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Anonymous Social-Networking App ‘Secret’ Shuts Down

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After just 16 months and a fleeting stint as a popular app, the anonymous social-networking service Secret is shutting down.

Unlike most startups that collapse when they are unable to restructure their debt or can’t raise follow-on funding, Secret’s troubles had nothing to do with money.

The San Francisco-based startup had raised $35 million from investors including Index Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures, with $25 million of that coming in July when the company was valued at $100 million.

In a blog post announcing his decision to shut down Secret, co-founder David Byttow wrote that the startup no longer reflects his initial vision. He said he would spend the next few weeks winding down operations “gracefully” and plans to return the remaining funds, which he described as “significant,” to investors rather than attempt a pivot.

“Innovation requires failure, and I believe in failing fast in order to go on and make only new and different mistakes,” he wrote in the post.
Not all funds will be returned. Mr. Byttow and co-founder Chrys Bader sold a portion of their shares to venture investors totaling roughly $6 million between them in July as part of the $25 million Series B round 11 months after launching the company.

The move was an unusual one for founders, who typically retain their shares in the hope that they will be worth more during a later round or after an initial public offering.

The shutdown also shows the meteoric rise and fall of the company, which competed with other anonymous-networking apps such as Whisper and YikYak.

In August 2014, the Secret messaging app, which was 10 months old, hit its height in popularity. It secured the No. 11 spot in social-networking category and No. 61 overall in Apple’s App Store, according to App Annie, a service that monitors the traction of mobile apps. The following month, the app dropped and failed to rank among the top 1,500 apps, according to the stats.

A redesign late last year overhauled most features and boosted the app’s popularity somewhat, though it has since fallen to No. 74 in social networking and nearly 995 overall, according to AppAnnie.

Secret also was hit with departures in recent months, including Mr. Bader’s exit in January. Several engineers have also left in recent months.

The anonymous-networking services have arisen in recent years, following an idea that people are curating unreal and inauthentic versions of themselves in the digital world. Some say anonymity enables honesty and allows people to take part in more meaningful exchanges, though others say it emboldens people who are prone to bad behavior to act even worse because there is no accountability.

In the blog post announcing Secret’s closure, Mr. Byttow called anonymity “the ultimate double-edged sword” in that it enables honest, open communication and creative expressions, but must be wielded carefully and respectfully.

Garry Tan, who invested in Secret on behalf of his firm Initialized Capital, said the shutdown is just another day in Silicon Valley.

“Consumer apps are very fickle,” said Mr. Tan, who expects to be getting money back. “A VC fund will have dozens and dozens of companies. Half of them will go sideways, and in fact most of them go to zero.”

Write to Lizette Chapman at lizette.chapman@wsj.com

Source: wsj.com

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