Fast Society, a group messaging app that competed against the likes of GroupMe, WhatsApp, Kik and others, has announced it will end its messaging service on Wednesday but has plans to launch a new product called Cameo early in the new year. Fast Society, which got underway at the end of 2009, was one of the early competitors in the market but had trouble competing against rivals in a space that has grown crowded and complicated with recent acquisitions.
Fast Society’s co-founder Matthew Rosenberg told me the company saw the writing on the wall at South by Southwest this past spring, when a number of messaging apps went head to head at the show. While the market seemed white hot, Rosenberg saw the limits of how far he could go with the group text messaging model. Rather than throw itself into the next version of the app, the New York-based team started plotting a new product, one that harkens back to the original vision for Fast Society.
“We originally thought of Fast Society as a way to save moments and capture experiences together but because of the circumstances and the competition, we got caught up in group text messaging,” Rosenberg said. “So much of it was about the technology but when we got to SXSW, we realized it wasn’t a tech problem, it was an experience problem.”
Rosenberg said the group messaging space has become saturated and the products have become fun features but not good businesses. Fast Society was one of the early pace setters and introduced things like including voice calls and sharing pictures and location. It was among the first to strike deals with brands, partnering with companies like MTV and others.
But Rosenberg said the business has low barriers to entry and some of the monetization models including like sponsored groups or advertising based on what people were texting wasn’t attractive. More fundamentally, he said there’s only so much that can be done through group messaging. And now that companies like Apple and Google are moving into the space while Facebook bought Beluga and Skype bought GroupMe, it becomes even less attractive for a start-up.
“It’s been a great place to build our chops and it’s been a street brawl with other companies, but we saw that the barriers were getting lower and no one was really winning,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg is tight lipped about what the future holds but he said it will explore emotions and experiences much more deeply. The company continues to survive on $380,000 in seed funding it received last year and has enough to launch Cameo.
Some of Rosenberg’s words could be looked as the parting shot of an entrepreneur who couldn’t keep up in the group messaging space. But he raises some good questions about how many companies can really succeed in the space and whether it can support stand alone businesses or is basically a feature that will replicated by bigger companies. WhatsApp, a company I profiled, has been thriving but it’s unclear how many others can join them. Also, it’s a good lesson on what happens when start-ups begin chasing fads rather than remain focused on their original passion. Rosenberg sounds like he’s fired up again. We’ll see if the plucky start-up can make a go of it on the rebound.