Four start-ups building apps designed to keep your social circles small and more personal.
Not so long ago, building a start-up in the social media space meant figuring out a way to connect as many users together as possible. But a slew of new companies are taking an entirely different tack: Forget quantity; it's about quality.
They're building social apps designed for smaller, more narrowly focused groups of people, not 1,000 of your closest "friends."
Check out four start-ups (all recent graduates from Y Combinator's Winter 2012 class) that are trying to prove bigger isn't always better:
Pair received seed funding from ex-Facebook employee Dave Morin (who went on to found Path, a social sharing app designed for small networks of friends and family). He believes that Pair is the social media "bedroom" to Path's social media "home" to Facebook's social media "city." If the analogy rings true, then what happens in the bedroom, should stay in the bedroom—and that is why founders Jamie Murai, Anton Krutiansky, Oleg Kostour, Michael Petrov, and Aswinkumar Rajendiran created Pair.
Think of it as a mash-up of Facebook, DrawSomething, Skype, SMS, MMS, and Instagram designed exclusively for couples. The "touch kiss" is probably the coolest feature. When two people place their fingerprints on their respective smartphone screens at the same time, both devices with vibrate.
The app landed in the Apple App Store's top 10 list on its first day and boasts more than 50,000 registered users. The idea makes sense, especially for long-distance couples. But what happens if they break up?
Online crowdfunding application Crowdtilt aims to make it easy for small groups of people to pool their money together to reach a goal, such as raising money for a ski trip, community event, or a friend's birthday gift. Instead of one person footing the bill and struggling to get reimbursed by the rest of the group, everyone pays their share through Crowdtilt.
Starting a campaign is simple: Sign up and set the amount needed, then send/post/tweet to friends and family to start building funds and excitement around the goal. Once the goal is reached, the cards are charged, and you get the funds via direct deposit, check, or PayPal deposit. As of March, only two months post-launch, founders James Beshara and Khaled Hussein said $400,000 had come through Crowdtilt's system.
Founders Ash Rust, Garrett Johnson, and John Fallone say that user's attention spans are shortening—it's even becoming a hassle to open an email. Their solution? A group texting app. Originally founded to connect teachers with students, SendHub now aims to be a messaging service for all kinds of groups. The app allows users to subscribe to texts, making it a useful platform for, say, communication between businesses and customers, medical offices and patients, and campaigning politicians and followers.
SendHub is multi-platform and offers analytics on a mobile-optimized website so senders can understand message delivery and open rates. Groups of 50 people or fewer can use the service for free. Paid plans start at $10/month and go up to $500. SendHub is hardly the only group texting app out there, however, so differentiation could be a problem.
This iPhone app allows a group of users to upload their photos and turn them into one cohesive album to share. Founders Jan Senderek, Nicholas Bos, and Philipp Wein started the company when they were on a trip together and had no easy, seamless way to share photos with one another. One potential hurdle for Popset is the business plan—there isn't one. That didn't stop Instagram, of course, but it's unlikely another photo sharing app will find a similar level of success.
MAEGHAN OUIMET is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in Boston Magazine and Rolling Stone. She covers technology start-ups and innovations from the San Francisco bureau for Inc.com. @MaeghanO