A Houston gay couple develops a new social media platform
by Karen Derr
Before digital technology, Facebook and Twitter, or even the postal service, there was the message in a bottle. You put your carefully crafted communiqué in a bottle, sealed it, and tossed it out to sea, hoping it traveled to faraway places and was eventually opened. That’s the premise behind a new Houston-based social media site called Botl.
Don Puryear and Angel Valdez are the developers of the site, but you may know them from one of their other ventures here in Houston—which include a court reporting service and Dogtopia Doggy Daycare. Puryear is an attorney and Realtor. His partner of over 20 years, Angel Valdez, is a programmer and the one with the head for numbers.
While Botl visually lays out somewhat like Pinterest—a kind of digital bulletin board where users can pin images they like—Puryear says of all the existing social media sites, he was most inspired by Grindr. “I was fascinated, because I read an article about Grindr being a million-dollar app that was thrown together. There is phenomenal opportunity in this arena.”
Most social media sites are similar in how users provide content, Puryear says. “The industry term for this is ‘open content sharing,’ which means anyone who follows you will receive whatever you post.” This is true for Botl, but after taking the tour offered at Botl.com, a user will realize Botl is something new. Topping the list of innovations is how Botl uses geolocation. Puryear explains, “The location where something is generated or received is meaningful, and Botl attaches mileage to it so you can see how far it’s traveled. That’s part of the social media world that hasn’t been developed or explored. This is a new niche. A big part of what makes Botl unique is the “message in a bottle” theme.” Seeing how far and where your Botl travels is a big part of the fun. And here is where Puryear and Valdez’s genius becomes evident.
Since you have to click on a Botl to “open” it, and the site records who opened the Botl and where, commercial data collectors will be able to get information they cannot currently get from Facebook or Twitter. “I recently attended a conference where a representative from Coca-Cola made the comment that what is more meaningful to them than having a lot of fans on their Facebook page is actually knowing who is seeing their content.” Puryear believes Botl has built-in advertising value because of this. Part of the problem with advertising on social media is that advertisers don’t want to appear intrusive. Puryear predicts Botl will be a natural for companies that manufacture bottled products like Loreal, Heinz, and of course, beverages. Botl offers customized bottles, and content could include not only coupons or recipes, but also videos, music, images, animated GIF files, and sound effects. Botl’s developers are particularly excited about how the site allows users to distribute GIF files and video.
Puryear and Valdez have developed Botl both as a product and a platform. Puryear explains that on Facebook or Pinterest you cannot upload a YouTube video directly; you can only upload a link. “If a person has pins on Pinterest, they can upload those pins onto Botl and redistribute them, while adding things like sound effects or music, [which is like combining Pinterest and SoundCloud]. In technical terms, that’s a derivative work, and Botl makes it easy.” In terms of how social media sites like Pinterest are currently used, Puryear elaborates, “If you have pins of a lot of half-naked hot guys on Pinterest, you can upload them to Botl and add the song ‘It’s Raining Men.’” He goes on to explain that when a user sets up their Botl profile, they will choose whether they want to see adult content or not.
Puryear and Valdez think rolling Botl out to the LGBT community is a natural choice, starting right here in Houston. It’s a site built by creatives for creatives. Puryear says he’s consulted with social media experts and they agree with his marketing plan of action. The website is now fully functional on desktop browsers. Botl also offers free mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones and tablets. With just a few dozen current users, the site already has more than 31,000 Botls.
The couple says they have already received offers to buy Botl, but they’re eager to see just how large Botl becomes before considering a sale. Puryear, who speaks six languages, is an accomplished pianist, and taught himself programming, says, “I want a button on everyone’s phone that is something we created.”
Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Boulevard Realty. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.