LinkedIn just got more location-aware and it has nothing to do with Jeff Weiner, Reid Hoffman, or anyone else associated with the Mountain View company. A Los Angeles-based startup released its “instant business networking” app Here on Biz today to the iOS App Store.
The app adds location awareness and chat functionality to LinkedIn with the goal of better connecting business professionals for offline interactions. The most obvious use cases are business travel and conferences or other professional networking events.
Unlike some of the most talked about ambient location apps, such as Highlight, Glancee, or Sonar, Here on Biz is staying away from providing pinpoint location. Instead, it allows users to see where others are located by general neighborhood.
When users are on the go, they can check into events, airports, or other destinations away from their home city. The app allows users to publish these checkins directly to LinkedIn, potentially increasing serendipity. Unfortunately, it does this by default and requires users to opt out under settings.
Based on these checkins, searches for surrounding professionals are batched into three categories: local professionals, visiting professionals, and event attendees. Results are filtered according to who’s nearby that is already a connection and also who is not yet a connection but is in a similar industry or has a similar title.
With the inclusion of the chat feature, this online discovery and the subsequent interactions can quickly lead to offline meetings. This just happens to be how Here on Biz co-founder Nick Smoot and I first connected and arranged to speak by phone. In a nod to the privacy conscious, chats first require the users to connect their profiles, providing a sort of “double opt-in.”
As the name conveys, this app is all business. Smoot says, “I traveled to 40 states last year on business and wasted entirely too much time not connecting with the influential people around me. Unfortunately, LinkedIn is cumbersome for this and the thought of using dating or social apps to meet other professionals was just awkward.”
For the same reason, the company has no plans to incorporate other less professionally focused networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Smoot says, “Many professionals don’t want their work relationships mixing with their personal lives, which happens all the time on social networks.”
There are a few features which could make this app a true powerhouse. First, it’s unfortunate that connections made within Here on Biz do not translate to LinkedIn connections. It may be too much for this to be automatic, but having the option would certainly be beneficial. Second, I could imagine a historical timeline of those with whom the user has crossed paths. I have hundreds of LinkedIn and address book contacts whom I have no recollection of where I met or last saw them.
Additionally, because the the value of the app is based on network effects, the extent of its distribution and usage is currently limited by iPhone penetration (not the worst limitation). Smoot indicates that additional platforms will follow in the future, led predictably by Android.
The app is free to use at this point. The company is exploring partnerships with conventions and expos to co-brand an app for use by attendees. Also, the “Indulge” tab within the app will offer monetization opportunities by providing both local and traveling professionals offers from local restaurants, bars, hotels, and transportation services.
In more targeted cases, Smoot says Here on Biz may even co-brand the entire app for a period of time on a personalized basis. This means that users in the jewelry business or who talk about watches frequently for example may hypothetically see the app as “Presented by Rolex.”
LinkedIn has been recognized recently both for its increasingly acquisitive nature and for its improved mobile design. With the acquisitions of Slideshare, Rapportive, CardMunch, and for a moment last week potentially Monster, it’s feasible that a solution like Here on Biz could quickly end up on its radar.
The founders of the startup are already in contact with the LinkedIn mobile team and are making no secret of their desire to one day be a part of the LinkedIn portfolio. Smoot and his co-founder Allen Hartwig sold their previous mobile technology startup in less than eight months, so they know the game. That said, they’re not in a hurry to flip this one.
LinkedIn has more than 160 million users with a genuine need to make more and increasingly relevant connections in a mobile world. There’s a genuine market need, meaning that someone is eventually going to win. While prior entrants have erred on the side of excessive sharing and minimal privacy, Here on Biz seems to have struck a good balance.
The company raised a small but undisclosed amount to this point from a long time friend and mentor. With the product launched, they are now beginning to explore raising a larger seed round in the neighborhood of $1.2 million.