Jordan Greenfield is the kind of person who has so many ideas, some of them pretty out there, that he’s hard to keep up with. The kind who calls and calls — and calls — until you finally give up and agree to hear him out.
That personality is a big reason why the 30-year-old from Dover, who has no particular expertise in technology, is now throwing parties for some of the Internet’s biggest stars. It’s all in the name of promoting a social media startup he founded to help them steer their followers to everything they’re doing online.
His company, Hoo.be (pronounced “who-bee”), creates a single landing page for the online activities of celebrities and influencers — Instagram or TikTok accounts, e-commerce stores — so followers don’t have to hop around from site to site. It’s still small, but thanks to Greenfield’s persistence, the company has landed some notable users: Tom Brady, Jeff Bezos, actor Chris Hemsworth, the DJ Diplo, the Boston Celtics, and Forever 21.
Hoo.be didn’t emerge onto the Boston tech scene in a traditional way, nor will it be based here much longer. And that says a lot about the local culture around tech, social media, and night life.
Greenfield has been fascinated with the so-called creator economy since the early days of Vine videos and YouTube influencers. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry anchored by the idea that influencers — people with lots of followers — are using social media to make money from their content, and brands want to advertise with them to reach new audiences.
He broke into the industry in his mid-20s through a series of side hustles while working for a biotech company. One time he brought 50 Cent to a New England Patriots game to introduce him to owner Robert Kraft, so they could discuss selling the musician’s line of champagne at Gillette Stadium. In another case, he invited a couple from “The Bachelor” to a Boston nightclub, hoping the owners would notice.
“I would do a lot of favors for free for people,” Greenfield said. “I was just trying to show my value.”
Eventually, always being in the mix paid off. Many of the people Greenfield met back then now use his startup’s service. Some are investors.
Hoo.be tries to solve a well-known problem on social media: Apps such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter let users add only one external link to their profile, known in the trade as a “link-in-bio.” That link can be a powerful marketing tool, but having just one can limit influencers who have multiple Internet presences that they want their followers to visit.
Hoo.be is one of several companies that offer a workaround. People simply use the address to their Hoo.be page as their main link-in-bio everywhere.
So, click on Brady’s Instagram profile and his Hoo.be link appears under his profile photo, instead of his having to choose one of his various accounts. On his Hoo.be page, a photo of the quarterback appears at the top, with icons linking to his Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook accounts, as well as more images and connections to his clothing brand, fitness company, or latest YouTube video.
“You can take the old-school approach, and every single day you can change out your link-in-bio based on what you’re driving traffic to,” Greenfield said. “Or you can create this sleek hub of your Internet identity. It’s almost like you’re creating your own Wikipedia page.”
Mae Karwowski, the founder of influencer marketing firm Obviously, said having one central landing page makes “a lot of sense” for content creators. Several startups are competing in the sector, including Linktree and Beacons.
“It might just be a link, but it actually really is a way to start a relationship with a creator,” Karwowski said of the company’s offering.
Hoo.be tries to differentiate by being invite-only. The decision, Greenfield said, isn’t about “exclusivity or trying to be cool” but rather building a product that targets a specific user base: people and brands with thousands of followers, as well as A-list celebrities.
The startup launched its link-in-bio service in January 2021. That spring, it raised $3.5 million in a deal led by Ideanomics that included several Hoo.be users, including reality show star Harry Jowsey, David Dobrik of the popular YouTube group the Vlog Squad, and Boston-based Big Night Entertainment Group.
Hoo.be has about 10 full-time employees. “If you saw my team right now, it’s the ‘Bad News Bears,’” Greenfield said. The oldest employee is 33. They’re “a bunch of hustlers,” he said, including Andrea “Dre” Ruiz, who was one of TikTok’s first employees in the United States.
How his startup was able to grow has almost nothing to do with the local tech community. Instead, Greenfield points to the city’s night life culture, mostly clubs operated by Big Night, which draws visiting DJs, influencers, and celebrities from across the country.
The company hit its stride during the COVID-19 lockdown, when creators had more time to make social media content and audiences had more time to watch.
“All my friends were launching a new podcast every day, a new YouTube video,” Greenfield said. So he built them a “better version of Linktree.” And from there, the requests from others poured in.
One challenge Hoo.be faces is how to retain some of its personalities. It’s already lost a few big names, such as DJ Steve Aoki and singer Meghan Trainor, to competitors. And it’s “pretty hard to differentiate” in the field, Karwowski said, so creators might feel less loyalty toward these types of startups.
“There’s a lot of room for these companies to do a lot more than solve the initial, simple problem,” she said.
Hoo.be’s next goal is much larger: to help creators sell merchandise, sign brand deals, and communicate with their audience.
Right now, the company is essentially giving away its product — the link-in-bio tool — for free. It doesn’t pay or otherwise incentivize the personalities to use it, nor does it make them pay for it.
Its revenue comes from selling its service to larger customers, such as the Premier Lacrosse League, which uses the service across its social accounts and for its athletes. Another revenue source, Greenfield said, is helping creators put some of their content — such as a special photo shoot or behind-the-scenes video — behind a paywall, with Hoo.be taking a transaction fee.
All these efforts, Greenfield said, are about helping creators and brands establish a “direct-to-audience” relationship with their followers and not have to rely on a middleman.
A big issue facing startups in this space, Karwowski said, is whether companies like Instagram and TikTok will end up offering a similar service. “Can you really create something that helps [content] creators become independent from the platforms?” she said.
Greenfield said he used to think Hoo.be was the “black sheep” of the Boston tech scene, but he’s recently received more interest from investors. “I think we’re being taken a lot more seriously,” he said.
But, for Boston, it appears to be too late to keep the company here.
Greenfield is moving his team to the West Coast later this year. He wants to be close to one of his investors and a quick drive or flight to Los Angeles, where the creator economy is largely based.
“There’s too much to pass up, being here,” he said.