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.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 February, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (6)

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seo firm

I don’t think the group has been any more successful than any other FB group out there: people just seem to want to join groups for the sake of it, powered by little more than boredom (ref. ‘I flip the pillow over to the cold side’): it seems this isn’t about people clubbing together and discussing brilliant London secrets, it’s about people adding yet more stuff to their FB profile and killing time.

It will be very interesting to see what happens to the organisation. If I were to take a cynical guess, the crowd-sourced identity will look dreadful (they always do); the website will be rushed and not very well considered; the original, and most contributing members will feel frustrated that the secret group is not in fact secret anymore; these guys will leave the site to find another medium to discuss good places in London and the site will then be overrun by spammers.

I really hope this doesn’t happen, not least because it will give some proof of concept credence to a new app I’m in the middle of planning…!

over 8 years ago


Akash Sharma

Cool, first thing that got into my mind, I think if they go ahead and build a niche brand they should have the right kind of customer experience involved because they have already taken the first steps of becoming a brand as they have something good to talk about which is their community.

For example their members should not find it difficult to reach their website as you have mentioned above.My opinion is that they have a point on the customer acquisition side and they have to work on their retention now.

I think as the power of online communities thrive Facebook groups would not be a bad option to be converted into a startups, Its just like shifting from wordpress.com to wordpress.org ......almost.

over 8 years ago



I think people are interested in this group and what it has to offer... except so far it hasn't actually offered anything as yet.

I did hear a rumour that this was a project / comp for an intern at Saatchi & Saatchi to see who could gain the largest online following.

over 8 years ago



The heading on the page says it all. After an insane week of work ... secret london has won its own site.

Little bit self indulgent for my liking.

One, because I understand the need to move fast to secure your space when something goes viral, but that doesnt mean you rush the finished product.

Two because, it simply doesn't say thanks to the people who helped contribute to the birth of the site in it's headline.

over 8 years ago


North Londoner

Their website's pretty cool - very user friendly and surprisingly addictive. They went ".com" a few days ago (http://secretcities.com/london/) @Pedro, there's a credits section on the site

about 8 years ago


Facebook mainonta

Thumbs up for Secret London, hope it will work out fine. It's always nice when people do something brave and new!

over 7 years ago

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