Announcing First Round’s Investment in GroupMe

“Private Twitter for small groups”

“BBM for every platform”

“Reply-all for SMS”

I could describe GroupMe in a lot of ways, but “really exciting” would have to be the most accurate one, and we’re very excited to announce it as one of our newest investments at First Round (See the Techcrunch article here). 

Personally, I’m incredibly psyched about the scope of the vision and feel very lucky to be working with such a promising young team.  They also couldn’t have asked for a better syndicate of investors.  When First Round started talking with the Steve and Jared, we introduced the company to Betaworks and to Ron Conway’s SV Angel fund.  Both groups signed up for the deal, as did Lerer Media Ventures, and several other prominent angels—including Josh Stylman and Pete Hershberg, who backed my previous company.

The path to our involvement with the company dates back to last December, actually, when I attended a Gilt Groupe “Expert Talk” run by Josh Knowles, formally their VP of Engineering.  He introduced himself and we kept in touch through all the various social media channels—until I heard he was leaving Gilt.  I reached back out to him and we reconnected for lunch at Coffee Shop right before the Techcrunch Disrupt conference.  Knowing I was there, he told me that I had to meet his friend Steve, who had hacked up something cool at the pre-conference Hackathon.  I was actually at the Hackathon, too… but had missed Steve’s presentation.

We met the next day, along with his partner, Jared Hecht.  I knew Jared from his time at Tumblr.  They showed me a very lightweight HTML5 mobile site that enabled you to start a group chat that fell back to just text messages when you logged off the web.  Built on top of Twilio, it was pretty simple from a technology standpoint—but what got me was the enthusiasm of the team and the scope of their vision.

GroupMe is more than just a way to text in groups.  It fits the way mainstream users want to communicate.  I’ve always believed in small, private groups—dating back to when I first started blogging.  I acknowledged that most blogs were private and only read by a handful people—like on Live Journal and MySpace.  Believe it or not, the average person doesn’t want to talk to 5000 people.  They want to talk to their four closest friends—the same people they look to go out with on Saturday night, or the friends from home they left behind when they headed off to college.

Jared and Steve understood this intuitively.  Moreover—they understood how a lightweight communication app without a lot of structure to it had the potential to be a lot of things to a lot of people—the Twitter phenomenon.  What we saw here was Twitter built for the way mainstream users want to connect.  What you might lose in the power of search and virality, you gain in the additional ways users will interact with you.  I wouldn’t negotiate weekend plans via Twitter, or debate a feature with a product team.  Nor would I share important job news before sharing with just my immediate family members.  Being the place where you communicate privately with the most important people in your life, or the small groups you see the most, is a critical part of the communications stack addressed very poorly at the moment.  E-mail reply-alls aren’t a permanent solution.

You see this kind of behavior in BBM—Blackberry Messenger.  Unfortunately, that’s stuck on the Blackberry platform—tied to a sinking ship in my opinion.  GroupMe has a chance to be BBM for the rest of us, but also to be an open platform that other interesting group functionality can be built on top of—sending casual invites, starting a flashmob, group buying, quick conferencing (via voice, too!).

Right now, the app is extremely early—just a few months old, but the the team is making quick progress in an interesting area.  They’ve met some great developer hires and are cranking away to launch new features for the TechCrunch Disrupt in SF—quite fitting given where they started.

As a personal note, I’m excited to finally get to announce a First Round investment in a company that I was involved with in New York City.  The next two should get announced in a couple of weeks.