Why you should care
Because how often have you wished you could take back a text?
Maci Peterson knows too well the potentially disastrous consequences of sending a text to the wrong person or firing off an email whose meaning gets lost in transit. When autocorrect altered a text she sent to her then boyfriend — and she couldn’t figure out how to retrieve it — she set her sights on solving a universal problem.
Her solution was the basis for On Second Thought, a Silicon Valley company Peterson founded in 2014, after winning the #StartupOasis pitch competition at South by Southwest. Initially, it was the only company offering a texting app that allows users to recall messages before they get delivered. Since then, a number of competitors have cropped up, including RakEM and unSend.it.
We started to realize from our users that there were so many more applications for our technology outside of SMS messages.
Maci Peterson, Founder and CEO, On Second Thought
On Second Thought quickly gained 100,000 users and its popularity spread outside the United States to users in 190 countries, from Australia and India to South Africa and the U.K. As more customers came on board, Peterson got asked: Does the app work in WhatsApp? What about Twitter? How about PayPal? Can I use it to retrieve emails or photos?
“We started to realize from our users that there were so many more applications for our technology outside of SMS messages,” Peterson says.
For instance, a user in Kenya told her most of the population there doesn’t use traditional banking systems like in the United States — instead, they send money via mobile transfers. But, if you send money to the wrong person or send the wrong amount, the only way to get it back is to beg the recipient to return it. “Here, we use Venmo to pay friends back for dinner. There, they are using mobile transfers to pay vendors or to pay for rent,” Peterson says. “These are serious transactions and, if something goes wrong, it can have a significant impact.”
That was just one conversation that prompted Peterson to pivot this year, changing On Second Thought from a business-to-consumer company to a business-to-business company that licenses a patented technology to multiple firms rather than selling a single app to consumers. “This gave us a clear path to revenue,” she says, noting that most apps have a difficult time generating enough revenue because they are marketing to individual consumers, who are one-time buyers of the app.
Peterson, 30, brought in longtime friend Stewart Voit to help develop the technology while she focused on brand development and marketing — two areas where she’s got deep experience: She was brand manager at Marriott International, led the marketing department at The Washington Post’s subsidiary The Root and did product placements on hit films including 27 Dresses, Marley & Me, Juno and The Devil Wears Prada.
On Second Thought now owns the patent for delay and recall of mobile communication technology that covers messaging, money, email, photos and documents, and is negotiating with four of the five largest telecommunications companies, one of the most popular dating apps and the largest social media platform in the world, Peterson says. “Our technology will be a feature within each platform,” she says, “and we will be licensing it platform by platform.” Peterson expects a telecommunications company to roll out the recall feature before the end of the year, at which point the On Second Thought app will be discontinued so it doesn’t compete with the company’s clients.
The company’s decision to move to a business-to-business model and discontinue the app makes sense, says Chandra Bajpai, vice president of advance products at OpenMobile. “While recalling text messages is a great idea, it’s a feature, not a company,” he says.
One of the drawbacks of the current app, Bajpai explains, is that consumers have to set On Second Thought as their default SMS app for the recall technology to work. Once the technology is deployed as a feature within each platform, that requirement falls away. And, while consumers who use the current app will need to find a new method to recall messages, Bajpai doesn’t anticipate consumers having to pay for the feature. “What messaging app do you know that isn’t free?” he asks.
Reconceiving On Second Thought as a business-to-business company, Voit says, is just one example of Peterson’s entrepreneurial vision. “The idea and the building of the company and its growth is really about leadership, and that’s her forte,” he adds.
The two met 10 years ago at Campus Harvest, a conference for Christian college students, when Peterson nudged a napping Voit during one of the sessions. “At first he was extremely irritated, but by the end of day we were good friends,” Peterson recalls. “Sometimes you meet those people you’re just meant to know, and I think that was the case here.” Peterson, who grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, went on to earn a degree in public relations and advertising from Chapman University. She launched a digital magazine called Mwali (“young woman” in Swahili) and started a hair-care company around the time she founded On Second Thought.
With a background in marketing and business development, Peterson is an expert at analyzing consumer behaviors, positioning products and bringing them to market. Still, she readily admits that she needs Voit’s technical prowess to bring her ideas to life. “When you’re business partners, you are truly partners,” she says. “You fight and argue, and there are times when you can’t stand each other. Having this experience with someone who knows me … who can also just call me out and tell me when I’m wrong or I’ve done something poorly, it’s truly a privilege.”
Looking ahead, Peterson says that if she ever decides to sell On Second Thought, she will use 90 percent of her profits to create a foundation focused on a particular societal issue, devise a solution and then hire a team to execute it. “When it becomes bigger than what we can do on our own, we will pass that solution on to an NGO, and then reconvene and determine the next problem to solve.”