Update: Connect won the 2014 Launch Festival.
Since the dawn of the web, startups have been trying to help us organize our contacts more effectively.
It’s a challenge, given that our friend networks are dynamic and their contact information is dispersed across LinkedIn, Facebook, personal or work email, and a slew of other services.
A new web and mobile application, Connect, might have a better formula to help you keep track of your network. Connect’s team are debuting their free iPhone and web app this afternoon at the Launch conference in San Francisco.
I met with chief executive Ryan Allis and product lead Anima Sarah LaVoy in San Francisco’s Mission District just hours before the announcement. The app has been under development for over a year with thousands of beta testers, and today, it’s ready for the public.
Allis has poured more than $2 million of his personal funds into the app, but appeared resolute and calm. This isn’t his first rodeo. Allis started his first company iContact at the age of 18, which was acquired by Vocus for a cool $169 million nine years later. Now at 29, Allis believes he’s building on to a startup with long-term potential. In an interview, he disclosed plans to raise a round of venture funding for the company in the coming months.
Allis decided against returning to Harvard Business School in favor of focusing on the company. In 2012, he first met LaVoy, a former political community organizer, through a mutual friend. LaVoy was stewing on a similar idea idea, having spent a full day updating her Gmail account to keep up with friends she met at the University of Oxford business school.
Allis was also struggling to keep up with his network and didn’t feel the problem was solved by existing social networks or new smart address book applications like Brewster.
“I needed a map of my friends and contacts around the world that was always up to date and integrated with my phone, email, and social networks,” Allis told me.
After a few hours testing the iPhone app, I’m hooked. It’s an immensely useful addition for anyone with a sizable social network or a busy job.
Allis and LaVoy recruited several designers to the team, so Connect is visually appealing app. Signing up takes less than a minute: Download the app, and you’ll be asked to connect with your Facebook account and provide an email. To gather all your contacts, the app will prompt you to integrate your various social networks and provide one email for now (the team is currently building out the product so it can integrate more than one email).
Connect will then display a visual map with all your contacts around the world. This is a particularly useful feature if you intend to travel for work or pleasure and need a place to stay. It will also notify you — unless you specify otherwise — when a friend travels to your city.
Hit the blue circle at the bottom (the home button) of the screen to check in to your current location. You can specify the amount of time you intend to stay put so friends in the neighborhood can drop by. You can also view where your friends have most recently checked in to pay them a visit. The app doesn’t integrate GPS location data — LeVoy says that’s “creepy” — but publicizes your location if you’ve checked in recently on Connect or another integrated network.
The app is particularly useful if you change jobs. It will retain your contacts from a work email, but only those that you’ve previously interacted with. It won’t automatically save a contact from a cold email or junk mail, for instance. Allis sees potential in building a version of the app for employers but is focused on consumers for now.
Allis said he has several ideas for the revenue model but is currently working on building the best possible product. The company may release a paid version of its application for employers and/or incorporate commerce its the experience. But for now, they intend to follow WhatsApp’s lead by keeping the experience clean and ad-free.
The Android app is still under development, but the founders expect to release it in the next three months or so.