The social networking wars resurge, this time in the form of billboard dares. The latest entrant to the arena is PrimeHangout, spotted in San Francisco by Jonathan Cowperthwait, Product Marketing Manager at social analytics startup awe.sm.
Taking aim at Facebook’s billion-or-so users, PrimeHangout offers “Social media with artificial intelligence!” adding, “The future is here” — apparently a future freed from the constraints of pesky, sentence-ending typographical marks.
“We are the Next Step” claims the Philadephia-based startup, to approximately fifteen Twitter followers.
Hodder points to a chart on statistics aggregation site Statista, cited above, compiling the price per user paid for ten high-profile, consumer-oriented technology companies. The figures range from a low of $6 per user (for multiplayer gaming studio OMGpop) to a high of $240 (paid by Microsoft to acquire Skype).
Depending on which way you flip the integer, Facebook either paid $35 per WhatsApp user (at the $16 billion valuation) or $45 per user (at $19 billion). These figures line up consistently with previous high-profile acquisitions, including MySpace ($36 per user) and YouTube ($48 per user).
Facebook’s second-most-recent high-profile acquisition — mobile-first photo-sharing network Instagram, purchased for $1 billion — amounts to $22 per user. Not quite as high as WhatsApp, certainly — but roughly in the same ballpark.
Unlike Instagram, however, which duels in a fiercely competitive photo sharing app arena, WhatsApp supplanted a vast global telecommunications infrastructure, becoming the default messaging platform for nearly half a billion users (and counting), who use the service to bypass the price and privacy concerns raised by SMS, along with the platform lock-in imposed by iMessage, BBM, and other proprietary networks.
In addition to controlling the world’s biggest social network, Facebook nows owns one of the world’s largest messaging networks, providing the Palo Alto company with a windfall of new users, particularly in regions where it’s struggled to gain traction.
Back in 2006, several months into launching my first startup, ZapTix, an enticing email arrived from a Chicago-based PR agency, where I was located at the time. We had a compelling back-and-forth conversation about their services, which all sounded great — until, that is, I learned about the price: $5,000 per month.
As far as PR agencies go, this, I’ve since learned, is on the low-end of retainers. In Silicon Valley, rates for reputable agencies hover around $10,000 to $15,000 per month, and only go up from there.
For the right company, in the right circumstances, this can be a bargain, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for PR professionals who go to tremendous lengths to craft stories, build momentum, and communicate effectively on behalf of their clients.
That said, the agency model often feels like a one-size-fits-all solution, flopping like a bulky sweater over the bodies of lean and bootstrapped ventures, who may need far less than what an agency provides. Often, the best pitch for an emerging startup comes not from an agent, but from the direct, authentic voice of a company’s founder.
Realizing this, a new venture, PressFriendly, offers a compelling, freemium service to help startups create their own news and share it with receptive journalists.
Founded by Paul Andren and Joel Denya, who met at YCombinator startup HelloSign, the company guides startups through a nine-step PR wizard, starting with a one-line takeaway, proceeding to various details about the release (angles, important details, type of announcement, and so on), and finally matching the story with journalists who are likely to express interest in the content.
VentureBeat reporter Rebecca Grant reviewed PressFriendly in a recent piece, catching on to their value — not to mention their disruptive potential:
As a reporter, I spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through irrelevant, un-newsworthy, uninteresting pitches. I (and I think I can speak for my colleagues here) am not any more likely to cover a startup that is pitched by a PR person than I am to cover one that’s pitched directly by an entrepreneur. In fact, I prefer the latter. What matters is the pitch has to catch my interest and contain relevant information.
Furthermore, all of our email addresses can be found on our author profile pages, so it’s not as if there is some secret, exclusive pipeline to our inbox.
So startups, with their limited resources, do not need to shell out for an expensive agency if they can get the pitch right.
Groundbreaking accelerator 500 Startups recently announced the 500 Women Fund, an AngelList syndicate dedicated to funding startups led by women in entrepreneurship. 500 founder Dave McClure commented to PandoDaily, “Smart women entrepreneurs are not getting the access to capital they could.”
An estimated 25 to 30 percent of teams currently funded by 500 Startups include at least one female founder, double the US average of 13%. (500 also invests substantially in international teams, bolstered by its Geeks on a Plane initiative.)
The 500 Women syndicate is a new program designed to further encourage women to become founders, and to support them with a deep network of investors, mentors, and peers.
I’m almost certain that we don’t discriminate against female founders because I would know from looking at the ones we missed. You could argue that we should do more, that we should encourage women to start startups.
Even for an industry structurally dominated by male-biased investment patterns, YCombinator stands out from the crowd: over its eight-year history, 96% of YCombinator founders have been men. It appears, however, that the tides of patriarchy may be waning. Commented PG (as he’s often known) in a subsequent essay:
More thoughtful people were willing to concede YC wasn’t biased against women, but thought we should be actively working to increase the number of female founders. As one put it, instead of being a gatekeeper, we should be a gateway…
We fund more female founders than VCs do, and we help them to overcome the bias they’ll encounter among other investors. In the current YC batch, 16 out of 68 companies, or 24%, have female founders.
I realize though that with female founders, efforts at our stage are not enough.
Pivoting from a previously laissez-faires attitude towards the gender gap, YCombinator appears ready to assume a proactive role in catalyzing social change. Complimenting his two provocative essays on the subject, Paul Graham’s wife and partner, Jessica Livingston, will soon co-host the Female Founders Conference.
Taking place March 1 at the Computer History Museum, the conference will feature an impressive series of talks from accomplished women in technology, including industry leaders Diane Green (Founder, VMWare), Julia Hartz (Co-Founder, EventBrite) and Jessica Mah (Co-Founder, InDinero).
But is it enough?
All these efforts, while commendable, overlook the growing gender gap afflicting the tech field as a whole. In 1984, for instance, 37.1% of US computer science degrees went to women; today, the same figure is 12%, less than a third of the rate three decades ago.
Women face similar discrimination at all levels of organizational leadership — only 19% of American CEOs are women, for instance — leading to the widespread, if controversial, notion of a “pink ghetto.”
Reasons for such a participatory decline may vary, but the scarcity of role models — women in technology with name recognition approaching Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or, more contemporarily, Mark Zuckerberg — may likely play an inhibiting role in encouraging more women to enter the field.
Efforts by YCombinator and 500Startups may play only a minor role in reversing a long-standing sociotechnical trend, but even the longest journey begins with a single step — and in this case, it’s a step in the right direction.