In business, access is everything. Often, the best products in the market fail. Success tends to rely on who you know far more than on what you know. Some of the world's smartest companies toil in obscurity, while better-networked competitors blossom.
The lifestyle-as-a-service mobile application Hobnob translates digital connections to IRL relationships. Ranging from friendly dinners to networking events and meetings, the app emphasizes high-quality, small group interactions with peers over large-scale meetups. "In a world increasingly appreciative of offline experiences," said co-founder and CEO Tina Fitch, "we make it effortless ... to capture events with the people you actually want to spend time with."
SEE: Taking the temperature of the SaaS market (Tech Pro Research story)
The platform launched with a consumer-facing app, and business-facing features are in development. Hobnob's backend is flexible and scales using the Heroku cloud. This reduces overhead, and allows the team focus on the app's speed and efficiency. Reducing friction, Fitch said, is the best way to encourage valuable, personal connection.
Meet-up applications and services are not new. How is Hobnob unique in the market, and what unique challenges does the app hope to solve?
We've been pioneers of the 'invisible app' model, allowing users to interact with our service seamlessly across SMS, mobile web, and native apps, without requiring guests to download the app or use social media logins.
[Hobnob] interactions feel effortless because we add a layer of technology that includes machine learning to power chat bots, and suggested designs, natural language parsing to interpret RSVP replies, and integration with phone features like calendars for reminders, maps for directions, and cameras for easy photo aggregation. When an event is complete, each 'invite' acts as an event container that houses images, personal connections, dialogue, and details.
You're no stranger to building companies. How has your previous experience with startups informed your approach to Hobnob?
I previously founded and ran Switchfly, an enterprise SaaS for the travel and loyalty industry.
Building my last company was rewarding but grueling; after growing it globally. I realized that in spite of the ever-increasing time people spend on social networks, there was no service that made it easier to be actually social. The rise of messaging as [a preferred] communication platform showed clear potential to build something stunning but simple, and powerfully smart, to connect you with the people you actually want to spend time with.
We are conceived and built in Hawaii - far from other tech hubs and a melting pot of social, economic, and cultural demographics. It's a haven for non-traditionalists and artists - so we have a unique perspective in tech and aren't afraid to forge our own path.
Let's talk tech: How is the platform built, and what are your tech priorities?
Convenience and efficiency for both host and guest is of ultimate importance, so that's what we designed for. Machine learning is [important] for more intelligent, automated chat-bot, and responses to user messages. Real-time interactivity between native apps, the mobile web, and SMS are becoming increasingly sought-after in all sectors of commerce and service.
The backend API is built in Ruby on Rails, and React with Express on the frontend. We use PostgreSQL as our primary database but we also use Redis and Memcached for special applications. We're currently running happily on Heroku, but we try to remain platform agnostic so we have options if we ever need to move in the future. That said, Heroku provides a lot of amazing features and tools that we try to leverage wherever we can.
Is lifestyle-as-a-service a real, emerging business category, or is it a trend?
I'm not sure if this is a category yet. But we do strongly believe that people are seeking greater connection with other [people] in live experiences.
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Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.