The guys behind Turf are now building an app to fix contact lists
When Mailbox launched, it was not the first mover, or second mover, or even eightieth mover trying to solve email, an age-old point of macro-angst in digital communications. And yet, the company managed to gather an 800,000-name waiting list the day it launched. One month later it sold to Dropbox for $100 million.
Naturally Mailbox's spectacular rise and sale got the wheels turning for many an entrepreneur. What other old, simple, boring problems have yet to find an elegant solution?
That group includes Michael Tseng, who built Turf Geography Club, an eight-bit mobile game which blended check-ins with real life turf wars. The game, which was a cult hit and Kickstarter success, never really caught mainstream success and Tseng wound it down in February.
Now, Tseng and his partner Adam Bellmore have gone in an opposite direction. They've been working on a well-designed, functional solution to a very boring problem: contacts lists.
It is called Swift. The idea is to consolidate your contacts on various social networks, devices and email servers, into one network.
Swift will serve as a directory -- users who choose will be searchable (with a "friending" requirement for others to see your info), eliminating the awkward exchange of numbers that happens when two people want to share contact information. Further, your contacts will always be there, meaning you won't need to blast out that annoying "here's my new number" email to all of your friends if you lose your phone. That doesn't happen with email contacts if you lose your computer -- why does it have to happen with phone numbers?
"It's a mundane and silly issue, but why isn't this fixed by now?" Tseng says. "I should be able to update my contact info and everyone gets it."
With Swift, he wants to build a source for the most up-to-date and reliable information on how to get in touch with someone. Swift has privacy settings so that contact info is only shared with designated contacts.
Naturally, Apple or Google could build something like this. Tseng says he watched Apple's WWDC announcements last week thinking "don't say contacts, don't say contacts." Apple did not announce any upgrades to contacts lists with iOS 7. The thinking here is that Apple or Google built a decent email apps, but Mailbox was still able to enter the market with a splash because the app's design and functionality was that much of an improvement.
Others have waded into the territory of the contacts list, too. Brewster provides a personalized address book that syncs all your contacts up. Storied Web 2.0 startup Plaxo (founded by Sean Parker and backed by $28.3 million) has gone after this market, too.
"It's not a mindblowingly new concept," Tseng says. "I just don't think anyone have executed it properly yet." He says he recently reread the Steve Jobs biography, and his takeaway this time was that Apple was brilliant for entering industries that already had a second-rate product. "We think we can build a first rate product in this space, and that's why we're going for it," he says.
Swift is still in development but will launch in the coming months. Beta signup is available here.