Detroit's Own @TFLN Profiled in AdWeek

Pillow Talk From TFLN
Texts From Last Night shares tales from the dark side

Eleftheria Parpis

They had no social lives, but their friends sure did. Ben Bator and Lauren Leto, who went on to co-found the Web site Texts From Last Night, say while they were busy studying, their buddies were having wild nights out -- nights they’d write about in descriptive, no-holds-barred texts. Texts not unlike this recent one from the site: “He practically bottle fed me Jameson, like I was a baby chimpanzee on those nature specials.” And this one: “I woke up to him eating cereal out of my viking [sic] helmet with a shot glass. No idea where he got the milk.” The texts were passed around to an increasing number of friends and  acquaintances.

“We began to realize how viral it [had become]” says Leto, 23, who at the time was in her first year at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. Bator, 24, had just received a scholarship to attend the same school. (The two friends met while undergraduates at Michigan State University.) So, in February 2009, with a $15 budget -- the cost of a two-year domain name registry -- they decided to create

What began as a way to keep in touch with their own friends has turned into a Webby Award-winning business (in the mobile entertainment category) that receives some 15,000 texts a day (30-50 get posted daily), according to the co-founders. It also, for now at least, has resulted in two less lawyers in the world: Leto left school to run the site, and Bator deferred his acceptance.

Advertisers include American Apparel and some made-for-TV movies. While they decline to state their yearly revenue, Bator says $1 million “is a fair estimate.”

TFLN texts are “like contemporary haiku,” says fan Cindy Gallop, former U.S. chairman of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and founder of “It’s a  riveting socio-cultural snapshot of our times. ... You see how the insights and understanding of consumer psychology that we bring to the table are more relevant than ever before. Social media is all the same, old, fundamental human truths, instincts and behavior, just with a whole new methodology -- as demonstrated by one of my favorite texts from a couple of months back: ‘So let me get this straight. You would sleep with an uncircumsized guy whose name you didn’t know, but you won’t try the new shrimp taco from Taco Bell?’”

The popularity of the Web site has made texting among its target audience -- 18- to 34-year-olds -- into something of a competitive sport.

“It’s a point of pride to make it on the site,” says Leto, who now lives in New York. Though some of the texts, she adds, “make me sick to my stomach.”

The site’s design is minimalist. Texts are identified only by area code, and are rankable. Users can comment and order T-shirts of the missives as well.

It was designed in part, to be easily digestible for people with jobs. “We wanted it to be safe for work,” says Bator, who splits his time between Detroit and Los Angeles. “There are no naked girls, no graphic images. If someone is walking by your desk, it looks like [any other] blog.”

TFLN is also now a TV comedy in development at Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison Pictures, for Fox’s fall lineup, as well as a book. The duo is represented by Erin Malone of William Morris Endeavor, who has helped other blogs translate to print form, including I Can Has Cheezburger and Stuff White People Like.

“They are the new art books,” says Leto.

The co-founders also have their first employee: Bator’s younger brother, Philip, a recent college grad, who edits submissions. And they’re busy sharing their story in college and professional lectures.

“I’m having a really good time doing this,” says Bator. “Law school will be there.”


Ryan Doyle said...

BB - No big deal man! Erin...nice article!

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