SAN FRANCISCO (TheStreet) -- If sharing a selfie seems like a ridiculous form of communication, then you're most likely not a user of mobile application Shots, the latest craze among teens and the hot-girl startup all the venture capitalists want a piece of.
Here's why: Just a little more than a year after launching, Shots has racked up 3.5 million registered users who view 740 million photos a month. The average active user spends, on average, 22 minutes per day with the app, the company told TheStreet. Impressive, no? But here's the kicker that has Silicon Valley types in a tizzy: 45% of users are active on a daily basis. By comparison, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Facebook's third-quarter earnings call people around the globe spend around 21 minutes a day on Instagram.
Those are the kind of stats that attract the interest of social media heavyweights such as Twitter (TWTR) , which seems to have set its eyes on acquiring the young company. Twitter likely won't be able to successfully woo Shots as the startup is in the midst of raising financing, TheStreet has learned, and appears determined to go it alone for the time being. As it stands, Shots' seven-person team, which operates out of a small office in the South of Market district in San Francisco, is backed by $2.7 million in funding from a hodgepodge of venture capitalists and celebrities, including Justin Bieber.
When reached for comment regarding a potential Shots acquisition, a Twitter spokesperson said the company does not comment on rumor and speculation.
For the uninitiated, Shots is a photo-sharing app created by brothers John and Sam Shahidi, who previously built mobile apps for celebrities through their company, RockLive. Shots started its life as a selfie-only service called "Shots of Me," and, with Bieber as an early investor, the company initially seemed like the archetype of everything wrong with Silicon Valley startups. Indeed, it was treated as a joke in the tech press.
Silly though they may sound, selfies are no joke. Taking photographs of oneself is a legitimate form of communication, just like sending 140 character updates, Alitimeter Group Principal Analyst Brian Solis told TheStreet. Sorry haters, but Solis, who studies trends in digital media, says selfies are here to stay.
"I think a lot of people misinterpret selfies. [The form of communication] is a way of saying, 'Here I am. Here's what I'm doing. Here's what I'm feeling'," he said. "Any network that promotes connectivity around that type of communication is really going to win."
A year after launch, Shots looks to be winning in the selfie realm, which means the joke is on us. It's the Shahidi brothers' turn to do the laughing -- well, they would be laughing if they weren't, at least on the surface, dead-set on living up to the no-judgement philosophy intentionally embedded in the app they've built.
"If the app is about not judging, then we can't be about judging. I won't judge or say anything bad about anybody," CEO John Shahidi told TheStreet.
Shots, after all, was designed to offer the virgin daiquiri equivalent of liquid courage for youngsters too intimidated by the prospect of nasty comments to post pictures of themselves. Unlike its predecessors in the social realm, Shots is a comment-free zone where you shouldn't have to worry about mean-spirited remarks that make you feel insecure. Plus, there should be no anxiety around keeping up with the proverbial Jones', since there are no follower counts.
"There are three things you never want to be criticized: your face, your name, and your family members," Shahidi said, "because we were born with these three things."
Whether the app is succeeding because of its "haterade-less" mantra or because of its proximity to Bieber is up for debate. The average user is just around 16 years of age, supporting the latter theory. And if Shahidi, a pal and confidant to the pop star, ever likes your selfie, you can rest-assured that someone with a Justin Bieber-inspired username will also like it.
Shots, Shahidi insists, is no longer the Justin Bieber social network, and he thinks he has the stats to prove it. Shortly after launch, nearly 80% of Shots users followed the teen heartthrob on Twitter or Instagram. Now just 20% of users are Bieber followers, he said.
Shots' comeuppance in the social media world may just be a product of the all-about-me generation. "Teens love taking selfies," Shahidi observed, "Their first phones have front-facing cameras, so it's natural for them to take a selfie."
Teens may not be the only influential audience gravitating to the selfie app. Apparently a growing contingent of Vine stars -- the crop of YouTube stars that have found 6-second fame on Twitter's video app -- are also setting up shop on Shots. Fourteen of the top 25 Vine stars such as Brittany Furlan and King Bach are on Shots, according to Shahidi.
With money in the bank and more on the way, maybe it doesn't matter how or why Shots' star is shining. What does matter is whether the very young company proves to be more than a phasing fad. Selfies are fun, but are they really a sustainable business? Even Solis, the selfie bull, isn't sure where the revenue will come from.
To expand its purpose, Shots added back-camera picture support and a unique photo reply feature earlier in the year. In addition, the company will be introducing a way to share short videos with accompanying music sometime next year, according to a person close to the company. If true, it would further explain why Twitter has reportedly been poking around the startup. The social network, which was just lapped by Facebook's (FB) Instagram in monthly active users, operates Vine but does not yet support video on its own network. Twitter last month announced plans to introduce a video upload feature in 2015 but has to share specifics.
Though Shots and Vine can co-exist in the video world, Twitter can't love the idea of a would-be acquisition target siphoning users' attention away from its yet-to-be monetized video app, especially if its Vine stars are leading the charge.
For now, Shots is still too small of a social network to be a real threat to the major incumbents. But if the app continues to sign on users at a rapid clip, and they then hang out for 22 minutes a day, 2015 could be the year when the exclamatory cry, "Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!" becomes more synonymous with the selfie app than the LMFAO track.
--Written by Jennifer Van Grove in San Francisco
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