David Byttow was cofounder of anonymous social media company Secret, one of the most memorable startup fails in recent times. His first step in the wake of Secret’s demise is a new company called Bold, which will focus on bots, business, and blogging.
“I want to build a company that actually has revenue, whereas Secret — we were valued at $120 million and we didn’t make a dime,” Byttow told VentureBeat in an interview.
Bold wants to be like Medium.com, while also functioning as an internal tool for companies to share ideas. Like Medium, Bold wants to make text look good in a simple, templatized platform that allows good ideas to spread quickly.
Bold’s hook, Byttow says, is a series of easy-to-customize bots that are designed for the presentation of information and offer tools beyond the conversational exchanges typical of many chatbots.
Instead of being conversational, bots on Bold will do things like edit your text as you write, play ambient sound, and perform other simple tasks. Byttow says that this is the right time for more innovative bots.
“My cofounder Ben [Lee] and I were talking one day a few months ago,” he said, “and this experience with Google Wave came rushing back, and it just hit me. It was very clear to me that now is the time because we have all this new infrastructure that’s being built for A.I. and machine learning and deep learning, and I think it’s just a good time to do that.”
Byttow wants his new company to occupy a space he believes exists between internal Slack channels, other messaging services, emails, Google Docs, and other types of communication used by company teams.
Before Secret, Byttow played a part in the creation and development of products as an engineer at companies like Medium, Alphabet, and Square. Byttow helped build Google Wave, Google+, and its forerunner Google Buzz and helped Medium with its recent expansion that allows more publications to use the platform. His first experiences with internal blogs occurred at Google and at Medium, where employees use an internal version of the service called Hatch.
Byttow wants Bold to be different from Secret.
For instance, compared to Secret, which was a social network free for anyone to use, Bold will be private and operate within a single company, like an internal blog.
And unlike what he did with Secret, which was made as an experiment and launched quickly, Byttow plans to take his time building Bold. He said he prefers to “fly under the radar” while creating a business that lives up to its own hype.
Launched in January 2014, Secret rocketed to roughly 15 million users in its first year of operation. But its run was short-lived, lasting just 16 months. In April 2015, after the departure of cofounder Chrys Bader and months of user decline, funding was returned to investors, and the company shut down.
Since then, Byttow has rejected the idea of user anonymity as part of his business model because it doesn’t allow for the creation of community, the formation of relationships, or the expression of identity, as he wrote in April on Medium.
“We’ve taken a hard rule against any sort of anonymity in the product now simply because it changes the entire concept, even if you add an element of it, it just changes everything,” he said.
With Bold, the premise for adoption is that it will be open to all employees, Byttow said. It will be a platform for the communication that can transform company culture and break down barriers in employer-employee relationships.
On Bold, users will know if a coworker or a manager has read their posts. Employees and management alike will have the opportunity to post, like, and comment. This practice won’t just foster the sense of community Secret lacked, it will also offer a way to measure the wisdom of the crowd. For instance, the number of likes or other engagement indicators could give employees a metric for gauging which ideas resonate most with coworkers and management. That’s especially important for employees who have good ideas but don’t have direct access to top company leadership.
An international employee survey released earlier this year found that nine out of 10 employees believe they should be involved in helping their company be more innovative but only six out of 10 believe they’re currently a part of that process. Companies that ask all employees for input can benefit from cost savings and find ideas that make them more resilient. Byttow offers a personal example:
“When I was at Square, I reported directly to Jack Dorsey. I remember walking up to him one day, and I said ‘Hey, what if we did pay by email?’ And boom, from there Square Cash formed. I had access for that. That kind of idea should have been able to come from anyone.”
Bold raised $1 million from Index Ventures in early 2016. The company was able to raise venture capital despite the fact that Byttow and Bader each cashed out $3 million in shares as part of a July 2014 Series B deal.
Byttow plans to make Bold available to the public by the end of summer. Once the platform has made sufficient progress, third-party developers will be invited to creates bots for Bold users — something that could never have happened with Secret.
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