Startup to launch after Secret London Facebook group amasses 180,000

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There’s a certain irony that TechCrunch’s in-house satirist Paul Carr is currently slaving over the sequel to his book about his failure to launch a startup. Fridaycities was to be a site which allowed anyone to swap information about London, in real time, and eventually other cities. The site failed, Paul wrote his book (and a few other things, let’s admit) and the rest is history, including our little run in, thankfully.

If only he’d done it in the era of Facebook rise into the mainstream. Because today, two weeks after launching, the Secret London Facebook group has 182,010 members and counting and is poised to propel it’s 21 year old creator into her first startup.

Bristol university graduate Tiffany Philippou originally set up the group in response to a competition from ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi to win a mere summer internship. Over 800 groups have now been created, such is the dire economy for graduates now.

However, it seems unlikely that Tiffany will be too bothered. There’s now a holding page and Twitter account (@secret_london) as Secret London morphs into a full-blown startup. Job one: secure some kind of URL, when most of the “Secret London” combinations have already been taken.

Meanwhile the original Facebook group motors on, with members sharing huge amounts of information about the city, including 5,000 photos already. Philippou (who remains Admin of the group) says people are posting information not just on what to do and where to go but simple things like their favourite park benches and undiscovered art galleries. It’s the kind of growth that took existing players like London-based TrustedPlaces and larger players like Qype and Yelp years to get to emulate, though they obviously remain much bigger entities for now. And let’s not forget Time Out, which has long thought itself the arbiter of London’s secrets.

The explosion in the SL group is reflective of the generation online now. As Philippou says “Everyone of my generation is on Facebook. I’m 21 and have completely grown up in the online evironment. Time Out doesn’t really connect with me on the Net. Things like crowdsourced content do.”

Translating the group’s success into a site and community may be a leap, but Philippou is already bringing in a team to achieve it and word is lots of other London startups are lending her a hand. She’s now also crowdsourcing the features of the site from the members.

The motivation is functionality. Philippou tells me that since Facebook groups have so few features, good recommendations and data is getting lost in the noise. So now the plan is to build a site along the lines of Yahoo Answers meets Qype/Yelp.

Interestingly there has been a certain amount of controversy coming from blogs and sites which thought they had the “lock” on London’s secret places, events and culture. One is titled “Why Secret London might ruin our city?

Whatever happens, it just goes to show that there are few areas untouched now by Facebook and social media.

  • Nischal Shetty

    This shows the power of people.. crowd sourcing FTW!

  • Ronald

    “it’s 21 year old creator”? it’s = it is


    • Mike Butcher

      I love crowd-sourcing typos (thanks).

      • George Nimeh

        Yeah, like the apostrophe typo in that @VodafoneUK tweet …

      • Abhijit Gupta

        Crowdsourcing not scourcing! Now stop taking advantage of typo-crowdsourcing! :)

      • mattyu

        While we’re at it, that should be “its 21-year-old creator.” :)

        and you have “evironment” in there somewhere too!

  • George Nimeh

    Nice piece, Mike.

    Facebook is a great place to gather interest, spark comms and grow a community … but it is ill-equipped (at least for now) to offer the type of interaction, features and functionality that Secret London or other start-ups would require to do business. I’d leverage Facebook Connect to spare my new members the agony of another tedious registration and build something simple that allows people to share their spots in fun, entertaining and distributed way. The bit about trying to a Yahoo! Answers sounds a bit boring, if you ask me … especially if that’s the primary way to find the secrets. But the idea is strong, and to hell with those like who are worried about the impact of people sharing information about their favourite places. Worried about sharing … How backwards a thought is that?


    • Sheri Brissenden

      That’s a fantastic idea- I found exactly what you’re saying at If FACEBOOK is about your friends and LINKEDIN is about your career, is about the things you love – great site.

      Congratulations to Tiffany – 6 months out of university and what an accomplishment!

  • Martin Edic

    Start-ups are businesses. If you’re going to write about a business you need to talk about money- how she will make money. Otherwise it’s a hobby.
    And forget the URL issue- why should she have a website? I think you’re going to see Facebook supplanting the concept of having a web site for many small businesses.
    And what was the point of that opener?

    This post needs some editorial supervision, IMHO.

