Xconomy, 2/23/2012 –
When building a technology product, a lot of people fall into the trap of larding it up with a boatload of features. Former Microsofties Bryan Trussel and Steve Miller, who co-founded the location-sharing app Glympse, know that impulse well.
When they built their first prototype, they filled it with little tricks and widgets. It could find a restaurant for two users simultaneously, prompt them to start a chat conversation while en route to a meeting, drop photos along a trail they were traveling, and even display a little radar-type screen that showed nearby friends as little blips.
Eventually, all of that stuff got tossed out. What remained was a relatively simple app that allows users to send a little GPS arrow of their travels to certain people, for a specific period of time.
Unlike the countless other smartphone location apps that try to establish new trendy social behaviors, Glympse is aimed directly at real-life scenarios: Someone running late for a meeting who needs to show colleagues where they are, partygoers trying to get directions as they drive around a darkened neighborhood, parents keeping tabs on their kids at an amusement park.
“If you don’t watch yourself, you try to impress the guy next door, your peer group. And it’s much more impressive to walk to the guy next door and say, ‘Look how technically complicated this was,’” Trussel says. “It’s not as cool to say, ‘Look, I actually threw out a bunch of code and stripped away a bunch of features and now its simple.’ It doesn’t necessarily get you your peer accolades.”
That approach can, however, help land actual users. Glympse says it has now racked up 2.5 million users as of January for its app, which is available on all the major smartphone platforms. That’s a pretty big increase since June, when Glympse announced it had crossed the 1 million-user mark, following a public debut in 2009.
“Really, we’ve added more in past few months than we did in the previous year,” Trussel says.
That growth has come with no real emphasis on marketing, Trussel says. A lot of it has been driven by what you’d call “earned media,” with features from technology news sites’ lists of top apps. Glympse also has grabbed a key thumbs-up from Google, which gave it an “Editor’s Pick” designation on the Android Market, alongside big-name app like Facebook, Angry Birds, Evernote, and Foursquare.
Sticking to simplicity and a clean user experience means passing up some opportunities for earning revenue. One of the most obvious ways to make money from a seven-figure user base on a location app would be local advertising, but that’s something Glympse has avoided so far. ”We just haven’t gone there yet. We don’t think that marketplace is robust enough and we’re not happy enough with what the user interface would look like,” Trussel says.
A more promising source of revenue might be licensing to other companies that want to offer mobile tracking. Trussel says he has detected interest from the automotive sector and consumer businesses that might have delivery or service vehicles.
That’s not happening right away, though. Glympse is still focused on building a consumer user base and adding new features that make access even simpler. Two being rolled out today for Android phones offer easier access to Glympse from appointments on a calendar, and a cool syncing option for NFC-enabled phones with Google’s “Beam” application platform (available only on phones with the newest Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android).
Rather than weighing down the app, Trussel and Miller see the new features as a streamlining step that sticks to their mission—they let people use Glympse faster. “What we’ve stayed focused on since we launched the app is not on adding more and more complication to the app. It’s actually making it easier and easier,” Trussel says.
Glympse, which is backed by venture capital firms Menlo Ventures and Ignition Partners, along with angels, recently relocated from the Seattle suburbs to the city itself, in the vibrant South Lake Union neighborhood dominated by Amazon.com and peppered with startups and incubators. The company now has 14 people on staff, and is looking for more. If the recent spike in users holds, they may be filling up that new office pretty quick.
Curt Woodward is senior editor at Xconomy Seattle. Reach me at email@example.com. Get story feeds and more on Twitter @curtwoodward and Facebook on.fb.me/curtwoodward.
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