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Pandora Competitor Senzari Rebrands Its Music Service “Wahwah,” Goes Mobile-First With New Personalized Radio App

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Senzari, the Miami-based Pandora competitor backed by $3 million in funding from 500 Startups and other angels, is making good on its recent acquisition of  the Berlin-based streaming music app Wahwah.fm. The company is now spinning off its music efforts as a mobile-first streaming radio application, rebranded as just Wahwah. In the meantime, the Senzari web-based streaming service is being temporarily shut down, as the product is rebuilt.

According to Senzari COO Demian Bellumio, the company realized that its “AMP3” recommendation engine technology now has the potential to grow beyond just music. Because of that, the team has decided to rebrand its music product Wahwah, while Senzari itself will remain the brand behind its future efforts in other areas. “Senzari will stay as more of a big data company,” Bellumio explains. “It gives us the flexibility to start creating other products that will cater to other verticals,” he says.  The company is already testing its recommendation engine on movies internally, for instance, but has yet to decide how what the final product will be, or whether it will be a B2B or B2C effort.

screen-1In the meantime, the focus at present is on the new mobile-only Wahwah application, arriving first on iPhone, followed by iPad, Android, web and even Firefox OS. Although the Senzari website is going away for now, it will relaunch in 2 or 3 months,  after the company has a chance to learn more about user behavior on mobile.

For background, Senzari had acquired Wahwah (then Wahwah.fm, now Wahwah.co) in October 2012 in an undisclosed, all-stock deal, which included both the technology and local broadcast licenses. But most importantly, Senzari wanted to hire Wahwah founder Philipp Eibach to lead its new mobile development team out of Berlin, now three people and growing. This international approach makes sense for the startup, which is competing with Pandora not just through technology, but also by focusing on markets outside the U.S. Its biggest market currently is Brazil, for example, and it has also launched in Spain, in addition to the U.S.

The company has 300,000 registered users for its online service, 30 to 40 percent who log in monthly. However, as the service moves to mobile, those numbers will likely drop at first, as not everyone will have an iPhone to use Wahwah’s first app. As noted above, Wahwah will eventually become cross-platform again, but it will be a different product that the one it had first debuted.

screen-2Key to the new experience on mobile, is this idea of broadcast radio stations – something which Wahwah.fm had previously offered, too. With the original application, users could find nearby playlists, follow local stations, post messages – it was something of a “Foursquare for sound,” as TechCrunch once dubbed it. The new app has been redesigned from the ground-up, and now offers users the ability to create personalized radio stations from Senzari’s catalog of over 15 million tracks (up from 10 million last year).

The app is not just about finding you music based on your interests, but based on your activity at the time you’re listening. For example, you can pick music to listen to while you’re working, or driving, or running, and over time, the service’s recommendation engine improves in order to best match up your music with your interests.

Though you can listen to your personalized stations on your own, the most unusual thing about the Wahwah app is its “co-listening” option. Users can browse through others’ shared radio stations, filtering by those trending, those nearby, featured radios, those from their friends, and by activity (e.g., driving, cooking, partying, studying, relaxing, etc.).

The idea to let users find music by activity is something which competitor 8tracks offers, too, but Wahwah’s approach is different in that you’re listening to a shared broadcast in real-time – there’s no “pause” button. Users can also share their feelings about a song while listening, going beyond a thumbs up or thumbs down with options to love, hate, like, or even mark songs as “classic,” “great memories!”, and more.

Wahwah’s app is queued up for Apple App Store approval, expected to go live in time for this year’s SXSW (March 8). In the meantime, up to 500 TechCrunch readers can test the beta build at ww.co/techcrunch (yes, just the two w’s!). A Facebook account is required. The app was sometimes buggy in my tests, but I have a jailbroken iPhone, so your mileage may vary. But do be aware that you’re looking at an early build here. If you want a stable option, wait for the App Store release.