The social, local, mobile (or SoLoMo) revolution enabled by Smartphones, tablets, and apps has garnered a great deal of attention this year. The big question for many startups will be how to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities presented by an early stage, high growth industry without becoming a flash in the pan. As the saying goes, “pioneers take the arrows, settlers get the land.”
myRete, one of the presenting companies at last week’s Disruptathon, has already disproved the pioneer axiom. The company’s success demonstrates that first mover advantage works if you execute an effective strategy well.
Bryant Harris and Stephen Smith founded myRete in 2008 with a concept Harris had in 2007. They began looking for institutional funding the following year. “We learned a real specific lesson about pitching in tough economic times,” notes Smith, President and COO. “It became very clear the opportunity cost [for pursuing funding] in that environment was huge and that we may not be able to get funded.” As a result, they decided to bootstrap until myRete became profitable. They reached the tipping point when the subscriber base hit 4 million earlier this year.
Among other distinctions, WhosHere was the first meetup app on the iPhone.® Smith and Harris saw the parallels between an emerging distribution model for mobile apps and what occurred with search on the Web in the ’90s. They set aggressive product development goals to coincide WhosHere’s release with the launch of Apple’s® new storefront in July 2008. Smith and Harris knew the online store would aggregate demand rent-free and their app would have little competition to start. Highlighting its go to market success, WhosHere shared one of five finalist spots with Facebook® in Mashable’s Open Web Awards for social networking apps on iOS.
The company successfully followed Apple’s footprint as new storefronts went live worldwide. WhosHere is localized in 14 languages and used in over 150 countries. And although SoLoMo has become a hot category, WhosHere’s privacy controls and feature set give it a stickiness competitors haven’t cracked.
Consumers do not give up personal information in order to use WhosHere. The app has no registration process and the company does not gather user name, email address or phone number. People choose how much personal information they share within the network. In order to meet one another, people must select the same degree of openness and preferences. The freedom anonymity brings has made the app truly viral in the more culturally restrictive parts of the world.
A couple of the product’s uses really took me by surprise. Although you could use it to find a date (and many do), Smith calls WhosHere the ‘undating app.’ The app’s power comes from connecting people with like interests in a more casual way. It’s like walking into a coffee shop and striking up a conversation with the guy in line ahead of you— just to satisfy your curiosity about his personal story.
In addition, WhosHere offers the only free VoIP service on a SoLoMo app and does not use your personal phone number in the process. Combined with the ability to buy a WhosHere plane ticket to go virtually anywhere worldwide, users have the ability to practice a foreign language with native speakers or learn more about a culture from afar. The VoIP and plane features also enable service men and women who have been deployed to speak with family and friends back home.
It’s nice to see a company buck the trend and be first to market without deadly arrows. myRete’s model gives hope and confidence to those entrepreneurs who also plan to blaze their own trails.