    • Mike Butcher

      I believe Facebook was a hobby designed to meet girls before it turned into a business. Twitter took two years to announce any kind of recognisable business model (Google and Bing paid it to get the realtime firehouse). It’s pretty obvious there is some kind of advertising play here, but let’s give the girl some room to get started before tearing-apart a business model before it exists.

    • George Nimeh

      Martin, have you been involved with an early-stage digital start-up? I doubt it.

      • azeem

        What a brilliant way of gauging and building demand.
        SecretLondon can now build its service with a really good understanding of how to make it passionate–even if she can only engage 1 in 1,000 sign-ups in that process.

    • Ethan Pierse

      I disagree with a simplistic “startups are businesses.”

      Startups are ideas and the execution of those ideas.

      While it is never too early to start thinking about monetization and business model, very often at this stage startups need to focus on defining/refining the idea and its scope. It’s naïve to start chasing (only) a business model when you should be much more concerned with creating the absolute best concept/idea possible and planning a solid execution.

      • MC

        Good points Ethan, especially the observation that execution of the idea is a key point.

        It doesn’t need to be completely revolutionary; but it does need to work and someone needs to build it :)

        The other key thing would be behind the 183,000 number. How many of these are really involved in the site and bought into what is going on.
        (339 discussions, 538 links posted, 5000+ photos), I’d be interested to see what the growth is in these stats over time.

  • George

    It does seem like Facebook is migrating toward search as a whole, is it possible that their next step after that will be to migrate their platform to include local search?

  • brook bassett

    Start-ups are commercial ventures that need to make money, exactly.

    Anyone can carry out an interest or hobby online and find that it takes off. That’s what most blogs are, hobbies.

    The reason hobbies take off online is because they are hobbies, not businesses. The internet generation is anti-corporate. It gravitates towards anything social and away from anything that looks like commercial interests are in control.

    As soon as this hobby becomes a start up it will fail.

    • George Forell

      Yeah, I have to agree.


      – Something gets created
      – For an unknown reason (luck?) it trends… the resulting snowball makes it grow fast.
      – The media notice the trending, and jumps on board.
      – People previously unknown to the trend, hear the media hype and jump on board…
      – The ‘thing’ goes global and hits critical mass.
      – The founders of the ‘thing’ suddenly realise they’ve got lucky and want to cash in on this popularity.
      – The founders take too much time (or money) making a site which doesn’t quite fulfill the excitement that most people followed initially.
      – Meanwhile the popularity is dropping off and the newly launched site has trouble migrating people across from the giant facebook group community.
      – The newly created site is buggy, slow (can’t handle the load) and smells of ‘sell out’ with adverts all over the place.
      – The loyal community give up with the sub standard service / sell out nature and leave.
      – Meanwhile however, the founders have been expanding at an alarming rate, spending fortunes on server structure and hiring staff to cope… At the same time as the popularity dropping off.
      – Costs rise, profits never appear… funding is non existant and site fails.

      … Welcome to the fun of 99.5% of the start ups you’ve never heard of.

      • Mike

        What a load of fatalist rubbish.

      • Mike Butcher


      • George Nimeh

        It is nihilistic remarks like that which risk damaging the reputation of other people named George. Please, if you’re going to say uninformed, can’t-do, negative crap like that in the future please try a pseudonym. For instance, you could use Paul or Milo … That’d fit right in. ;-)

      • Ethan Pierse

        Did your negativism kill your startup or did your failed startup create your negativism ?

      • Adam Boalt

        The Facebook group has definitely seen amazingly fast growth. Hopefully that will translate into a successful startup, but right now, it’s really too early to tell. It’s also definitely too early to predict that it will all go down in flames. Let’s give Tiffany a chance and see what she comes up with!

  • Tim

    The Secret London Facebook group has been going for a while longer than two weeks Mike. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long, but even the links posted go back 3 weeks – and I’m pretty sure a little longer than that.

    It is a pretty cool resource though and hats off to Tiffany for thinking and starting it up.

  • Felix Kitaka

    Am impressed that a 21 year old can get such a big following for her facebook page. Real nice stuff.

  • Chris

    It’s really interesting to see the exposure of the group grow like this. We spoke to Phillipou this week, but in just a few days her plans for the organisation have come on in leaps and bounds. What do people think of the sheer speed with which this has occurred? I think there’s an argument for saying it’s too much too soon, but on the other hand it has been prompted by a wholly democratic response, so I suppose bouncing off that is only a natural way for a business to be created.

