A Fireside Chat about the Future of Path with Co-Founder & CEO Dave Morin
TechCrunch: I don’t think there’s a company, other than Path, out there that we get more anonymous tips about and obsession about at TechCrunch. I don’t know why that is. We get a lot of people talking about the company and it seems even from the day it was started, people seemed to like the product. It was very attractive and well designed. A lot of the chatter about it seemed to be about the company itself. Why do you think that is?
Dave Morin: I don’t know. I think that we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. We set out to create a company focused on quality and trying to really delight users with new and interesting experiences. Along the way, we’ve had some successes. We’ve had some failures. All we can really do is keep going.
A big part of the entrepreneurial process is just staying in it and continuing to move forward. So I think that’s a big part of it.
TechCrunch: So how is Path doing? How would you judge it today? Is it a failure? Is it a success? Somewhere in between?
Dave Morin: Well, as a company I think we’re doing better than we ever have. We’re just about to 5 million daily active users.
TechCrunch: That’s up from 4 million in June?
Dave Morin: Yes. We just launched a new messaging experience. We’ve shifted our strategy. Path started off as a single application focused very much on private, personal, social networking. Over time we’ve now expanded to be doing more than one application.
We’re very much now a company serving multiple products. Those products have found audiences in different parts of the world. Some of them we expected, and some of them that we didn’t.
TechCrunch: I’m guessing some you didn’t may be Indonesia? Right? Path is very large in Indonesia.
Dave Morin: Yeah.
TechCrunch: How did that come about?
Dave Morin: It’s been a real delight and something that’s been really fun to learn for our team. We started out with really high expectations of what we might be able to accomplish in the U.S. market. Have we met those expectations of ourselves? Probably not, but we do have this audience of 5 million people that are using it. Not just in the U.S. but globally.
Indonesia is one of our biggest countries. It’s been a really interesting thing to learn. It’s a massively growing mobile market. Some numbers put it as the fastest growing mobile market in the world. There’s going to be about maybe a hundred million new smart phones going into Indonesia over the next 12 months.
It’s been a fascinating thing to learn. We’ve got a vibrant and very happy community. Like I said, our mission has always been to really delight users and make them happy through the experiences that we create. Having millions of people in a country that size is something that we’re pretty proud of.
TechCrunch: The Southeast Asian market is relatively crowded with other messaging apps. We’ve got WeChat in several other countries. You’ve got KakaoTalk and Line. How do you think Path Talk is going to wedge itself into that market? To create a new little niche for itself when there’s so much competition already barreling forward at rates that surprise all of us?
Dave Morin: I think it’s a really surprising and interesting thing that messaging has become such a focus. I remember back when the web became a huge focus in 2004. A lot of really smart people were spending a lot of time focusing on building apps for the web at the time. It seems messaging has become one of the most exciting places right now.
For us, the reason we launched the messaging experience in the first place was that it was our fastest growing feature in our core user base. In Asia, messaging was one of our fastest growing features. Our users kept saying to us “Could you please reduce the friction? Could you please enable me to get into it without three taps?” Three taps on mobile can be a lot. So we broke it out into it’s own app.
Messaging in that region, for us, is top 5 in both app stores. We’re seeing really strong growth. We have over a million DAU using the messaging experience. We’re seeing strong growth in our core markets.
As far as the U.S. goes, we’ve been really lucky, we had an opportunity to acquire a company called TalkTo which really adds a new superpower to messaging. The way we think about messaging in the future is that it’s not going to be just about who you can message, but what you can message. TalkTo, as a service, has been completely integrated now into Path Talk, and will be launching as a part of our next release.
It’s really cool. It enables you to text message any business in your life. Whether that’s a restaurant, or a local store, or even a big box retailer you might be interested in sending a text message to, we actually have agents on the back end that receive the message, pick up the phone and then call the business, and get you the information and bring it back to you in under five minutes.
We think that’s a really exciting and really differentiated way of thinking about messaging.
TechCrunch: TalkTo is obviously a U.S. business. That’s the way you see Path Talk attacking the U.S.
Dave Morin: Yes.
TechCrunch: Do you have plans to attack the, I don’t mean attack, but place itself in the market strongly, with efforts like Line and WeChat, that have built marketplaces for other apps that use this connect service to create this cyclical marketplace?
