We’ve probably all seen those ads for Hooked on Facebook and even on television. The short text conversations that turn into stories you want to know the ending of so you go to the app store, download the app, and try to finish the story to see if the person texting survives and what exactly is going on in their house, or wherever they are. I enjoy the app a lot and find that it takes up a lot of my time. I need to know how the story ends. Who’s in the basement and why are they there. I always wondered who came up with the genius idea for the app. That’s where Prerna Gupta, and her husband Parag Chordia. They’ve gotten 10 Million teens to actually read these short stories.
People love the stories because they’re short and are in a text format, so they seem realistic, and you instantly get hooked. Prerna has also worked for Smule, where she created the AutoRap app. Prerna and her husband were living in Costa Rica at the time when Prerna began to write her first novel. The novel was a sci-fi fantasy trilogy for young adults, set in Silicon Valley a hundred years in the future. However, there was something unusual about her story. Prerna’s protagonist was a dark-skinned Indian girl, like her, and this caused her to panic. There were several questions that came to her mind. Would anyone read a sci-fi story with a dark-skinned, female protagonist? How was she going to convince an agent to take a book like this seriously? Would a publisher be able to find an audience for her strange story? And, do teenagers even read? As Prerna and her husband were working on the book, these questions continued to pop up.
After doing some traveling, Prerna and her husband decided to do an a/b test for their book, this would eventually turn into Hooked. They realized that a majority of young adult novels are being read digitally now in the U.S., and that’s increasingly happening on mobile. They knew reading wasn’t dying and also believed that there was a billion-dollar opportunity in evolving reading and that a mobile-first company that could figure out how to apply Lean Startup principles to story development might just be the next big thing — the next Netflix, the next Disney. After a year of being in Costa Rica, Prerna and her husband decided to return back to Silicon Valley where they would find a new company and redefine reading for the Snapchat generation.
They built a testing system for their stories where they took excerpts from fifty best-selling novels in the young adult space. They took the first 1,000 words of each of these novels, or about a five-minute read, and put them up on a basic mobile-optimized web reader that they had built for testing. They focused on mobile reading only. 15,000 readers were sent to their test, using Facebook ads, and they looked at the results. What they found out was amazing. There was a huge difference in completion rates, even among best sellers. There were other tests ran and completed and they finally found all of the answers to their questions.
In late September 2015, they launched a minimum viable product of Hooked, a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and to provide feedback for future product development. They would spend 2016 talking to their early readers, building product, working with undiscovered artists, and developing their catalog of chat stories. Over time, more features were added, like now readers can create their own text stories. On December 1, 2016, Hooked hit the #1 spot in the App Store. Since then, Hooked has consistently been a Top 100 app in the U.S. App Store, and it’s hit the #1 spot again twice. Hooked has also hit the #1 spot in several other countries, including France, Canada, U.K., and Mexico. By April of 2017, ten million young readers have installed Hooked within the past few months, collectively reading over 10 billion fictional text messages in the app during that time. Hooked users have also written over a million chat stories of their own, directly from their phones.
Prerna’s story is amazing and encouraging. She wasn’t initially sure of herself and the idea of having a dark-skinned female protagonist in a book. However, she was able to work the story out and put it into an app that millions enjoy today. She had no idea if the app would actually succeed but it’s constantly growing.
Hooked is available for both Apple and Android products.