Lauren Leto is a writer and co-founder of Texts From Last Night.
Raised near Detroit, Michigan, Leto lacked a clear direction in life. She aspired to be a writer but was pressured by her parents to either be a doctor or lawyer. Graduating Michigan State University with a 2.2 GPA, Leto barely scraped into the university’s graduate law school.
However, an idea she had with a college friend would send her career trajectory in a wholly new direction. She and friend Ben Vader had the idea of posting crazy drunken texts that they received from their friends online. Thus, Texts From Last Night was born.
Eventually, Texts From Last Night blew up, and Leto dropped out of law school to focus on the website full-time.
Leto now lives in Brooklyn managing Texts From Last Night and recently fulfilled her aspiration of writing a book. In 2012, she authored Judging a Book by Its Lover, a cynical guide to literature and book culture. Leto claims to be perpetually working on her first novel.
Oh, uh, area code 720: “Just lost my virginity while listening to Rick Astley. Torn between horror and jubilation.”
My name is Lauren Leto. I’m a writer and the co-founder of “Texts from Last Night”.
When I was trying to decide where I wanted to go to college, well, I knew far and above anything that I wanted to go to either NYU or UCLA. Ummm, I didn’t get into UCLA, that was very sad, but I did get into NYU. And you know, I went to my parents and they were just like, “Absolutely not. We won’t pay for it. We can’t pay for it. And taking out loans is a big pain in the ass—you don’t wanna do that. So, I ended up at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI—not the most urban place on earth. But I had the best time ever and I don’t regret it.
What I mean by the best time ever at Michigan State University is I partied a lot. I graduated with a 2.2, I actually didn’t graduate the first time I was supposed to graduate. I walked across and then I got a letter a week later that said, you know, ‘Lauren Leto, you have not graduated from Michigan State University. You’ve got a 0.0 in your math class’, So then I went to the law school that I was about to enter in the fall and said ‘Oh my god, I’m actually not a college graduate!’ and they said, ‘That’s ok, take the summer class, pass that, and you’ll be able to enroll. Everything’s normal, totally fine.’ So I took the summer class and I failed it again. And they’re like, ‘You know what, it’s ok it’s ok. You can actually enter in law school but you have to do your Pre-Calculus class still.’ And I did it during my first semester at law school and I failed it again, hahaha. So what happened was the next summer, Texts From Last Night had taken off and I knew that I wouldn’t be going back to law school. I mean everyday I’d be like taking phone calls from our new agents or manager stuff and all the crazy Texts From Last Night stuff that was going on at the time in the hallway of the classroom where I was taking my pre-calculus class and I finally passed it with a C! So, yayyyy! So that’s the story of how I’m a college graduate, ha.
Uh, I guess I’ve always been able to tune out my failures. And I like never let the fact that I don’t know how to do math keep me from a career in technology. So, yeah I can’t do math at all. But I also oversee development teams of like 5, you know hopefully someday teams of 10, 20, 100 people.
I figured out I didn’t really need to do what my parents wanted me to do when I started making enough money that I could support myself, that’s when I could kinda be like, “yeahhh!!” and go do my own thing. That’s terrible, that’s terrible to say. I love my parents. They’re wonderful parents. But they just don’t see tech as a viable career still. they hated that. I mean, Text From Last Night, I go home and my dad still tells me I should go back to school and become a teacher. I don’t know, that’s like his new thing.
The crazy thing about Texts From Last Night, we started it and we had no idea, like no idea what we were doing. we were getting emails from agents, books…I didn’t even know what going viral meant and we were in the middle of it.
This is why texts from last night was successful. We took something that we really wanted. We thought it was just the funniest thing and we didn’t think a lot about it. We were just like, this is something that we want. And it came from like so far deep within us and it was so obvious that it just appealed to so many people. And I try to follow that now when I work on any new product I just say, ‘let’s keep it simple. What is the thing that we really really want? Don’t try to make something that people are going to teach themselves how to want.’ I mean, I could never work on a productivity app because I just think people aren’t productive in their own lives. I’m only good at creating products that are time-wasters. Because I like to waste time.
Now that I’ve gotten so far, that I’ve gotten so many opportunities and it’s been so amazing, I just want more. I wanna really succeed. Texts From Last Night was such a fluke. We haven’t proven anything yet. And I wanna get there and I wanna prove things to people. I wanna be CEO of a big company. I wanna really make something that matters to people more than just a time-waster, even though I love time-wasters.
Um, I don’t think anyone ever expected the Texts From Last Night girl to go off and then write a book about literature. But that’s who I am. I drink as much as I read, I don’t know. That works for me. Yeah, people’s reactions when they found out I was writing a book about literature were pretty much just like, wait, what? You read? Wow, I didn’t know that…ha, not very enthusiastic.
What keeps me up at night is mostly wondering if my downstairs neighbours can hear me have sex. Is that okay?
If I could speak to my high school self, I would tell her to be less boy crazy and take computer-programming classes and to pay attention in math class.
I’m still in my twenties, but three words to describe them so far would be hard, confusing and drunk.
Something that someone would be surprised by in my twenties…how lonely it’s been at times.
It’s been hard being a woman, being in tech, being only 26. I handle it by calling people out on their shit and walking away from them. I mean, I just don’t deal with anyone who views me as inferior just because I’m young or a woman. It happens, but you don’t have to surround yourself with it. There are plenty of great people.
Cinematography: A Mert. Erdem, Danielle Calodney
Edited by: Danielle Calodney
Interviewed by Laura Lehmann
Produced by: Laura Lehmann