Dave Morin: The market in Asia is very fragmented. There is fierce competition from companies like Line in Japan, and Kakao in Korea, then in China WeChat is the big player. We’ve really developed a very strong presence in the Indonesian and Southeast Asian market in general.
Our focus is really on that market and what can we do to improve the experience, expand the offering, serve more use cases for our users there. That maps to this strategy that I’m talking about where instead of focusing just on one app, we’ve really moved to this multi-app strategy for that core base of users.
That is our competitive strategy for that market. Given the growth that we’re seeing, we’re pretty happy with it so far.
TechCrunch: So more apps versus more bloated single app?
Dave Morin: Yes. We think that apps are new features. In mobile it’s become clear that users really love having single use case experiences. They want low friction to get into the app, to use the core functionality. We’ve really thought of it as a shift to where we have this core platform: we have identity, the ability to log in, the social graph, and the ability to distribute applications at a reasonably large scale. What are core problems that users have in that market that we can help to solve?
That market is a very different market than the one we see all around us. For us it’s been very much a learning experience to learn what are some of those problems we can solve. How can we bring them the experiences that they want in a unique way? That’s really the way we look at it.
TechCrunch: I noticed you were at the Apple event yesterday right?
Dave Morin: Yes.
TechCrunch: What did you think? What did you think of the watch for instance?
Dave Morin: I think that it’s an amazing idea that they focused on a watch. Taking the watch and making it something more. It’s this really old technology, telling time was one of the original technologies. We’ve all worn watches for a long time and there’s been some recent innovations around wearables and these types of things.
They nailed the personalization aspect. Right? This is one of those pieces of technology that you want to be very personal. You want it to be the colors that you like, and to be a part of you. They really nailed that there needed to be two different sizes so that it would work for different people. I think the thing that they nailed more than anything is the software.
One of the things I think people forget about Apple is their deep experience in operating systems. I think they get a lot of feedback around their lack of focus on software, but I think that their operating system experience is pretty extraordinary. From what I saw yesterday I think that the experience, the OS, the way that the applications manifest themselves, and the idea that the crown of the watch can be a new kind of interface is really insightful, and I think, going to provide a really neat experience for everyone.
TechCrunch: It seems like some of the social aspects of what they were showing off, with communicating back and forth between two watches is an interesting thing. You can correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but the original concept with Path was going against the grain of social media as performance art. Right?
You want to be able to share some things that feel honest with people. At least it was some of the original intent to put a timeline and a small group of friends, that type of thing.
Dave Morin: Yes.
TechCrunch: It seems like this watch would play into roughly the same territory of creating units of friends, groups of people that you can make it without broadcasting it to everybody.
Do you have plans for a Path app for the watch?
Dave Morin: Absolutely. From what I understand, having looked at it yesterday, your baseline notifications that you’re already doing just work. It’s not too much work to get the initial experience going. From what they presented in the keynote yesterday about WatchKit, I’ve only had 24 hours to think about it, it seems like building for the UI is relatively straightforward.
Putting together a neat experience would be pretty great. I think that the really neat thing that Apple uniquely has the ability to do is, they make technology. They make operating systems, hardware. Being able to deliver on something like sending your heartbeat from one watch to the other, that’s pretty profound and an amazing way to think about communication.
I think what they’re doing is sort of pointing the way forward. We’ve always believed in the value of alternatives, the value of private sharing, the value of providing alternative social experiences. I think that what they’re showing us is more what the future is going to look like than perhaps anybody else in the game right now.
TechCrunch: Are you getting acquired by Apple?
Dave Morin: We don’t comment on rumor or speculation.
TechCrunch: That’s fair enough I guess, but that’s not a direct no though either.
Dave Morin: We don’t comment.
TechCrunch: Okay. Just checking.
If you had to introduce a new future set to Path, something that would add onto the existing capabilities, or perhaps, as you mentioned, separate it out, that would create a resurgence in users in the U.S., what would it be?
Dave Morin: Our focus right now is on this next release, integrating in the TalkTo experience, providing this personal assistant like functionality to you, to save you time, to make it so you don’t ever have to sit on hold again, just like you text message your family and your friends you should be able to text message the businesses in your life.
