Last week I downloaded Tentwenty, a newly launched local message board that displays text and photos from anonymous users according to where they are in real time. Scrolling through my sparse feed at home in Brooklyn, I noticed that initial users weren't from the expected tech set, as well as a puzzling number of posts from Tenafly, New Jersey (not traditionally considered an early adopter mecca).
Once I landed in San Francisco this weekend, however, my TenTwenty feed turned into a startup confessional booth. Just as posters on the anonymous app Secret have been scooping the tech press on the news the industry would rather not talk about, TenTwenty users had some interesting tidbits to pass along from the open floor plans of Menlo Park, Soma, and Downtown San Francisco—even in the scant three weeks since it launched.
Apparently if you offer startup employees pseudonymity, they will still keep talking about work.
Around the same time that Square announced a bunch of rapid-fire attempts to make money—a distraction from the failure of Square Wallet—a TenTwenty user claimed Square was planning on releasing its own credit card. (Visa is an investor in Jack Dorsey's mobile payments company.) In response to questions from Valleywag, the company said: "Square is not releasing a credit card." When I asked whether Square had ever worked towards releasing a credit card or had plans to do so in the future, the company gave the same terse statement.
There are been other industry rumors floating around TenTwenty as well. I asked the human resources startup Zenefits whether they were raising an inside round from Andreessen Horowitz on Wednesday. The company has yet to respond.
A source who seemed convinced that Zenefits was raising funds from Andreessen Horowitz, even if not at that valuation, explained that inside rounds used to signal bad news. Unless your startup expected a "down round," the source said, it was more typical to have a different venture capital firm in the lead at a valuation set by a third party, which theoretically makes the number more fair. An inside round happened when a founder went to his or her investors asking for more runway.
But with winter looming, startups want to stuff their coffers with cash to fight off competitors during the impending capital crunch. In the case of Sequoia and WhatsApp, the firm clearly wanted to double down with more skin (and mostly its own skin) in the game. That helped Sequoia keep its $50 million Series C invested secret until the Facebook deal.
I also noticed a cry for help from an Airbnb employee on TenTwenty, possibly referring to Jonathan Mildenhall, Airbnb's recently appointed chief marketing officer. Mildenhall used to be a marketing and design SVP at Coca-Cola and now reports to CEO Brian Chesky. Airbnb has not responded to my request for comment from Wednesday.
Most of the tech talk, which is still just a fraction of the "normal" posts on TenTwenty, is your standard water cooler stuff. Like this one about Dick Costolo's mandatory tea-time meeting at Twitter HQ yesterday (confirmed by a source), pettiness at Facebook, and the unglamorous side of growth hacking.
Part of the reason TenTwenty attracts Silicon Valley insiders is probably because (a) it is a new smartphone application made in San Francisco and (b) because it was created by LittleInc Labs, which also built MessageMe, a messaging app that got funding from Greylock. Cofounder Arjun Sethi is considered a growth hacker himself, as much as he wants to run from the term. The app, which is still in its infancy, may also have gotten a boost from being featured on ProductHunt, a promotional leader board that's starting takeover traditional Hacker News territory.
If I hear the word growth hacking one more time I will explode with so many viral tactics.
— Arjun Sethi (@arjunsethi) January 29, 2013
It's probably premature to throw another contender in the anonymous app ring with Whisper and Secret. On the other hand, venture capitalists don't need more than a few weeks on the market to justify millions in funding. If you've never heard of Zenefits, you know anonymous apps cannot survive on tech gossip alone/at all. It's too limited, boring, and off-putting those breathing outra-bubble air. Ultimately, TenTwenty's curb appeal may depend on its ability drill down to specific neighborhoods. That seems to be where the swarm is heading.
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