Serial entrepreneur Jason Goldberg has famously had his ups and downs, most notably with the e-commerce company Fab.com. He hasnt stopped moving forward, however.
In October, he launched a new messaging app called Pepothat enables anyone to create and join live messaging communities. In December,Pepo announced $2.3 million in seed funding led by the Chinese conglomerate Tencent. And today, Pepo is announcing $400,000 in additional seed funding from its backers, along with two new features questions and stories, and live Q&As that Goldberg expects will continue to fuel what he describes as steady growth so far.
He shared the latestin a call earlier today from Pune, India. Our chat has been edited for length.
TC: Youre calling fromIndia. Is that where Pepo is based?
JG: We have three people in Berlin, where I live, and 20 people in Pune. Its the same team that helped me build Fab and [a later iteration of the company] Hem. Officially, though, Pepo is based in Palo Alto.
TC: For those whove missed it, whats the big idea behind Pepo?
JG: Whatwe think is a very interesting and compelling is atwo-sided marketplace concept. Its people, plus expertise, and the overall plan for that will emerge over the next couple of years.
We decided to goout early and iterate with our users, rather than trying to guess in getting in right. We feel like becauseweve taken that approach, our users have given us a lot of leeway.
TC: So its early days, but right now users are right nowcreating messaging channels around any number of topics that interest them, then you match people to the channels they find interesting, and thesefeature influencers or experts sort of lead the conversation. Is that correct? Whats in it for the influencers or experts if so?
JG: Weve told them they cancreate theirown channel, have a live conversation with their followers and new followers, and build an audience.
For a lotof folks who have a following on Twitter or Instagram, what Pepo gives them is a higher level of engagement. Think of it this way: What if you could have a Slack channel with everyone who follows you on Twitter or Instagram? Twitter is good for a thought here and there, and Instagram is a great place to post your best two or three pictures of the day or post a story that will disappear.With Pepo, were connecting one to many.
TC: And these influencersare finding followers?
JB: Weve concentrated a large part of our efforts on the supply the influencers and experts who have the content. If they host it on Pepo [the thinking goes], it will bring the demand. So weve invested early onin the ability for these [experts] to host conversations with people who can read and reply but not posttheir own messages. Its been like a formof microblogging.
Now, [with the new features were rolling out] if the channel host allows it, every member in that channel can post into the channel; they can submit a question or a story that the host can address. The channel host can also do a live Q&A and host it like a Reddit AMA.
TC: Youve said from the start that Pepo is going to focus more on engagement than size. What can you tell us about how many people are using the app, and what percentage of them return regularly?
JG: I can tell you that our return usage is very strong on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis. About half of our users are using the app each month, and weve seen 100 percent month-over-month growth since launching.
TC: Whats the business model?
JG: We have several concepts that are in theworks already, so well be adding monetization elements sooner rather than later. But basically, ifour channel hosts do well, well do well, so were really focused on how does someone say a top influencer when it comes to solo female travel make money through the platform.
The general Silicon Valley philosophy is to get several million users, then monetize, but were more akin to Airbnbs philosophy that monetization can help drive the platform. Many people would be interested in bringing their expertise to the platform if they felt confident that they could monetize that expertise.
TC: So, through native ads? Can you be more specific?
JG: No advertising is in our plans right now. Were thinking more of paid channels where people pay to ask questions or for services or to contact people directly. For example, a top Berlin foodie has said that several people have contacted him for either an itinerary or a walking guide of food stops in Berlin [which are services for which he could charge].
TC: How do you protect these hosts from abuse, from being trolled?
JG:We want everyone to be a real person, so weve had a verified user process from day one. We use the information they give us, andtheir Facebook connections, todetermine whether aperson is who they say they are. If you want to sign up under a fake name, you can, but the features you can access are limited.
We also give a lot of controls to channel hosts. Its easy for them to decide whether a channel is public or private or secret, and they can block or report or ban someone.
Were also coming up with a ranking system because the internet definitely brings out all types.
TC: You mentioned Slack. And are these channel conversations searchable as with Slack, and are there threaded comments?
JG: Everything is being indexed, so right now, you can search for people, locations, and channels, and were adding search across the entire platform in coming weeks.
What a lot of our users have told us is that information theyregetting on Pepo is happening elsewhere insecret conversations on WhatsApp, and Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger, but theyre not indexable or searchable or findable again, and others cant leverage that information. Hosting these more open forums is a way to leverage that knowledge base.
And yes, there are threaded replies and also the Q&As have threaded video replies.
TC: What ifthe host sets the channel to private?
JG: Any number of members have access to that information forever. There are 18,000 people in a global gay travelers group, and the information that usersare provided there is proving super helpful for people who are members.
TC: Youve just raised $400,000 after announcing $2.35 million in December. Is there a particular logic to raising funding in a piecemeal fashion?
JG: A number of number of existing investors, including Greycroft, said: If theres an opportunity to invest, wed like to do that before you raise a Series A round.
TC: And youll go out for that round when?
JG: In the next six months.
Pictured: Goldberg at Holi, a Hindu spring festival, earlier this week.