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What happens when you start a group on Facebook and two weeks later,
you have over 180,000 members? If you're 21 year-old Tiffany Philippou,
the creator of the hit Facebook group Secret London, you do the
entrepreneurial thing: try to parlay your Facebook popularity into a
bona fide startup.
After a 48-hour crowdsourcing marathon during which more money was spent on food and liquor than on design and development, Secret London was reinvented and launched as a standalone online community.
Will it work? Secret London's success as a startup certainly isn't guaranteed. Some have criticized its use of a .us domain name. Others point out that the website was apparently launched without a thorough QA (the design appears to break in IE7).
Details aside, the biggest question is whether Secret London's popularity on Facebook can be easily harnessed to build standalone adoption. One of the advantages to building a community within Facebook is that just about everyone is already on Facebook, and Facebook's users are really, really active. With the click of a button, a user can join your 'community'. And staying engaged doesn't require logging into a separate website. In other words, joining and participating in a Facebook group is a frictionless experience for users. For group creators, that means building up an audience is easier and losing it to attrition is less of a concern.
As a standalone website, Secret London will have to convince its users to visit and use yet another website. That means far more user friction, and this friction is already reflected by SecretLondon.us' activity levels thus far. As I write this, the standalone website has just under 1,500 profiles, close to 300 discussions, approximately 1,225 secrets and just over 1,400 posts. That's certainly not a bad start given that the site launched little more than a day ago, but it's clear that Secret London 2.0 has a long way to go before it rivals the activity levels the Secret London Facebook group realized in a short two weeks. And if and when SecretLondon.us gets there, it will still have a long way to go before it realistically has enough activity to develop into a sustainable, profitable business.
All of this said, the reborn Secret London does have a couple of advantages that most startups don't have. First, it has managed to validate the appeal of a concept very quickly and without much investment by tapping into Facebook's tools and audience. And second, since it already has an audience on Facebook, in theory it may have less of a user acquisition challenge, even if it does have a user migration challenge.
While these two advantages don't guarantee success, the reality is that a lot of companies are created with neither validation nor an audience. Passionate entrepreneurs spend countless hours and lots of money building standalone websites, only to grapple with slow uptake and the dreaded 'chicken versus egg' conundrum. While it's obviously not feasible for every entrepreneurs to get started on Facebook, it's a path that more and more will probably consider.