Maci Peterson, a Millennial entrepreneur and marketing expert, is the co-founder and CEO of On Second Thought (OST), a messaging app whose patented technology lets users take back text messages before they get to the other person’s phone. The story about how she came up with the idea begins our interview below, and if you read nothing else today, read about that.
But for a little more background, Peterson’s experience includes years of marketing and business development in the entertainment, media, and hospitality industries. She also founded and was the editor-in-chief of the former Mwari Magazine, a digital publication for women of the African diaspora, ages 18 to 24, is a member of the Internet Marketing Association’s Women Leaders Group, and spent a year at Marriott International as a brand manager.
Now, for that story ...
CMO.com: Before we get into the business and marketing side of things, you have to share with CMO.com readers how you came up with the idea for On Second Thought.
Peterson: This is an easy one. Autocorrect has a vendetta against me. One day, an ex-boyfriend was calling, and I kept missing his calls—we’d been broken up for six months at that point. I thought I wrote to him, “Hey, for some reason I keep missing your calls,” but autocorrect changed it to, “Hey, for some reason I keep missing your ...” at which point it put in a part of his anatomy that rhymes with “calls.”
Of course, that was not what I wanted to say to him—I’d never spoken that way. After slamming my fingers against my phone to get my message back, I couldn’t. I checked the App Store and did a Google search to see if there was anything that would let me take my message back, and, well, there wasn’t. After my friends gave me a resounding “Yes!” when I asked them if they’d sent a message they wished they could take back, I knew I was onto something.
CMO.com: While some people might know a little bit about your company and your app, could you explain where this started and how it has progressed?
Peterson: Sure. As you said, On Second Thought started as a messaging app that lets you take back text messages before they get to the other person. But after about a year of being available in the Google Play store, one of the wireless carriers approached us about licensing our technology. So now we’re in the process of building our software development kit so we can license it to the carriers. This will make the ability to undo text messages a standard feature in your native messaging app. Right now, it’s only available for Android.
CMO.com: Why did you make that decision?
Peterson: A couple of reasons. The first is that when we launched, Android was the dominant operating system outside of the United States. Back then, we were a featured startup and exhibitor in Dublin. We were always thinking about having a global presence, so we decided to go with the globally dominant device or operating system.
We had started to develop for iOS when we were approached by this carrier about licensing our technology. With that we thought, “Hey, this is a really great way to make our technology ubiquitous, and also it’s a clear path to revenue.” So we decided to pause on the iOS app and focus on the software development kit, because through the SDK, our functionality can also be standard on every iPhone.
Through licensing to the carriers, our code will be embedded on their servers or into their messaging apps. So whether you have an Android or an iPhone, you’ll be able to experience our ability to “unsend” text messages.
CMO.com: How have you been handling marketing for the app and the concept?
Peterson: To be honest, we’ve been really light on the marketing. About 90% to 99% of our acquisition has been via word-of-mouth. We’ve been pretty popular in the news, so that’s driven things a bit. We have had a lot of people downloading the app, enjoying the experience, and sharing it with their friends and family, and so it’s been moving through people’s networks.
One thing that we did that pushed the needle a bit was marketing within the app the ability for our users to share with their friends. That helped, resulting in probably 5% of our downloads. But the biggest thing has been word-of-mouth—and then we amplify that through social media.
CMO.com: Do you have your own social media presence? Are you doing any kind of content marketing with this?
Peterson: For a while, we were doing content marketing. To be quite honest, we hadn’t really found the right cadence or tone to resonate with our customers. Then, once we decided to move to B2B—that is, when we went the carrier route—it’s a totally different tone. Now we’re focused more on content creation in terms of thought leadership, more focused on the website, as well as establishing ourselves as leaders within the mobile messaging landscape, or I should say “intelligent messaging” landscape.
CMO.com: So you sort of pivoted from going to the end user to going to B2B? And will you market to that audience?
