If you want to drive app downloads, sometimes the best way to do it is to make it less of a commercial option but rather a required, public-safety one. That's the case with Ping4, which was conceived as an app for retailers to alert potential customers, but then pivoted to become an app for authorities to send out warnings and updates to the public.
Nashua, N.H.-based Ping4 announced Monday that it raised $4 million to help build out a mobile app that alerts consumers of public safety announcements. The funding came from 11 individual investors, seven of whom invested in the company's earlier round. The new funding brings the company's total round of financing to $7 million. Ping4 founder and CEO, Jim Bender, and his two other founding partners, put $1 million of their own money to start the company, back in February 2011.
Today, the Ping4 has been downloaded by some 100,000 consumers. But in the coming months, the company will be rolling out the app with a number of state and local government agencies and authorities, requiring the company to build out a platform that will be able to handle a much larger footprint of consumers.
"Ping4 created a new way of warning the public when there's an imminent crisis," said Bender, in an interview." Ping4 allows authorities to put highy-localized alerts out to the public. For instance, if there's an HazMat spill, local authorities can isolate the warning to people on the highway, or going onto the highway, Bender explained. If the alerts are being used for a missing child, the alert can be also be isolated to a particular area, say a shopping mall.
The alerts can be a combination of text or videos or pictures. Only people who have downloaded the app can see the alerts. Ping4 hopes the local authorities will encourage people to do so for their own safety. "Alerting agencies may say, 'We're having a big snowfall, go and download this app [to get updated information]," Bender said. Since Ping4's clients are the regional homeland security, and regional and state police, and sometimes municipal police, the company will be getting a number of credible outlets to push the downloads.
For consumers, Ping4 is free. But the agencies pay Ping4 a few pennies per person who chooses to receive their notifications.
Ping4 has three major campaigns it's releasing with government agencies in the coming months which Bender believes will drive awareness among consumers. The campaigns are around 1) Nuclear reactors (since more than 90% of the US population live around a nuclear reactor) 2) Amber Alerts 3) Tornadoes. In all case of Amber Alerts, Bender believes Ping4 will revolutionize the way the public is currently alerted of missing children. For an Amber Alert to go out, the authorities do a lot of investigation. So of the more than 2000 kids that are reported missing each day, only 167 turn into Amber Alerts, said Bender. "By the time a child qualifies, he's long gone and far away," he said. "This puts a tool in the police department. They can make a decision to push out an alert locally."
While Ping4 sounds like a great public service, Bender isn't a stranger to building out companies and expanding them into new kind of services. Prior to Ping4, Bender founded and started three other companies, one of which - Aware Inc - went public in 1996 and trades on the Nasdaq.
In the future, Bender expects the platform will be used for more than just alerts. He sees the platform also adopted by retailers, that may also want to reach out to consumers, but for a very different reason.
(Image source: dot6.state)