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We might be flooded with messaging/anonymous/photosharing apps, but there’s something to be said for experimentation, and that’s the name of Complex Polygon’s game.
The San Francisco-based app studio raised a modest $1.7 million in seed funding and just released its newest app, Swipe, on iOS. Swipe is indeed a photo-based messaging app, but with some tweaks, of course.
In short, Swipe is a mash-up of Tinder, Secret, and Snapchat. You add friends to your address list, then take a photo and swipe up to send it to your network. When your friends receive the photo, they won’t know who took it, but they can swipe it left if they’re not digging it, swipe right if they’re into it, or tap on it to leave a comment for the photo-taker. If they do that, you then have the option of revealing your identity, and you can message back and forth until you tire of it and one of you swipes the photo away.
“It’s to let people share their life more without feeling like they overshare,” Complex Polygon co-founder Marwan Roushdy told me in a phone interview.
The three-person team built Swipe about two months ago, first opening it up in beta. But after seeing users’ strong engagement even with the test version, they decided to focus on it and make it their first serious project. Prior to that, the team had been working on Tag, another mobile social app. Pretty much like Snapchat but minus the ephemeral part, Tag was about private photo-sharing, as it let you share photos only with the friends tagged in it. In a way, Tag and Swipe are opposites, with Swipe enabling freer expression because of its initial and possibly permanent anonymity.
The team quickly realized the Tag idea wasn’t as effective and moved in a new direction — which led to Swipe.
What’s really interesting here is the team doesn’t see itself as “the Swipe team” — they’re Complex Polygon, an app studio. Like video game publishers that release multiple titles, Complex Polygon doesn’t necessarily want to limit itself to one app, although building “a very popular social app,” as Roushdy said, is the ultimate goal.
“Startup studios” (such as Expa, Monkey Inferno, Obvious, Science Inc., and HVF) have been around for a while, though they build entire companies that eventually gain independence. But the idea of constantly experimenting and chasing better ideas without getting too attached to a bad one is also key to Complex Polygon’s model.
“[The team is] very strong technically, and they proved they could iterate quickly … willing to try lots of things and get rid of those that weren’t working,” said SV Angel associate Abram Dawson in an email to VentureBeat when asked what made Complex Polygon an attractive investment.
Roushdy appears pretty confident about Swipe and its ability to become popular and engaging. Despite the common hurdle of having to get friends to download and set up a new app (these apps are useless unless your social circle is on them), Roushdy said they have “a pretty good guess” as to how to make Swipe viral.
He didn’t provide many details except to say that college campuses will be a huge part of Swipe’s growth strategy. That worked very well for Tinder, Snapchat, and Yik Yak, so why not, right?
But don’t hold your breath about Swipe bringing in revenue — that might never happen. Instead, Roushdy said that as a studio with multiple apps, some might lend themselves better to monetization, and their revenue can subsidize the non-lucrative ones.
Let’s cross our fingers they can build enough hits to make that work.
Complex Polygon closed its round last November, about a month after officially forming the studio. Its long list of investors includes Greylock Partners, First Round Capital, Khosla Ventures, CrunchFund, SV Angel, Lowercase Capital, AF Square, Sherpa Ventures, and several angels.
The team will use the money primarily for hiring and plans to make it last for five years, according to Roushdy.
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