What types of users are causing this growth? A few big partnerships are helping, including one with Teach For America and another with the Florida Department of Education, cofounders Garrett Johnson and Ash Rust tell me. But some people are using it for social purposes as well, including a group of cross-fit trainers who coordinate times to work out. And there’s a variety of folks who veer into Facebook Messaging territory by communicating with each other to keep social activities like beer crawls together.
How does the app work? You’ll need to go to the website, sign up with Facebook or Google or a new user account, then enter the information of the people you want to share with. You can do it manually, or import CSV docs from Gmail, Outlook and other email clients. You’ll also get a new local phone number (the company uses Twilio’s voice messaging platform on the backend).
Then you can start writing messages and texting them out to people. Other users can also join using a keyword you choose. So a local business could invite existing customers via uploading its CSV file of them and asking new users to text in to sign up (which is how most people are joining). You get a unique new phone number, and you’re asked to either add contacts manually or via a bulk importer.
Users who receive the texts are also sent a link to go back and rate the message or block the sender. So if a local business starts spamming too many deals, they’ll be able to get feedback quickly.
But why did the growth take off? The founder joined YC with a product in hand, but they tell me they got a bunch of design help that has made the site easier to use for people. Other cofounders with specific technical skills have also helped them with scaling their services for new waves of users. And, they also got encouraged to focus on every single user who called in. Right now, they’re sleeping shifts so they can respond to any issues 24 hours a day.
Where to next? “Email and social will be our primary focus in the short term, Rust says, but we expect voice will be an important frontier for us to develop.”
“We did a basic integration and we’re seeing over 3,000 calls a month. IM is attractive, but it’s not requested nearly as much.”
These types of messaging apps are inherently viral, but sometimes have trouble making money as a result of too much success (see: GroupMe, Beluga). SendHub provides a set of premium features instead. If you want to go above 1,000 messages a month, you’ll need to pay at least $10 a month. If you want more than three groups, larger API requests, the ability to bring your own number, phone support, or a branded profile page, you’ll need to buy more expensive options.
The team still has a couple things to work out. In testing it out, the bulk importer had some trouble uploading my contact list. And the interface has some oddities, like an error message telling you that you need to type in a ten digit telephone number, which appears as you’re typing your number in. But all in all it feels right, and the engagement numbers seem to indicate that many more users will, too.
Glancee and Highlight are the ones that I’ve used that have provided social experiences that I have found to be meaningful. But, because I live in San Francisco and I’m a tech reporter, Highlight has been much more visceral for me. Being able to see exactly where other users are in relation to me makes a big difference considering that I’m in a city of hundreds of thousands of people sandwiched in a few square miles. So does the fact that it only shows people in a few blocks radius. And so does the fact that I get pinged by it whenever anyone is near. These are crucial subtle differences that totally reshape the user experience. Specifically, Highlight has been connecting me with long-lost friends and interesting new people in the tech world, who I’ve ended up having impromptu meetings with, and Glancee hasn’t.
But that’s just my tech-bubble perspective. Glancee is doing a lot of things right, and considering that a large portion of the US population does not live in dense urban areas, this could be the app for them. If you’re in a suburb or a spread-out small city or a rural area, the miles-radius range is more appropriate, and a neighborhood map is less relevant. Also, if you don’t like aggressive notifications and you like a long battery life, you’re going to like it more than Highlight.
But there’s always this caveat: Ambient location is not just something to build a company around, it is a feature that Facebook or Foursquare or any other big company doing location could also do very easily. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them test ambient out if any of these startups get serious traction. So readers, may each of you find the ambient location app that’s right for you.