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Find your friends nearby with Kismet

Social discovery app was the winner of the People's Choice Award at Vator Splash SF

Entrepreneur interview by Steven Loeb
October 15, 2012 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2aaf

At Vator Splash SF last month, two winners were announced: one was picked by the judges, and the other won the People’s Choice Award, where members of the audience texted in their favorite presentation.

The judges' vote went to real estate website Apartment List, which was profiled by my colleague Faith Merino in her piece: "Apartment List poised to thrive on Generation Rent."

The People's Choice Winner was Kismet.

So what is Kismet?

Kismet is a social-discovery app, which allows users to see which of their friends are in the area, even if they do not have the Kismet app installed. If they do have the app installed, Kismet works passively in the background, meaning users do not have to do anything. If people do not have app, Kismet can also locate people in the area who are checked in on Facebook and Twitter.

Kismet also allows people to create events and invite people to attend. It will then allow you to see when the people you are meeting have arrived.

In an interview with Kismet co-founders Kevin Stephens and Michelle Norgan, they told me that the philosophy behind Kismet is to foster face-to-face connections between people.

For example, Stephens said, he used to travel when he worked for Google, visiting 30 to 40 countries altogether. He said he once found out later that a friend of his that he had not seen in a few years was in the same city that he was, but he had no way of knowing. With Kismet, they may have found each other and been able to meet up.

“Kismet’s goal is to connect you to people you care about in the real world,” Stephens said.

While some people may worry about privacy issues when it comes to Kismet, Stephens and Norgan have set up provisions to help take care of that. Not only does someone have to opt in to be found, by either downloaded Kismet or checking in on another social network, but they can also change the settings on the app to only be found if checking in on another network. They can also choose to only reveal their location to friends, or friends of friends. The app will also not allow you to be found if you are at home.

The social discovery space

Social discovery is a crowded space with a number of startups trying to get traction.

Glancee was a similar service to Kismet, in that it helped users discover if their Facebook friends or Facebook people with similar interests were nearby. Glancee was one of the semi-finalists at Vator Splash Sept. 2011 before it was picked up by Facebook in May.

Another startup in the same space is Nextdoor, which acts as a social network for neighborhoods, so that people who connect with people who live near them. The service launched in October 2011, and raised $18.6 million from Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures, Greylock Partners, Shasta Ventures and Allen & Company Pinnacle Ventures in July. It currently has over 3,600 neighborhoods in 48 states.

Location services can also be used for apps designed to help people find dates. For example, one of the judges noted during Vator Splash that Grindr could be a competitor. Grindr is a social discovery app geared toward gaybisexual, and bi-curious men. 

There are other location services, such as Sonar and Banjo, which offer a similar service to Kismet, allowing people to find each other across social networks.

What makes Kismet different from services like Sonar, Banjo and Grindr is who it is trying to connect people to.

"I don't know as I'd consider Sonar and Banjo necessarily in our space, since they're mostly focusing on connecting you with strangers," Stephens said.

And Kismet definitely is not a dating app.

"Kismet has a unique feature that none of these other apps have on mobile, which is the ability to easily invite a group of friends to an event, such as a Happy Hour or BBQ, for example. The user's invite is delivered seamlessly to their friends, whether or not they are users of the app."

When it comes to location services on the larger social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, the different is that those site have features that are built around a website or an app, Norgan said. 

They were not built to be location centric, as Kismet was, Stephens said. A site like Facebook is less about where you are, and more about what you’re doing.

On top of that, people are already wary about Facebook knowing too much about them. For it to all of the sudden tell people that it will know where they are at all times, “it’s a tough sell.”

Kismet, on the other hand, is built around that, which Stephen says makes it a lot less creepy, and more comforting to users, since the app is upfront about what it does.

“When you have 800 million users, you can’t just one day turn on location,” he said. “You have to tell people about it from day one.”

What also sets Kismet apart is it’s ultimate goal.

For other social media networks, their goal is to keep you logged on; once you go off their sites, they lose monetization, says Norgan. Kismet, on the other hand, is meant to drive people together, and off their phones.

Kismet will make its money by offering users targeted offers to come to certain venues. While it does not yet have any partnerships with any advertising companies, Stephens says that Kismet has been approached, and that it does have a deal made with a ticket company, the details which have not been revealed yet.

“We want to make it good for both the advertiser, and good for the user,” said Stephens, who also said that the company is more worried about building a good product at this point, rather than making money.

Kismet is currently only available on iOS. While Stephens would not disclose the number of times the app has been downloaded so far, he did say that it is growing fast.

Palto Alto, California-based Kismet was founded in February 2011 as part of AngelPad's winter 2011 class. It launched at the SXSW Festival in March of this year.

The history of Kismet

The company has raised a total of $1 million in seed funding from a host of investors, including Triple Point Ventures, NEA and a number of angels investors, including Shiva Rajaraman, head of consumer at YouTube, Stephanie Hannon, an early product manager at Gmail, Ben Narasin and Roham Gharegozlou

Rohini Chakravarthy, a partner at NEA, told VatorNews that the reason the firm invested in Kismet was that it fills a hole in the market and solves a real world problem that everyone faces.

"This may not be apparent at first, but the app has some exciting technology on the cutting edge of location services. Two years ago, it wasn't possible to be nearly always on without huge battery drain – Kismet’s technology overcomes this in a unique way," she said.

"Geo-local targeting has some of the best monetization potential of consumer facing apps. With the use case proven, this will be a tremendous opportunity for Kismet."

Thomas Korte of AngelPad told Vator that what really drew him to Kismet at first was the team, as he had known them when they worked at Google. But what really sets Kismet apart from earlier location based services, that Korte says didn't succeed, such as Glancee, is that Kismet put the service to real use.

"It's the first app where amblient location is used to enhance what people are doing," Korte said.

As for Kismet's business model, Korte said that would not matter unless the app was successful and had millions of users. If it does get to that point, though, he said "the potential for business is phenominal."

"There is nothing more monetizable than knowing where people are."

Winning at Vator Splash

Now that the app won the People’s Choice Award at Vator Splash, the founders say that are already seeing the benefits.

Calling the award, “great market validation,” Stephens told me that he was able to make numerous connections and meet potential partners at the event. On top of that, the publicity from winning the award has also helped spur addition user growth.

But what he most appreciated was the feedback he got from the judges during his presentation, which he has already used to improve his messaging.

For example, the judges told him that it seemed that Kismet was entering into a crowded market, and Kismet has now adjusted to talk more about the significant hole in the market that it fills, namely creating more personal interactions between people.

Stephens is currently the CEO of Kismet, while Norgan serves as CPO.

Stephens is a former employee of YouTube, Apple and Boxee. He also spent time at Google, where was a member of the mobile team, and a key emmeber of the AdSense team. He worked across Engineering, Product, and Business Development to help build Google's mobile presence in Asia Pacific and Latin America. At Boxee he headed the company’s Device Partnerships and architected the company’s distribution strategy.

Norgan was a founding member of a social startup where she designed and launched the company's Consumer Mobile and Web products. She presented Kismet during the AngelPad W2011 Demo Day to investors, and launched the company onstage at the 2012 Women 2.0 PITCH competition.

You can watch Kismet's presentation at Vator Splash below, and can you follow it on Kismet Vator here

(Image source: http://getkismet.com/beta)


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