Messaging can save your life.
That’s the motto of hip-hop artist-turned-entrepreneur Ryan Leslie. The idea wasn’t difficult for me to understand when he presented his latest pitch to me last week at Mashable. Just minutes before he arrived, his publicist was texting me in order to confirm our office address and make sure security was ready to let him in. Okay, so maybe messaging didn’t actually save any lives that morning, but it did prevent a couple of headaches.
Messaging is also the reason why Leslie and I are chatting again. We first met back in February 2016 when I profiled his tech startup, SuperPhone, a text messaging-based CRM and sales tool for celebrities. The software helps celebrities connect with fans, message them directly, and ultimately sell more products. It’s a data analysis tool. Now, SuperPhone is being made available to everyone.
In front of us on the table, his MacBook showed a bunch of graphs depicting the frequency of our conversations. “We got to work on our relationship health,” Leslie said to me. The right side of our dashboard looked good: We were split 50-50 in terms of messages sent and calls placed. But on the left side, bar charts that mapped total daily messages exchanged over time had some spikes in 2016 and 2017 but was, for the most part, bare. Of course, I’m not the only one who contacts Leslie. Here’s his whole history from October 2016 to now.
Ryan Leslie’s health data
Image: RYAN LESLIE/SUPERPHONE
I felt really guilty after seeing our entire digital conversation mapped out in front of me, but shortly thereafter, my mind started racing about all the potential uses of this technology. First I saw the usefulness for romantic relationships. What Leslie was showing me was statistical proof of the concept, “You don’t call me enough.” My next thought, unabashedly, was the power of this platform for drug dealers and that quickly brought up security concerns. I asked. He said the data is as private as any tech company and service provider.
“I believe the world will be enriched by giving data,” Leslie said. “What technology and data does is get humanity closer to truth, and truth is the greatest trigger for action.”
SuperPhone started as a personal need for Leslie to manage his contact list and to distribute his music. He, like many artists during the 2000s, was struggling to sell records while working with labels. In 2014, he decided to take matters into his own hands. His SuperPhone software let him track his fans and his record sales in one place. He actually was able to understand who was buying what and why.
“What Leslie did was quite different. He was one of those guys who had a fan base, like a real fan base, but couldn’t sell enough records to really earn a living on a label. So he set out to develop the technology so he himself could earn a living,” Ben Horowitz of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz told me two years back.
SuperPhone users, like Leslie, receive a separate SuperPhone number. That number is then tied to their phone carrier for calls and texting and integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Shopify. Anyone can add themselves to Leslie’s contact book by texting his number +16467982928, where they’ll then be directed to a form to fill out their information. From then on, users are able to text Leslie, and he can decide to text back or not.
Now, Leslie wants the rest of the world using his SuperPhone. Last month, Leslie secured $2.5 million in venture capital funding, under a seed round. He also hired serial entrepreneur Sid Conklin as chief technology officer. He currently has 22 employees and brings in about $100,000 a month from annualized contracts with participant users and partners, like Atlantic Records.
Going forward, SuperPhone is not just about distributing music, seeing where your fans are located, or managing incoming direct messages. The startup’s new update, visualized above, is showing relationship health data. Leslie preaches that connection and messaging is everything. He’s far from the only one.
“Whether it’s Snapchat, Messenger, WhatsApp, even as dope as a platform of Instagram, they needed to put messaging into the platform,” Leslie said. “Messaging intelligence is now critical. It’s health related.”
He pointed to a TED Talk by psychologist Susan Pinker, whose research shows social integration and close relationships, more than quitting smoking and drinking, are crucial to living longer:
In a conference room, we watched a snippet of the TED Talk, and he waited for our reactions before going into his core message for SuperPhone. “In the absence of a FitBit for messaging, we’re left to our own devices, and in a technologically enabled world that seems a) disturbing and b) totally ludicrous,” Leslie said.
With SuperPhone, Leslie hopes people begin to understand who they’re talking to and who isn’t on that list. Of course, some people may be able to remember some of this themselves. Some social networks, like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, also highlight the strength of the connection. But with all the places to message someone, it’s not easy to map overall investment.
There’s also Leslie’s big vision: a relationship inheritance. Not every person is able to pass on financial wealth to their loved ones, but everyone makes connections. SuperPhone is not only for real-time communication. It’s creating a virtual Rolodex.
Leslie asked if I had read a recent story about David Rockefeller’s rolodex. I hadn’t. He went on to describe how Rockefeller had created physical contact cards for about 100,000 people. “My Rockefeller Rolodex is in SuperPhone. It’s in every device known to man. But what I don’t have is a graph of everyone he talked to. We don’t know who his closest confidants are,” Leslie said.
With SuperPhone, we do know who Leslie talks to the most. (Note: It’s not me.) He has 77,961 contacts and has made 750 calls in February, so far.
When Leslie was recently raising capital, his relationship health showed frequent calls and text, mostly with investors. Lately, he’s been speaking with bunch with current and future clients.
Image: superphone/ryan leslie
Amid still creating and performing his music, Leslie’s been working on getting more people signed up to SuperPhone. He talks about it a lot. Every time he performs or presents, he shares his number. But until recently, his app was in private beta. Those early users include rapper Cardi B, football player Brandon Marshall, and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk.
Now, Leslie’s ready to bring SuperPhone to everyone. Prices for personal plans start at $19.99 per month and $99.99 for a business. Leslie knows it’s not cheap. He said he hopes one day it’s simply accessible for everyone, perhaps a part of phone plan.
“Right now it’s a premium or a luxury. In the future there will be a device manufacture. It could be like this, what Samsung has better than LG is relationship health insights. But I just want to get into as many hands as possible,” Leslie said.