Secret Inc. — makers of the”anonymish” app Secret, which lets users post notes to friends, friends-of-friends, or those in their vicinity without revealing their identities — crashed through the highs and lows of startup life in the last year, generating a lot of interest and notoriety for its gossipy, eponymous app, and then almost as quickly disappearing off the radar and losing its co-founder.
Now, TechCrunch has learned that the team is going to make another go of it. Secret is working on new apps, including taking its enterprise-focused product, Secret Dens for work, to a beta launch in the the coming weeks. But, contrary to some reports, Secret itself is not shutting down, nor is the startup pivoting into a life as an app incubator.
“We often talk internally about ways to build upon what we’ve created, but we do not have plans to shut down Secret, the app, or pivot Secret the company into an incubator,” co-founder and CEO David Byttow told us. “In fact, the product has increased momentum in the last month driven by usage during Spring Break. It is true that we’re working on a couple really interesting things, and I couldn’t be more excited to share them when they’re ready.” Secret — which has raised $35 million to date — is also hiring people, he said.
The rumors of pivots come at a time of regrouping for Secret, whose other co-founder Chrys Bader left in January, amid other key departures among the small team. They include mobile engineer Sara Haider, who left Twitter for Secret, and in a strange twist of fate left Secret for Periscope, which is now part of Twitter.
We are still trying to figure out what new apps — or new services — Secret may be launching. But in the meantime, the startup is also going to be giving some more oxygen to projects that are already out in the open.
Secret Dens — the company’s anonymous app for the workplace — is currently being used “very much” at Google, Facebook and Twitter in closed trials we understand. In the coming weeks, Secret Dens will launch an open beta for new companies to join in. For now, it’s still a free product.
Ping, an AI-based app that the Secret team built in a weekend, is getting less air. The app, which delivers app, film, and reading recommendations, as well as other informative tidbits, is currently in maintenance mode and getting only minor traffic.
To be sure, the flagship app has seen better days. AppAnnie numbers show it currently ranked 189th in the App Store for social networking apps in the U.S., having peaked at number 11 in the same category (and 61 overall) last summer.
Why the decline? Most likely a confluence of a number of reasons. Secret first rose buoyed by a growing public interest in social networking that doesn’t reveal everything to everyone, or only leaves it shared for a moment — others in the category include Whisper, Snapchat, and a wave of encrypted messaging apps like Wickr and many more. The buzz around Secret and its gossipy bedrock then grew as the app allowed posts to get shared and viewed online and raised funding. Then, just as quickly as some people ran to Secret, they ran away, with backlash over the often unbridled negativity of people on the app, all under the cloak of anonymity.
Beyond that, Secret has faced a more prosaic and universal fate. Secret has not managed to keep a large momentum of users adopting the app and talking about it. This a big challenge for many developers in an app market. A developer who works in app analytics recently told me that between 60-70% of consumers who download apps do not open them three months after they get them. It’s a problem of keeping users interested amid the rise of whatever app is the next big thing.
But from what we understand, Secret’s download numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Secret, responding to public comments and its falling star, revamped the app completely, adding private chat, removing the web links, and getting stricter on how to manage negative posts.
At the time, it got dinged for redesigning its main app to look and behave more like other popular social apps, Yik Yak and Snapchat among them. But that younger demographic is exactly the one that Secret is aiming for, and with some success, it seems. The app has apparently seen an increase in engagement when narrowed down to specific locations where it happens to be popular, for example a beach resort around the time of Spring Break. In these cases, the app can see as many as several posts coming up per minute.
Other areas where Secret is doing well? Internationally, with especially active users in Indonesia, which seems to do brisk business in smaller social apps. Indonesia, a parallel universe where Path and Secret are popular.
All of this will go on. The plan will be, we’ve heard, is for the startup to “double down” in areas where Secret is seeing more activity.