The Third Degree

GroupMe’s Steve Martocci On the Death of Texting, iMessages, and the Founder Fifteen

steve martocci GroupMes Steve Martocci On the Death of Texting, iMessages, and the Founder FifteenIf you read today’s Wall Street Journal you might come away with the feeling that texting is likely to go the way of the floppy disk. Growth in the number of texts is the most sluggish its been since the aughts became the texting decade. What’s more new messaging services from Apple and Google are likely to erode the numbers even further. But Steve Martocci, co-founder of messaging startup (and SXSW darling) GroupMe, sees no cause for alarm. The reason? Well, the Olds, for one.

“We’ve seen some pretty remarkable trends in texting,” Mr. Martocci told Betabeat. “My friend’s parents who are grandparents are on it. Texting is something that’s being handled well by all generations now. I never thought my mom would become a texter. She still prefers to call, but instead of leaving a voicemail she’ll text–one thing you want to see is the death of voicemail. [Ed note: Agreed!]. She finally migrated off her Blackberry, she got a white iPhone she’s really happy. Any autocorrect fails, yet? “Once she gets her first, I’ll let you know,” Mr. Martocci laughed.

Even if there is some truth to the death knell of texting, Mr. Martocci thinks GroupMe will be a-okay. Founder’s hubris? Not entirely. Although the start-up’s messaging service still functions primarily via text (powered by Twilio), its actually cheaper for them to work in the in-app version they recently released. That’s because data for apps is traditionally a free connection. “From GroupsMe’s perspective we’re building a universal network. Texting is the lowest common denominator, but our app works on every single phone. ” Mr. Martocci sees GroupMe as a “technology stepping stone” that advances SMS in the data world. But it might not be as easy for  homegrown New York apps that are exclusively text-based. “You gotta stay up with the times,” he warned.

Okay, so GroupMe is safe if texting dies. But what about the more dire specter of Apple’s iMessages looming in the distance? Mr. Martocci dismissed iMessages as a BBM-like service, designed to work only within their own network, compared to GroupMe’s cross-platform play. So he’s telling Betabeat he didn’t have a Marco Arment-like breakdown watching Apple’s keynote? “We really didn’t! Only because after the whole year in the space and all the competition, I think that we can take any new app that brushes up against us. We can take it pretty well now.” For one, GroupMe already offers services like photo and location sharing. “We’re not just gonna be a messager.” And, he added, GroupMe will further prove that with an updated version to be released in July.

WWDC seems to have made the theme of the week: platforms cannabalizing their third-party developers. But Mr. Martocci points out that GroupMe might soon be on the other side of that equation. The company has released its own API, which is being used in the applications for major music festivals, like Bonnaroo, this summer.

After Mr. Martocci neatly tried to extricate himself from our shortlist of people Steve Jobs pissed off this week, Betabeat had to ask about that Bosu Fitness ball. We saw him using one as a desk chair during a recent episode of Techcrunch Cribs as a weight-loss strategy. “The founder fifteen is very real to me,”  Mr. Martocci told Betabeat. At first, he contemplated a treadmill desk.  “They burn an additional 600 calories, but I thought the treadmill was a little large and would be pretty awkward in the space.” The Bosu turned out to be strenuous all on its own. Mr. Martocci said he’d been walking around the city all day and had to abstain from using it during our phone call. “I’m still standing though! Am I losing weight ? I don’t know yet. It’s been hard with Internet Week. But my core feels stronger.”

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