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Amid 'Significant' Growth, Whisper Hires First Head of Product

The move lets CEO Michael Heyward spend more time on Whisper's ad business.


Whisper, the anonymous social networking app, has hired a new head of product: Jaime Mendez, who recently led the FarmVille 2 studio at Zynga.

It’s a significant hire for Whisper in that it’s the company’s first dedicated product VP; CEO Michael Heyward was leading product in addition to his other CEO duties for the company since its founding three years ago.

But Whisper is now approaching 100 employees — including a new president hired in April — and it was time to bring in a dedicated product person to lead those efforts.

That company size was appealing to Mendez, who spent four years at Zynga. As general manager of FarmVille 2 he led a group of more than 150 people, a team considerably larger than Whisper’s entire workforce. The FarmVille 2 game has garnered over $500 million since it launched in 2012, but Mendez said that moving to a smaller company like Whisper provided him a chance to make an even greater impact.

“I was looking for a smaller organization,” Mendez told Re/code, adding that he was looking for a way to “meaningfully contribute to the strategic direction of where the product was going.”

The new hire also means that Heyward can now focus on other parts of the company, specifically Whisper’s nascent but growing ad business, he explained. Whisper allows users to include an image when they post something, and it makes money by suggesting specific images provided by marketers — essentially, a chance for advertisers to slap their images alongside user-generated posts.

“It’s the same rationale behind buying a glossy magazine ad or a billboard in Times Square,” he said. “It’s about brand storytelling.”

It has been just a few months since another well-known messaging app, Secret, unexpectedly shut its doors. Heyward — who dealt with his own issues in the fall after a later-corrected Guardian story that called into question the company’s privacy policies — isn’t concerned that Secret’s demise will impact Whisper’s business at all. The company is growing “significantly,” he said, and has “significantly more” than the 10 million active users it reported in April.

This seems to be at least partly due to the company’s target user base. Whisper is going after mainstream America, folks who may have never heard of terms like “SaaS” or “cloud computing.” It’s a very different audience from the Silicon Valley technocrats Secret targeted.

“Our users are in Ohio, in Texas, in Alabama,” Heyward said. “If you were to ask our user base, ‘who is Marc Andreessen?’ nobody would know.” (Andreessen, for the uninitiated, is a legendary Silicon Valley VC and co-founder of Netscape.)

That’s the audience Mendez will be building for, and while he wouldn’t get into product specifics, he wants to make it easier for Whisper users to both find content and meet offline, an attempt to bring more anonymous interactions into the real world.

He has already started at Whisper and reports directly to Heyward.

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