“With 15 minutes and 10 lines of code, we can transform any boring app into a socially-connected, location-aware beast.”
This was the email pitch I received from the founders of WeLink, a social backend as a service startup out of the Los Angeles incubator, StartEngine. If these guys don’t succeed as startup founders–although I’m betting they will–they might have a career as email direct marketers.
Co-founders Karthik Manimaran and Nathan Chandra have created a plug and play API that can instantly add a social component to any mobile or Web app.
Manimaran says, “A big problem at professional events is that people find it very hard to connect with those relevant to them. WeLink is a mobile and web platform that automatically links people before, during and after events, even if they don’t have the app.” His company’s vision is to help people make relevant connections.
Instead of going direct to consumer, the founders have decided to build a B2B business with an an initial focus on leveraging established event networks. Last week, WeLink landed a pretty big partnership in this space, officially inking a deal with the Cyprus-based iOS app developer AppBaker (that’s Cyprus in the Mediterranean, not Cypress, California). AppBaker happens to be the de-facto developer of event apps for the global conference series TEDx, of which there are approximately 4,000 individual events worldwide each year. AppBaker has agreed to incorporate WeLink’s social API in all applications that it develops for the conference series.
Its PR and Communications Officer Artemis Pattichi said,
“We actually attempted to build this internally, but ultimately decided that we were better off focusing on developing other modules. [Although this is the first external module we’ve used], at this point, we see this as a long term partnership. WeLink is already investing in the technology and really specializes in social. This is the best way for us to expand our offerings.”
The AppBaker partnership was the result of a trial deployment at the local USC TEDx event earlier this month which was attended by more than 1,100 people. Both wIthin the app and affiliated website, attendees of the event could a the time and continue to be able to view the full attendee list (provided by the organizers) and browse any social profiles users have uploaded to the app.
This would be extremely valuable during the countless times we all find ourselves thinking something to the effect of, “I know I met a guy from Google at that networking event. What the hell was his name?”
The app supports integration of LinkedIn, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram, Meetup, and Eventbrite. It also offers demographic charts and can provide analysis of interactions among attendees.
AppBaker forcasts that it will develop as many as 400 new TEDx apps this year, and anticipates that the first with WeLink’s social engine will be released into the market in June. Beyond the TEDx affiliation, AppBaker offers a series of app development packages to the education, cooking, hospitality, radio, and sports markets. The longer term plan is to incorporate WeLink into the standard package of each.
This further deployment will be an important milestone for WeLink as it will represent the company’s first opportunity to generate revenue from the partnership. That is because AppBaker does its TEDx work pro-bono. This is obviously an extremely valuable branding and network-building opportunity for both AppBaker and WeLink, but it does take a bit of the initial luster off the partnership.
One less prominent element of the company’s social API is its ability to create ambient or passive location enabled apps along the lines of Highlight or Sonar. These creeper-apps were all the rage leading up to SXSW, until they weren’t. As providers of the backend engine only, WeLink will be relying on its event network and app development partners to make the decisions about how and when the functionality is deployed, if it is at all.
It would be foolish to argue that that ambient location won’t be a part of our tech future, however it’s painfully obvious that everyday users aren’t entirely ready to welcome it into their lives. Developers have for the most part failed to toe the line around invasion of privacy and haven’t presented a valuable enough use case to overcome the eww-factor. Events filled with like-minted individuals which are expressly attended for networking purposes seem to be the tailor made use case.
WeLink is in discussions with investors both in LA and the Valley to complete its seed round of financing and has recently decided to locate its offices in Sunnyvale upon completing its incubation.