  • Martin

    What s your take on how she managed to get 180K+ people in her group ?
    Any info on what kind of “viral” technics ?

  • Bala Paranj

    Another social networking company that is not making any money? How much revenue is it generating? 180 k users ? Those users will disappear once she starts charging.

    • George Forell

      To be honest, there’s a high chance they could make money from this without pissing off the user base.

      Essentially, you have the optimum situation where your user base wants to recommend things / find things that are highly recommended.

      These ‘things’ they are recommending are generally businesses or places that may benefit from the exposure. In the same way a mobile app reviewed on tech crunch will most likely get a lot of sales from the publicity.

      – This would work well for plain old advertising, e.g. banners etc.

      – Work even better for suggested / promoted style advertising (e.g. Google adwords / Facebook ads style) where you’ve searched for ‘Thai Restaurants’ and at the top of the list you’ve got a promoted link to a thai restaurant (paid for by the restaurant) before seeing the user recommendations below.

      – Or finally they could be ultimately ruthless and take money behind the scenes to promote products / places that aren’t really that great or secret spots. Or even say to businesses that they won’t be included on the site unless they pay the small premium (this is a fairly horrible / dishonest way of working, but it has worked successfully for a lot of price comparison sites in the past).

      I do think these guys have a great chance, I was making a ‘tongue in cheek’ sarcastic joke earlier regarding the ‘typical route to destruction’.

      If I was them, I’d try to get a site up asap, something across between ‘digg’ and twitter.

      For example, a user posts something to the site and tags it with hashtags relating to what the thing is, this is then collated and ordered into relevant lists for the users visiting to filter through or search upon.

      Then finally using the google map api, you could plot these items easily onto a map for all to see.

      As with any user recommendation based site, you would have to be on the look out for combating spam, false reviews and businesses posting up recommendations / rating themselves.

      I think this will be an interesting to watch and see what happens. No doubt with the extra media coverage it’ll definately help this grow!

      • FM

        Here’s an idea for free. Do a model based on US email newsletter, Thrillist… email newsletter, daily… best of luck

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  • Gaith

    i am happy for her, good luck Tiffany :)

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  • igniman

    i think it would have better luck as a facebook application

  • Mark Hall

    That’s nothing i’m starting a business about cheryl cole and sausage rolls

  • Rob

    Hah nice. I have made the same experience with FB Fan Pages.

    I have 2 million fans now and planning some fun stuff.

    I diversified my fan pages to now have a total of 8 pages, but it was important since the tattoo niche is very broad.

    What are their plans? I find the groups on fb not as efficient to be honest. How did Techcrunch get aware of them?

    Good luck mate

    I am still addicted to it:)

  • north londoner

    Such an addictive facebook group – I can’t wait to see the info nicely formatted in a website.

    whether or not this takes off as a business, a fantastic resource has been created for london-lovers.

    go tiffany!

  • Tech

    That’s quite a large group.

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  • Maren Kate

    Awesome post & story, super inspirational!

  • trial

    Thanks for the comments.

  • pauline

    Calling those people who have doubts about the long term viability of this idea ‘negative’ is not helpful. Would they have told the passenger on the Titanic who said “Beware of icebergs’ negative? Those few bankers who questioned all the risky trading were called ‘negative’ and sacked. But they were right. Just because someone raises legitimate doubts does not make them negative, it makes them thoughtful. You can’t create a successful business just by thinking happy thoughts, even if you are only 21,

    • FM

      I do love social media b*llox business models. But she has an audience. Don’t think about all that connecting horse s** and building another stupid social media platform. Don’t get sucked into all that digeratti “social networking” wank. If I see another stupid monikered social media company, I’m going to start punching random social media strategists/experts/consultants around Soho and Old Street for fun. Ha!

      Anyway, I think she should go down the route of email newsletter business. Build it out through other UK cities in UK. Then roll out through the Europe. Thrillist have a nice little model. Think revenue. Start small and build it out. Good luck.

    • Mike

      By the same token, you shouldn’t be overtly fatalist for the sake of it. What’s required is a moderate and realistic view.

  • Ian T

    What are you guys on about? I can see a big, fat revenue stream out of this in almost no time, sans website, sans huge numbers of direct staff. Took about 5 seconds to figure it. And cut the girl some slack already – this smells of jealousy.

    • eek

      I can only agree with Mr Tester. Given an audience of 180,000 it shouldn’t be too difficult to monetorise the audience into a decent living.

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