Stealth startup Hyphen-8 has been beta testing their new mobile social network called Lime Juice in San Francisco since October.
Using your phone to create or enhance real world interactions is a killer application, but no one has cracked the nut yet. The reason is that the network is useless until it achieves a critical mass of users who are online and using the application via their mobile phone. If no one else is online, there’s little point in you being online, either. And presence detection is another (technical) problem. Even if people have joined the network, how do you know when they are near you?
But once it does happen, look out. You could be in a bar and see who’s single, who thinks you’re cute, who wants to talk to you, etc. (if they choose to share that information). Forget meeting via an online dating site and then organizing an awkward in person meeting that usually falls flat. Instead, you can do the online an real world thing simultaneously.
We’ve kept an eye on the new startups launching in this space. Check out Rummble, Mig33, ZYB, Mocospace, Aka-Aki, Nokia Sensor, Dodgeball, Mobiluck, MeetMoi and Imity, just to get warmed up. But none of them yet have critical mass (Mig33, however, is turning into a very large cheap VOIP provider on the side).
LimeJuice now joins the group with a unique product. Users can actually join on the fly, via SMS. And the company is sponsoring party after party at bars and clubs in San Francisco to get users to try out the product with lots of others at the same time. The test results are encouraging – people are using it. A lot.
How It Works
The goal is to allow people in a bar or other social gathering to learn a little about the people around them, and flirt via the mobile network as a way to break the ice. The details are what makes LimeJuice interesting. It’s dead simple to join and use.
First, users can register for the service via SMS. That means if just one person in a bar is a member or even knows about the service, they can tell others and quickly get a core group to join. When you create an account, you tell it something distinctive about yourself (tall blonde, red dress!) so that people searching will be able to quickly know who you are. When you go to another event later on, you simple update the description for the evening).
Second, all of the key interaction (for now) happens via SMS. So every phone is ready to go. No need to download a java app or even go to a web page. Just send a text message to the service along with the identifier of the person you want to talk to (which you can get via search), and the message is sent to them.
Third, even though people are using the service to send text messages back and forth, phone numbers are not exchanged. LimeJuice sits in the middle, and you can block someone easily.
LimeJuice has seen a good level of participation at the handful of events they’ve sponsored. An average of 40-50 people participate per event. They spend about 1.5 hours each using the service over the course of the evening and average ten text messages sent per person (some people send as many as 180 text messages). At one event, over 2,500 messages were sent to the service from participants.
For now the company will continue to sponsor events in San Francisco, hopefully building up a core user base that will begin to spread out and get others to join. If/when they get a lot of people in San Francisco to use the service, they’ll then expand to other cities.
The company, founded by Tobin Van Pelt and John Garrett, is based in San Francisco and has four employees. They’ve self funded to date with $100,000 and are currently pitching for a Series A round of funding.