Tech Transformers

Ryan Leslie gears up to launch SuperPhone to allow fans to text artists, brands

Ryan Leslie performs during a concert at Astra Kulturhaus on October 26, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Adam Berry | Redferns | Getty Images

Ryan Leslie is a Grammy-nominated singer who likes to put his personal phone number online. It's +16468876978, in case you were wondering.

It's all part of Leslie's plan to fundamentally change the way brands, artists, or anyone with a public following, interact with their fans, taking on the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

Leslie, is gearing up to publicly launch SuperPhone, his platform that assigns people a number and lets them organize contacts, filter chats by topics or tags, and directly speak to people via text message.

"I definitely needed it because i was managing 20,000-plus conversations on WhatsApp with zero automation, zero organization, zero segmentation," Leslie told CNBC in an interview at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam on Friday.

"Perhaps we have overlooked the power of SMS and we have moved on to native messaging platforms and we are just finding that they were falling short in terms of the feature set."

‘Massive disconnect’

Leslie, who has produced tracks for the likes of Beyonce, has over a million followers collectively across both Twitter and Facebook. But he says there is a "massive disconnect" on social media between fans and the people they are following.

"How many of your Twitter followers do you have a phone number for?" Leslie said. "It's about building a kind of closeness that text messaging provides."

A screenshot of the SuperPhone app

Earlier this year, Leslie's company Disruptive Multimedia raised a $1.5 million seed round of funding which included investors like Ben Horowitz from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Leslie told CNBC the company will be raising more money this year.

SuperPhone is currently in the private beta testing phase with around 2,700 users including other major artists such as Mike Posner. The public version of the app will launch by the end of the summer, Leslie said. The rapper said he personally picks who comes onto the private beta.

The product could present a big change to the way public figures sell to fans. SuperPhone allows its users to see a dashboard of people that message them. Artists for example could sell a song or album via SuperPhone and track who is buying it, and perhaps send a text to their top fans with special VIP events.

Leslie has done this to his 53,000 following. He is currently doing what he dubs as a "lifetime" album called "MZRT". Every month he releases a new track. Users can get it by texting his SuperPhone number and then choosing how much they pay him. Artists are able to sell merchandise, tickets or songs for example.

Dependency on social media

SuperPhone is potentially a rival to a number of major platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the likes of Spotify or Apple Music on the entertainment front. But it will also allow major brands to get on board and directly talk to consumers, something Facebook is also pushing. Leslie said he is currently trying to close deals with brands. But for the platform to be successful, major artists, brands and public figures will need to jump on board.

"The smart ones will, the brave ones will (use SuperPhone)," Leslie told CNBC.

"The idea is that starting with a phone number we can give a window into the level of audience aggregation and audience control that is possible when the artist is the custodian of their own audience. Right now as a writer, as an entrepreneur, as a founder, artist, when you build a following on platforms like Snapchat, Vine, Facebook, the equity is in that platform, and there is a massive dependency on that platform."

While it currently works over text message, Leslie said the company is working on making SuperPhone compatible with WhatsApp.

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