Facebook bought tbh – but not the similar app with the same name that launched in 2013

Facebook has acquired a smartphone app named tbh (which stands for “To be honest“). It allows its currently 2.5 million users in the U.S., to give compliments to each other. According to TechCrunch, the app was launched in August by a Canadian startup called Midnight Labs, which according to its founder had built about 15 products since 2010. None of them really flourished. Until now.

The name “tbh” sounded familiar to me in an app context. I researched my old blog posts. Indeed, back in 2013, I had written an article (in German) mentioning an UK-based app called TBH. This service went nowhere. The app and website are not available anymore and any mentioning of it on the web dates back to 2013. The TBH website’s only available 2013 record on archive.org doesn’t produce a proper site anymore. But if you read the press release from TBH 2013, both apps’ philosophies sound very similar:

The UK-based TBH app from 2013

TBH (2013)

Available to download for iPhone and from today for Android, TBH is taking a stand against cyber bullying by giving teens a platform to express messages of positivity and build each others confidence. More than one million messages have been exchanged in the first few weeks, leading many to believe that TBH is fast becoming the next super hot app for teens.

tbh (2017)

“tbh is an app for giving anonymous feedback to friends. Unlike other anonymous apps, all the feedback is positive. We built tbh because we believe that social networks should make us feel better about ourselves—not worse. To be honest, we love our members and we only want the best for them.”

There does not appear to be any direct connection between the old and the new TBH. The 2013 version was launched by a startup from the UK called Triple Soda Limited, which isn’t visibly active anymore. According to his Twitter profile, its founder Chris Prescott is now doing other things. He hasn’t publicly commented on the acquisition yet.

The now Facebook-owned tbh app has been, as mentioned, developed by Canada-based Midnight Labs. The old TBH domain tbh.co now refers to the twitter.com/tbh account, its domain Whois entry is protected. According to an archive.org record, the domain was offered for sale at a price of 2888 GBP in 2016. The Twitter account is now used as a personal account, with the first available message dating back to December 2016. However, it was registered in 2011, so assuming the person behind the account is not related to the now defunct TBH, then someone actually acquired the tbh.co domain (for 2888 GBP or less) and the Twitter account and deleted all past tweets.

There is one tweet on that account that does not express a favorable opinion of Facebook. That makes it less likely that the social networking giant silently bought the domain and Twitter account. But in case tbh (which is housed unter the domain tbhtime.com) continues to grow, Facebook might try to acquire the Twitter handle. It owns @instagram and @whatsapp. If the current owner indeed paid a couple of thousand bucks for tbh.co (and maybe got the Twitter handle on top for free), then she/he might be able to look forward to a nice return on investment, at least for the Twitter account.

While this is all not Earth-shattering information, it is an instructive story which confirms a couple of startup rules: Be persistent but keep trying new things, as Midnight Labs did. And: Don’t launch at the wrong time or place, as Triple Soda did. Sadly, this is usually something which only gets evident in hindsight.

For what it’s worth, even if the first TBH didn’t succeed despite initial traction, its founder Chris Prescott was onto something.

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