We think that that’s really interesting and something that will be a new kind of superpower for users of messaging in the U.S. We’ve also got more apps coming down the pipeline and we’re excited about those. We don’t like talking about the future, we like to save those for launch day.
TechCrunch: Let’s say, for instance, just to clarify this on the TalkTo thing, I tried to call T-Mobile and get some data added to this iPod because I had a issue with it, and I couldn’t because I called them and spent 20 minutes on the phone talking to them and they insisted that my email, blah, blah, blah. You don’t need to hear the story. It’s boring. But instead I could text them and an agent would call with my question and get an answer for me and text me back?
Dave Morin: Yes. There’s some of those experiences that are more complicated than others. Where there is a process that requires differnet kinds of information. We’re good at some of them, we’re not good at others yet. But, the goal is to get to a world where whatever business, whatever size, you want to interact with, you can just do it through the messaging interface that everyone knows and loves worldwide.
TechCrunch: I have this weird, really stupid theory that the way the Internet was built by engineers and crafted over time to kind of never forget anything, that’s kind of informed how we communicate and how we host things online, social networks and that kind of thing.
What it has done is create this environment where you have this thing that will never forget anything. Everybody has treated that as normal, but I think it’s abnormal.
Dave Morin: Plus it’s all on the record.
TechCrunch: Yeah, exactly. But I think that that is kind of an abnormal behavior. It seems to me like Path is trying to satisfy that need, and we see newer apps like SnapChat and that kind of thing kind of servicing the same behavior.
Do you think that that is the future of the way we communicate on the web, as private, ephemeral, not permanent? Do you think that becomes the majority way?
Dave Morin: That’s pretty hard to call. I think it’s important. One of the design principles that we like to think about when we’re designing products is: how can you make something more like the real world? In the case of this next release of Path Talk, we have the TalkTo functionality coming. We’ve also improved our ephemerality features. Right now we only store your content on our servers for 24 hours then we delete it. The UI will reflect that in the next release.
The idea behind this is it’s about reflecting the real world. This conversation happens to be on the record, but most of our conversations in real life are not. Getting closer to that, I think, is definitely part of the future. Like we talked about with the Apple Watch, really what these communications experiences are trying to do is just get closer to real life, real emotions that we all communicate with in person. But, technology actually makes it really hard for you to communicate.
I think that selfies are really popular for the very same reason. Selfies are this extraordinary communications change in the way that we use technology to communicate. Really what it is is taking what’s old and making it new again. The face packs so much information and has so much of an ability to communicate more than just some words on a screen can. So you see a huge resurgence in that as well. I think all of this paints a picture of a future where our communications are more human, perhaps, than they’ve ever been.
TechCrunch: If you had to launch Path again today, would you do the same PR push that you did with the big SXSW parties and all that stuff, do you think that was the right decision? Really hyping it up and ramping it up at the beginning? Do you think it’s better to take a more organic approach to launching a product?
Dave Morin: I think that we learned a big lesson in this realm. I know I certainly learned a big lesson here. Products should speak for themselves, first. Marketing is something that supports that. Both product and marketing are hard to be good at. It’s hard to choose a product and a set of futures that’s differentiated and can stand out in a very competitive market.
How to communicate that is also a really often very hard thing to do sometimes. I think that we did some things right. Obviously we were able to get the word out and generate now 5 million people using what we built every day. The team is a really extraordinary team behind this.
But have we always marketed it as well as we could have? The answer is probably no. I think that all we can really do is take those lessons and really internalize them and think about them and try to approach it better going forward. I know that’s certainly been my approach and what we’re trying to do.
It’s one of the reasons why we’re really trying to let the products speak for themselves these days.
TechCrunch: The new iPhones came out, or were announced rather, yesterday. They have the new 6+. 18 hours of battery life. Do you think you can get rid of your night iPhone?
Dave Morin: Haha. You know, that joke was a extremely bad joke. If Dick Costolo is the best CEO comedian, I think I’m probably the worst CEO comedian.
TechCrunch: I think we can argue about Dick’s position.
Dave Morin: Maybe.
TechCrunch: All right. Cool. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time to talk.
Dave Morin: Appreciate it.