Technology and the Internet has brought the world closer. From ‘Six degrees of separation’- the premise that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else in the world by a chain of no more than six acquaintances- researchers estimate that we are now down to three-and-a-half degrees of separation, largely because of the popularity of social media.
So, statistically, every third person we meet and mingle with could be connected to us in some way. In this fast-paced world, making the right connections at the right time could potentially help us both personally and professionally.
Looking to leverage this trend is Whereabout, which has positioned itself as a ‘friends of friends finder’ mobile app. The app provides users with a way to network with nearby second and third-degree connections without sharing any private information such as personal photos or phone numbers.
Whereabout lets you discover, filter and reach out to trustworthy friends of friends around you by ‘virtually knocking’ on their doors (through the app). After checking out your profile, the potential contact has the option to ignore or accept your ‘knock’. If he or she chooses the latter, a chat opens up and users can directly start interacting with each other.
Whereabout wishes to eliminate intrusive and annoying friend requests prevalent on most social networking platforms and provide a safer and more convenient way of connecting with a user’s extended network.
Wherabout was founded in early 2016 by Harsh Snehanshu and Ashish Singh, both graduates from IIT Delhi and hostel neighbours. After his graduation, Harsh tried his hand at starting up with Witcraft (thewittyshit.com). But after the venture failed to take off and he spent the next two years as a full-time writer publishing books with Random House India and features in newspapers and magazines like The Caravan, The Hindu, Forbes and Tehelka and also travelled across India on a shoestring budget.
Harsh then worked on two more ideas- an apartment reviewing portal Flatabout, and a friends of friends hyperlocal rewards platform- MyFootprint. While those apps achieved mild levels of success, Harsh realised that it would be difficult to scale them.
Harsh recalled how he had leveraged his second-degree connections during his budget pan-India trip to find accommodation every night. He said,
Constantly adding people we don’t know on social networks decreases the quality of relevant content on our newsfeed. But at the same time there is a need to leverage second and third degree contacts because of the usefulness. Business networking, negotiations and sales work largely because of second-degree connections.
So, based on these insights, Harsh along with his friend Ashish, who was earlier the first employee at Zopper, decided to start a new venture to leverage this trend.
Currently the CTO at Whereabout, Ashish honed his skills by building the entire backend of Zopper from scratch and also mastering Python and leading a team of 20+ engineers for four years. After working part-time on the startup for many months, Ashish joined Harsh in Delhi in February 2016 to incubate Whereabout at Ashoka University, where Harsh is an alumnus (Young India Fellowship).
After developing Whereabout in three weeks and launching it almost a month ago, the duo has been constantly collecting feedback and adding more features to enhance the app further. Harsh added that they are currently in talks with a few angel investors and aim to close a funding round soon. They plan to utilise the funds to launch an iOS version and add more filters and features into their app.
Currently free to download and use, Harsh added that they plan to go ahead with a freemium model and will start charging users for ‘knocks’ once they achieve a certain user base. On the other side they also plan to monetise with featured profiles for individuals and businesses and ‘public broadcast’ and other premium features.
With about 3,400 installs so far, Harsh claims that over 30,000 messages have been exchanged with 4,820 knocks and 1,600 connections made on their platform. Harsh and Ashish’s long-term aim is to further bridge the gap between people and bring down the degree of separation from three-and-a-half to two.
While we utilise location data from our smartphones on a regular basis to book cabs, and get food delivered, the same isn't being leveraged currently to interact with friends and acquaintances nearby.
In mid 2014, Facebook launched an optional feature ‘Nearby Friends’ to help users share their own location data, keep track of friends in their vicinity and meet up with them. Facebook restricts this feature to only the user’s immediate circle of friends. This feature hasn’t seen widespread adoption yet.
Then there is Friendstonight, which lets you and your friends pick out an activity and swipe to find out if anyone in the vicinity wants to join your group. Sqaud.co which is in beta, is also trying out something similar.
Whereabout has a simple but sleek design and layout. With just three main tabs, the features of the app are fairly straightforward and makes updating one’s profile and discovering nearby friends of friends easy.
The search and discoverability settings are quite comprehensive and users can choose to hide their age, decide if they want only friends of friends to knock, or also keep it open for strangers (third-degree connection). The ‘knock’ feature is an interesting engagement tool that simulated the real-world act of knocking on someone’s door to grab their attention. With 100 knocks per day for friends and only five knocks for friends of friends nearby, Whereabout seems to have cracked the social aspect of their app.
Currently, the search feature allows users to search only based on names. Adding more filters and allowing users to search based on alma mater, current location, interests etc., would add to the usefulness. Harsh added that they were already working on some of these features for the next update.
Whereabout lets users set their home location only once at the time of sign up. Including a premium feature that lets users to set multiple ‘home locations’ could appeal to people who have multiple homes in different cities. While the ‘knock’ feature is interesting, adding a few variations of it like- ‘Bangs on door’, ‘Throws stone at window’ etc., could add more context, urgency and flavour to the app.
Whereabout provides an interesting value proposition and does what it says without bombarding the user with excessive or unnecessary features that add no value. With multiple revenue models in the pipeline and a growing user base, it will be interesting to see how this hustler duo scale it up further and what features they add in future iterations.
With an experienced team that has tasted both success and failures, Whereabout is the amalgamation of all their learnings. Having a strong MVP already in place, Harsh and Ashish will need to now crack the product-market fit in the coming months and also wait patiently to interact with users and investors who may come ‘knocking’ on their doors in the virtual and real world.
Download the app here
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