Peterson: Yes, we are, and we love marketing to that audience. And it’s all marketing, right? It’s just a different tone or a different goal.
I would argue that B2B marketing is more intense because you’re looking for meaningful conversions. For us, a meaningful conversion is a carrier saying, “We want to license this and apply it to our entire customer base of 100 million people,” or a social media platform saying, “We want to license this and make it available to our billions of customers or users.” It just changes the conversation and the weight of the conversation because we’re talking about, one, large corporations, and, two, a lot of money that’s being transacted as a result of the conversion.
CMO.com: It is an interesting scenario for a company that’s growing like yours to not have done a whole lot of conscious marketing. You don’t see that a lot. Do you think that’s the nature of the app itself?
Peterson: I think it’s the fact that we were solving a problem that people actually have.
I think that’s the biggest thing: Good products will move themselves. Of course, it’s always nice to put a little gasoline on the fire in order to make it really explode. But a good product is going to move itself, and a bad product, no matter how much money you put behind it, is not going to move.
CMO.com: Since you have had a global vision with this since the beginning, what have you noticed about marketing globally?
Peterson: Well, for us, we knew it would be a global product, but we hadn’t reached the point of intentionally marketing to these other regions and countries. Our app is used in 190 countries, and then, from the carrier side, 10 wireless carriers from around the world are interested in licensing our technology. I would argue it was heavily word-of-mouth. We think people living in the United States were saying to their friends and family abroad, “Hey, I found out about this really cool app. You should check it out.”
Then, as a result of them checking it out, we received press in those other countries. It was, in some ways, like a viral outcome because we never pushed the entry into those markets. It happened on its own.
Based on my experience in doing marketing for Marriott—I was actually in a global brand management role—where I worked with teams in China, India, and Latin America, I knew that we really needed to focus on meeting people where they are—understanding their challenges, understanding their behaviors and thoughts, and then tailoring our communication and ad campaigns to them.
For instance, when we were doing marketing in China, we knew that Facebook wouldn’t really work there, and we couldn’t use any of Google’s products. So we started focusing and tailoring our ads on WeChat. When we were doing things in India, we realized that market had a really strong Facebook presence, so we focused our marketing efforts on there. In Latin America, it was pretty similar to here, although it was still very Facebook-focused.
CMO.com: From a marketing point of view, even though you’re concentrating on the carrier connections now, you still want people to know the app is available, and you want it used, right?
Peterson: Exactly, yes. And the interesting thing also is that having a global user base is incredibly helpful in the way we think about the product itself and how it can be used.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. This largely came from talking to customers in Africa. We realized that they really like our product, but they were like, “Can I use this in WhatsApp? Can I use this in all of these other messaging platforms?” So that made us think, “OK, how can we make this available in these other platforms?”
That validated the idea for licensing. If we license our technology, then not only can we license to carriers, we can also license to these over-the-top messaging apps and, therefore, provide these experiences in those environments instead of siloing it within our own messaging app. Through licensing, our technology can become ubiquitous.
Another thing was, we were talking to someone from Kenya. She explained to us that in her country people rely on mobile money transfers, via systems like M-Pesa, because most people don’t have bank accounts. When they send their money, they often send it to the wrong person—and once the message leaves their phone, it’s gone. Currently, the only way to correct that transaction is to go to that person and beg them to return your money. And that, of course, has a very low success rate and is also highly inefficient.
Through that conversation, we realized our technology can be applied to more than just text messages. It can be applied to mobile money transfers, as well. And with that, we’re really making an impact in helping people reclaim their livelihood.
CMO.com: Do you have any particular ideas or thoughts for anybody who is marketing in this kind of app space? It’s a tricky business.
Peterson: I would say, “Listen to your customers and be flexible.” What we have today is very different from my original idea. That’s because we were flexible, we listened to people, and we opened our minds to the other opportunities that exist. So be flexible and have faith in yourself.