WeHUB changes the messaging game by incorporating features from existing communication apps, and some you’ve never seen before, into one unified, gamified, messaging platform.
WeHUB takes messaging to a whole new level. Created by Hagen Lee (WG’14) two years ago, WeHUB Messenger exhibits a variety of unique features at enable you recall hastily sent messages (Recall), hold secret side conversations in group chats (Whisper), and encrypt messages you don’t want your special someone reading (DaVinci). WeHUB has received over $1.5M in funding from a Wharton professor, an angel investor in AND1, Bizrate.com, and Shopzilla.com, and the former Chairman and CEO of McAfee.
Sound intriguing? It does to me! I had the chance to ask Hagen Lee a few questions and here’s what he had to say:
How did you come up with the idea for WeHUB Messenger?
I do my best thinking while moving fast – driving, train, or airplane. I would go for a drive on the NJ Turnpike at night – driving for 2-3 hours at high speeds talking out loud by myself like a crazy man. My CTO and I knew that we wanted to become a messaging based platform instead of competing as a single feature app or a game for sustainability reasons, but were not sure how to package all 30 technology modules we had developed into a simple product. One night, I convinced my poor wife to come along in my car for a drive on NJ Turnpike as a sounding board. She said, “If you disagree with the investor and do not want to create 30 one trick ponies, put key features in but let users pay for additional features.” That drive inspired us to put the 12 core features in and create the first gamified messaging app in the world – users add friends to unlock more powerful and secure communication features.
How did you decide on which features to cut and which features to keep?
Over the past three years, we have conducted over 500 interviews with sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, teenagers, business execs, skateboarders, tattoo artists, etc. We heard several themes emerge: 1) users are tired of carrying 4-6 one-trick pony communication apps; 2) subtle feature improvements were strong differentiators, such as the like button or chat rooms that allow more than 50 users; and 3) the first generation messaging apps do not give diverse modes of messaging especially around privacy of communication. We developed over 30 innovative features, but we decided to cut 18. It was painful as if giving up your own biological child. It is not what we put in, but what we did not put in that defines WeHUB messenger.
How do you differentiate yourselves from Whatsapp/GroupMe and other messaging apps?
First of all, we believe the messaging app category will be even bigger and more valuable for users and existing internet giants. Some people told us the messaging app category is a saturated market. That’s what people said after Henry Ford introduced the Model T in black paint only. You know what happened? GM came in and said, “we will make a car for you in different colors and designs.” The first generation messaging apps do a great job in proving the market, creating a need for hyper-connectivity, and most importantly entrenching the user behavior of texting via messaging apps. When messaging, a user should be able to whisper, shout, be cryptic, apologize and take back a mistake, hand write or draw, send a self-destructing message, and invite hundreds of her friends. WeHUB is the only app that gives users this freedom.
Currently, WeHUB Messenger is free. Do you have any plans to make money from this app?
We intend to keep WeHUB messenger free for our users. Our long term plan is to expand WeHUB messenger into a platform for third party apps, games, and devices to plug into. We would collect transaction fees on in-app purchases of those tenants. Similar business model for software is currently creating significant revenue for several messaging based platforms such as Kakao, Line, Facebook but opening up the messaging platform for other devices and hardware is a unique WeHUB endeavor. Through our hardware API, we were able to integrate couple wearable device manufacturers and the reception from device manufactures was awesome. We partnered up with two manufacturers immediately.
How were you able to acquire funding from notable investors?
Showing them a tangible product made it so much easier. If you know that your startup is your soul’s calling, invest the resources and create a good prototype. Several angels committed to invest within one day of seeing the product. I may have been able to get enthusiasm with a nice deck and a passionate pitch, but a tangible product in the investor’s hands opens check books.
What Wharton classes and/or clubs were helpful?
Professor Luke Taylor’s FNCE 750 (Venture Capital and Finance Innovation) was helpful in quantifying legal investment terms into future share positions and equity valuations which were vital tools in negotiating with investors. Professor Laura Huang’s MGMT 801 was a great introduction to many relevant topics for entrepreneurs to pursue deeper. I wish I took the course during my first year at Wharton. Professor David Reibstein’s MKTG 613 with SABRE simulation was one of the best courses I took at Wharton and I highly recommend taking it during the January winter break. For WeHUB messenger, we were constantly interviewing college students and high school students to refine our production attributions and resources to allocate to marketing efforts while at Wharton. MKTG 613 was a good exercise in parallel. The Student Life Office directors such as Eric Morin, Renzo Weber, Lee Kramer were super helpful in not only spreading the word about the product, navigating Penn administration, introductions, but also when you just need someone to talk to. Stefan Frank at the Wharton Social Media Office is also a great resource for student entrepreneurs trying to create a buzz.
Are you hiring?
Yes! We are a team of 20 people but mostly engineers. We are looking to bring onboard passionate people for marketing, community management, and social media management.
What advice do you have to future entrepreneurs?
Start day 1 at Wharton. Stay focused. Go full steam ahead and try really hard to get a beta launched while at Wharton. Before you know it, it will be time to graduate!