Chinese Internet tycoon launches Pheed, an influencer social platform offering real monetization

By Michael Carney , written on October 12, 2012

From The News Desk

As great at existing social media platforms have been at connecting the world’s celebrities with audiences tens of millions of people, they’ve largely failed at allowing these influencers to monetize that reach. Also, each of the various platforms seems to excel at creating or sharing a particular type of media, be it text, photos, video, or audio, but none has excelled across the board.

Today, an entirely new platform called Pheed is launching to address each of these shortcomings. Typically, the launch of a new social platform in this day and age would be met with absolute skepticism and disregard. Not so in this case. Pheed was created by a group of deep pocketed veteran internet entrepreneurs, offers some truly interesting points of differentiation, and is launching with more than 200 of the world’s most recognized and followed entertainers already on board, including Kim Kardashian, Chris Brown, P. Diddy, and David Guetta, among others.

Whether they possess celebrity status or not, Pheed allows its users (aka, Pheeders) to create a channel to which they can upload and share text, photos, videos, audio tracks, voice notes, and live broadcasts – each called a “Pheed.” At their discretion, the Pheeders can then choose to monetize their content, via either a monthly subscription or a one-time, pay-per-view style offering. The channel creator selects the price, earns directly, and owns all content – each key in the sensitive world of celebrity marketing.

Given this differentiation via monetization, it’s not surprising that those with large online followings are drawn to Pheed. If TMZ and celebrity reality TV tell us anything, it’s that fans are desperate for behind-the-scenes access to the lives of their celebrity idols. Pheed is positioned to deliver exactly this voyeuristic thrill. That said, it likely won’t be enough – at least over the long term – to simply be famous. Those who succeed on Pheed and the inevitable copycat platforms, will be those who consistently offer interesting content worth paying for.

Pheed borrows heavily from the best of existing social networks. Users can “@-tag” one another in posts, send private messages, use hashtags to organize topics, like and favorite content, push posts to Twitter and Facebook, and view content from a list of those they follow in a scrolling home feed. Where the platform differs slightly is in the ability to sort by content type, including text, audio, photo, video, and live broadcast. Also, in addition to a standard “like,” or in Pheed’s case “heart” feature, the new social platform also offers a “broken-heart” dislike option – this is something that Facebook users have been requesting for years, and should be thrilled to find on Pheed.

“On Facebook you connect with your friends, on Twitter you follow your interests, and on Pheed you express yourself,” said O.D. Kobo, co-founder of Pheed.

Pheed is as interesting for the group of influencers its curating and the monetization power it offers them, as it is for the impressive but atypical backstory of its founders. The company is the brainchild of Hong Kong born, New York and London educated, Chinese internet tycoon O.D. Kobo and his band of six other serial entrepreneur brothers-from–another-mother, who have been creating successful Chinese internet ventures together for nearly two decades.

Among the group’s most successful projects was a conglomerate called Koolanoo Group, which launched numerous hit web properties including the one time fastest growing website in China and largest teen social network 360Quan. Kobo and his co-founders sold Koolanoo in 2009 to one of its minority investors, the Prime Minister of Qatar’s East River Capital.

In late 2011, the seven co-founders moved to Los Angeles and began dissecting the shortcomings of the existing social media landscape. Out of a swank house-turned-office on Mulholland Drive, Kobo personally met with the leaders of every segment of the entertainment industry including television, film, music, and sports talent, as well as their agencies and studios. For the better part of six months, he spent these meetings listening rather than pitching. The founders and their team of 15, then built Pheed to address the needs and concerns of this audience.

Currently, Pheed is only available via its Website, but the company has submitted an iOS app the iTunes App Store and is awaiting approval, which is expected within days. Given the on-the-go lifestyles of Pheed’s target celebrity contributers, this mobile experience will be crucial. I got a demo of the finished app last week and found it to be equally as impressive as the Web product.

Since soft-launching in mid-August to a “friends and family private beta,” as its founders call it, the site has accumulated more than 150,000 unique visitors in total mostly driven by its early adopter celebrities.

One of the site’s earliest members, rapper Jim Jones, was convinced to sign up for the service when, with a single tweet, he made over $1,000 in under one hour via $1.99 pay-per-view subscriptions. What was he offering his fans that was so enticing? The opportunity to watch him and his crew get get their hair cut, and all the associated antics at the barber shop.

Putting aside any question of the societal value of such content, its success in no way shocking. Nonetheless, this type of attention can be fleeting and as such, Pheed and its influencers will need to keep delivering novelty and value for this type of monetization to prove sustainable.

If we’ve learned anything in the brief history of online social networking, it’s that one-time market leaders consistantly sucumb to upstart competitors with differentiated offerings., led to Friendster, led to MySpace, led to Facebook. That said, the network effects of the current incumbent are the greatest of any before it and will prove enormously challenging to overcome. For proof of this, look no further than the cautionary tale of open-source wannabe-Facebook-killer Diaspora.

O.D. Kobo and his co-founders have experience competing with the giants of the Chinese Web and byzantine governmental regulation, not to mention endless copycats and fraudsters. The Pheed team is certainly not afraid of a fight. Following its sale of Koolanoo, Kobo and crew formed Shellanoo Investment Group to fund Pheed and other ventures. To date Shellanoo has invested $2.5 million into the project and is not short on either the cash or connections necessary to see this project through to its conclusion.

Pheed has a truly unique offering. More importantly, it’s captured the attention of the smallest, but most important market segment: Celebrity influencers. If the platform continues to put money into the pockets of these stars, expect them to put the full might of their online influence into championing it’s ascent. It’s far too early to predict an outcome, but the fact that success is a possibility will make the upcoming period that much more interesting to watch.