I left GroupMe/MSFT at the end of 2013. I haven’t been involved with it for a long while now, but around a year ago I caught up with someone who was familiar with how the product was doing inside Microsoft. I was absolutely shocked to learn how popular the app still is. There were roughly 25M MAU, nearly 100m total users, and 13m DAU. Practically every college student in the country uses it. And roughly 10 engineers were supporting the entire operation.
I was shocked because the product hasn’t really evolved in the past decade. There are seldom any updates, and it has really just been in maintenance mode. It’s an incredible asset that for some reason has not been usurped by competitive messengers. It’s sticky. And fun #)
When people ask me about my GroupMe experience I like to say that building something in consumer is 90% luck and 10% executing against that luck. I actually think the luck variable for success in social may actually be closer to 95%. So many amazing teams tackle problems in social but their products never make it and if they do they’re usually a blip – they pop and then fizzle with no staying power.
Another thing I believe about consumer applications that make it is that they capture lightning in a bottle, and there is very little a team can do to fuck things up. Once the lighting is captured, even if you try to deliberately sabotage the thing, you can’t prevent it from growing. We sold GroupMe to Skype, and from what I’m told this was absolutely the case at Skype early on. It was a mess, but that product was going to catch fire no matter how dysfunctional things were. Twitter was the same way. And when I joined tumblr, there was very little the team could do to prevent its success. Constant downtime was never a deterrent. When you strike the chord it’s nearly impossible to dampen the vibration.
This isn’t to say that the early teams behind these companies were not good or deserving. They were. It’s hard to build new things and that alone is a feat. But it is to say that luck is critical, and that when you tap into something powerful it assumes a life of its own that you really can’t control. That’s the beauty of social. When something works, it really works. It’s the one place where product market fit means that even if you try, you cannot destroy your creation.