliber of that talent. We place a really big emphasis on recruiting. Also, a lot of the people who work here are people that sought us out. I’d much rather have someone who has less raw intelligence, but has more determination and passion. That beats the rocket scientist every single time.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Recruiting New Employees Online

Entrepreneur: What do you think of Xiaosheng, a Chinese copycat of your app, and other Whisper knockoff apps? Do you see them as a compliment or are they just annoying?

Heyward: Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Frankly I’d be more concerned if there were no copycats because that would mean that we weren’t doing something right.

Entrepreneur: What’s the secret viral sauce to Whisper? Why is it so popular?

Heyward: I think it’s because it’s solving an innately human need and desire. The idea of confessionals has been around for thousands of years. It’s not some new utility that’s just been invented. It feels good to connect with other people and with Whisper we’re facilitating these really amazing interactions in a way that’s very simple and lightweight.

Entrepreneur: Do you think Whisper users will ever hit a wall and get burned out or maybe even age out of the app as they get older? How will you keep them coming back?

Heyward: I think this is a product that a large part of the world’s population is going to use. Anonymity’s going to be a really big deal. It’s here to stay and I think we’re really well positioned to own anonymity. A lot of this anonymity movement is a reaction to a lot of oversharing and being so interconnected.

Related: The Year Ahead: 5 Social Media Trends Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Entrepreneur: Do you think identity-based social media has peaked, that people are burned out on having everyone know everything about them on the internet, which never forgets?

This idea of constantly knowing what’s going on with other people’s lives, but not actually really getting the full picture, just getting a highlight reel, is something that’s created an environment where people probably feel that other people’s lives are a lot better than they actually are. That could be creating a lack of empathy in the world or making people feel more disconnected or making people feel more isolated, and that’s creating a movement where people desire interacting with anonymity.

Entrepreneur: Whisper is free. Without ads, how are you generating revenue? You’ve said that ads are “definitely” coming soon. How soon?

Heyward: We continue to test different things. We don’t have any monetization tests going on this minute, as in this week, but we test things regularly. We’ve tested things in the past around user-generated payments. We’ve tested things with ads, native units. So far every time we’ve done a test the results have exceeded our expectations by at least 100 times.

Related: 9 Online Ad Campaign Stats You Must Track

As far as actual dollars generated as well as the value to the consumer as well as value to any prospective third party. These are things that have been reported on, like stuff we’ve done with Hulu and Universal Pictures. We’re always testing, but it’s not focused. There are no specific concrete plans to roll out ads in the future, though.


Kim Lachance Shandrow is a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com. 

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