First Fridays: Michael Heyward, CEO and Co-Founder of Whisper
Q+A with a pioneer of anonymous social networking
Tech / 10 Jan 2014

In this month’s edition of First Fridays, we were excited to connect with Michael Heyward, CEO and co-founder of Whisper, a visual and anonymous social network. Read on for Michael’s insights on why there’s an emergent backlash against public sharing, how the Anonymity trend is evolving, and how brands and entertainment properties can leverage this new mode of social sharing.

How did you come up with the idea for Whisper?

My co-founder and I created Whisper because I found that my Millennial generation was tiring of the continuous stream of ego-based sharing that exists on identity-based platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is a human highlight reel – people at parties, with friends, on vacation, looking awesome...all the time. This shiny, manicured view of the world was leaving my peer group with a distorted view of themselves and the world around them, asking “Why is everyone else's life so fantastic?”

I knew an entire world of human experience was not being captured by the existing social networks. I wondered what kind of community would emerge if you removed the concept of personal identity and allowed people to "Whisper" what is actually going on. My sense was that we would tap into a deeper level of authenticity.

If you had to choose one word or phrase to describe Whisper, what would it be?

Anonymous. Anonymity is the disruptive force that defines Whisper. Anonymity is to Whisper what 140 characters is to Twitter.

How do you define success for Whisper?

Whisper has the opportunity to redefine the way the world thinks about social platforms. We want Whisper to be a warmer, more supportive, and more authentic social network than the world has ever seen. Ideally, people across the world will look to the Whisper community for a much-needed change in perspective, a good laugh, and a reminder that we are not alone.

What is the one thing you wish you knew before you started Whisper?

I’m actually glad that I didn’t know everything before we started Whisper. If you know all of the obstacles that you may face in order to reach your ultimate goals, you may never even start. It’s like people say when you have climbed a mountain and are starting your descent – “don’t look down!”

What is the one thing you never want to hear (or, most want to hear) from a customer/user/client?

Most Want to Hear: Whisper saved my life last night

What compan[y]ies (other than your own) are you inspired by, and why?

It may seem cliché but I really admire Google. It’s remarkable that you can build something that didn’t exist 15 years ago but now is used by more than a billion people in the world.

Whisper is clearly at the forefront of an emerging online anonymity movement. Why do you think this movement is happening and how do you expect it to evolve?

I think anonymity is becoming a disruptive force for a couple of reasons.

People are just plain bored of the same people posting over and over about how awesome their lives are. People are hungry from something deeper and more real. Anonymity is what unlocks this. You don't have to filter the same way and you still get the real time feedback from the community.

Another trend that is driving the shift to anonymity is that the millennial generation has to think about the future potential consequences of everything they post. Will future employers see it and judge them? Everything on Facebook and LinkedIn is attached to your personnel file. These are high stakes. The removal of personal identity from a social media platform provides a different kind of space, reducing risk and resulting in a higher level of authenticity.

What are some trends you’ve noticed on Whisper? (e.g., types of secrets shared, notable demographics, etc.)

We see people discovering new ways to use Whisper all the time. While using Whisper as a safe place to confess something and get feedback from the community is a powerful use of Whisper, it is only one of the ways we see people engaging. People are using it for Q&A, dating, and just plain entertainment.

Currently 90% of our audience is based in the US and our primary demographic is females between 17 and 28 years of age. Our audience is roughly 70% female and 30% male.

What’s next for Whisper?

We are in the process of releasing a new version of our product that will unlock the next level of growth. We are also releasing a hashtagging structure that allows users to tailor their Whisper experience and follow the topics they are passionate about.

Although we are hyper-focused on the growth and health of the community, we are also starting to experiment with possible monetization paths. For example, we are currently collaborating with a movie studio on an organic way to generate excitement around a new movie that we think our community will really like. We are also having discussions with brands about ways to amplify positive and organic brand sentiment that already exists within the Whisperverse.

We are also seeing some totally unanticipated applications of the product. For example, we tested a live comedy concept that integrated audience participation via Whisper into a live improv show.

As you can probably tell, we have only just begun with what is possible with Whisper!

©The Intelligence Group