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October 25, 2010 / TechFemme

Amanda Peyton Enables People Discovery Through Your Phone

At first, I didn’t know what to think about MessageParty, Amanda Peyton’s interesting new iPhone app startup.  I was connected to the Message Party co-founder by Jessica Mah so I was certain that Amanda would be intelligent, ambitious and motivated.  Turns out she’s all that and much more.  In preparation for our talk, I watched the introductory video on the MessageParty homepage a few times and thanks to my limited imagination, I didn’t immediately realize the powerful and exciting uses for Amanda’s app.  Her statement that – The video is supposed to be polarizing. In order for a piece of tech to be interesting, it has to challenge certain baseline assumptions people haveis just one of the simple, yet brilliant insights that Amanda shared with me.

TechFemme: What did you think of Y-Combinator?  What was the most valuable part of it?

Amanda Peyton: I’m a huge fan of YC. The startup world is typically over-glamorized but when we got there, Paul (Graham, Y Combinator co-founder) sat down with us and said “Most of you are going to fail.”

I knew that he was going to be completely honest with us, and that was one of my favorite things about YC.

TF: So you would recommend applying to YC.

AP: Absolutely.  YC has gained a lot of momentum so it’s a bit harder to get in but definitely apply.  There’s no downside to applying.

TF: Where are you located now?

AP: I live in Manhattan and work out of  The Makery, a co-working space in Brooklyn.  It’s mostly media and media tech companies there.

TF: What is the startup culture in New York like compared to Silicon Valley?

AP: I love New York. I could not wait to get back.  I view the tech industry as not a stand-alone industry anymore and wanted to be around awesome people from different industries. The tech scene here is growing in a really interesting way and there a lot of cool hybrid companies. It’s addicting.

TF: Let’s talk about MessageParty.  How did you come up with the idea?

AP: We applied to YC in March 2010 with an entirely different idea that we ditched about halfway through YC.  MessageParty was actually our 3rd project and we got started with it in August.  Even though it’s still relatively new, we’ve been discussing social products for a while.  How do people consume info on mobile devices?  How do people meet other people?

TF: MessageParty allows people who are all in the same location to find each other and chat with each other through text message, is that right?

AP: Mostly yes, though it’s not built on SMS so it’s free.  It essentially enables people discovery from your phone.

TF: So people at the same event, like a concert or football game, can all chat with each other while they’re at the event?

AP: Yeah.  You go to events and there are all these people there that you may want to know but don’t know.  What we have seen with the first version of the product is that it’s really not necessarily about the place.  It’s more about having a localized chat room about any topic.

TF: How are you guys going about marketing MessageParty?

AP: We learned from the early first version that there’s a lot more we can do inside the application itself.  But part of it will be finding specific groups that will be very interested in having this sort of app – creating passion centers for people that are hardcore fans. There are very interesting markets waiting to be created around the movement of people.

TF: How did you get started in technology?

AP: I loved math in high school and thought I was going to major in computers and math but then I took a class on BASIC programming and hated it.  So I pushed myself into liberal arts even though I really loved computers and technology.  I graduated from Northwestern in 2005 with a Chinese History degree, and then  took all my savings and moved to China for a year.  I told myself ‘I’m not leaving here until I speak some Chinese’. It was really exciting because I was there during the lead up to the Beijing Olympics.

After China I moved to Austin, TX, working first on an ecommerce site and then for a company called STRATFOR, but I really wanted to go back to China.  I then took a short detour to MIT from Fall 2008 – June 2010.  While I was at MIT, I realized how much I loved consumer tech.  It’s fascinating how web businesses are built.

TF: Your story is incredible.  You’ve been all over the place, in your career, in the world. What would you say to women who are interested in a career change and maybe considering getting into a career in technology?

AP: The one thing I’ve realized is that it’s never too late.  There are two things that have been helpful for me in trying to figure out exactly what I want to do.  One was examining how I spent my free time.  For me, I surf the internet all day, so the move to tech was natural.  The second was picking people I really admired, backtracking their whole story to when they first started out and then just copying it.

Amanda’s advice, though simple and probably not the first time these ideas were thrown around, is genius.  It just makes sense.  While talking with her, I found myself nodding my head the whole time – her ideas make perfect sense.  And I couldn’t stop smiling.  She’s so excited – about MessageParty, social applications and technology overlapping with other industries.  I live in a constant state of this type of excitement about technology and entrepreneurship so I instantly related to her passion.  I can’t wait to see what happens with MessageParty as it moves from this initial starting phase and gains more traction.  And if I ever get an iPhone, it will be one of the first apps I download.

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