With $1.5M In Funding, Knotch Lets Opinionated People Show Their True Colors

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Created by a pair of self-avowed data nerds, Knotch is a discovery platform for opinions and ideas. The iOS app, which recently raised $1.5 million in seed funding, lets you ask for thoughts on any topic from people outside your social graph. The most notable (and addictive) feature is an 11-color “feeling thermometer” that enables users to quickly add more nuance to their viewpoints.

Knotch, which Techcrunch first reviewed when it launched in December 2012, announced last week that it raised a seed round from investors led by Bebo founders Michael and Xochi Birch with participation from Avadis Tevanian, a former Chief Software Technology Officer, Lars Rasmussen, a former Facebook engineer and co-founder of Google Maps, Greylock and Lightspeed.

The app currently has several things working in its favor. Its highly engaged user base and social discovery features means you can get reactions to your own “Knotches” without having to spend time building up a following, like you would on Twitter. It’s easy to find other people who think like you (or hold contrary ideas). Over the past few days, I’ve used Knotch and its feeling thermometer to have conversations on topics ranging from my hatred (dark blue) of the movie “V For Vendetta” to my disinterest (light yellow) in Hello Kitty and passion (bright red) for Albert Camus’ writing.

Knotch is similar to AskReddit, Quora and Ask.fm in that they are all platforms that let you collect opinions from strangers. Anda Gansca, the founder and CEO of Knotch, also identifies social polling apps like Thumb or Polar as potential competitors.

In my opinion, the difference between Knotch and other platforms is that its easier to use than AskReddit or Quora, but feels much more inviting than Ask.fm, Thumb or Polar. Gansca says Knotch seeks to differentiate by creating a space that lets people feel comfortable even when sharing unpopular opinions.

The app requires people to sign in with their Twitter or Facebook accounts, and though its thermometer might seem like a design gimmick (Gansca tells me some people assume Knotch is a fashion app because of the colors), it facilitates constructive debates by helping people avoid the misunderstandings that often come with sharing opinions online. Currently, the most polarizing topics on Knotch are the legalization of gay marriage, whether or not college education should be free and taxes on junk food. “Knotchers” already know how strongly someone feels about a topic, which I think helps prevent debates from devolving into tedious arguments about semantics or each other’s stupidity level, as they often do on the Internet. You can also filter responses on a topic or individual profile by color.

Turning Knotch Into A Habit

Gansca says Knotch’s founding team, which also includes chief technology officer Stephanie Volftsun, wants to turn the app into a habit for users by making it an easy way to be heard and acknowledged.

“The first and foremost thing to building a habit is creating an incredibly fun, low-cognitive cost yet meaningful action,” says Gansca. “The low-cognitive cost part is definitely the most important. We all have huge issues in expressing how we feel, especially men.”

67% of Knotch’s users are males (most between 18 to 35 years old) and Gansca believes that they may enjoy using Knotch because men are often discouraged from talking about their emotions.

“Without even realizing it, you are expressing a complex sentiment. Many people just do color Knotching without writing anything and in the time it takes you to add a tweet, you can Knotch up to seven things,” she says.

The app remained in beta for six months before its public launch while Gansca and Volftsun brainstormed a tool that could capture a relatively wide range of sentiment on a topic. Their goal was to make “knotching” an online social gesture as easy and well-known as pinning, tweeting and likes. Stars, emoticons and a fill-in-the-blank sentences were considered before Gansca and Volftsun decided on Knotch’s sentiment thermometer.

Knotch is currently not disclosing exact user numbers, but that figure is in the “tens of thousands.” Gansca says the startup’s priority has been to focus on gradual, organic growth to build an engaged community. Knotch claims that its users spend seven more times per month on the app as they do on Pinterest or Twitter, and twice as much time as they do on Facebook. Half of its users actively create content, including new topics, compared to the reported 1% of Twitter users who create 20% of tweets.

The most engaged users are men between the ages of 18 to 24, followed by women between 18 and 24. The third most active group are men between 24 and 35. Gansca says one of Knotch’s priorities is to encourage a diversity of opinions by gaining traction throughout the U.S. and avoiding bubbles of early adopters in San Francisco (where the startup is based) and New York City.

I enjoy using Knotch because many of its most active users are very opinionated, but also friendly and witty. Its community is still small, however, and one of the challenges Knotch faces as its scales up is ensuring that its users remain just as engaged and welcoming as they are now. One of the top topics on Knotch is the app itself, and many people have also asked for features to ensure that topics stick to the Knotch format of asking people how they feel, instead of open-ended questions like “What’s your favorite book?” (which are also less useful for data collection).

Collecting A Treasure Trove Of Data

Once Knotch’s founders figure how to successfully scale up the app, they have the potential to collect loads of data that will be valuable to marketers, journalists and other industries that need to gauge sentiment on a specific topic.

Gansca says she is “passionate about pushing out infographics,” which Knotch started publishing last month. Early projects have included making a chart about last week’s Twitter IPO and sending it to media outlets. Data from Knotch’s users is also potentially valuable for targeted ad networks, though the app won’t display ads.

“We really see Knotch as a mobile remote control for how the Internet caters to you,” says Gansca. “It’s a bit far-fetched right now, but imagine if you are Knotching about Nike. If you say you don’t like Nike and give it a half-blue color, then Nike could tune in and know not to target you with ads.”

Another potential use for Knotch’s aggregated data is real-time infographics. For example, next time Miley Cyrus makes a spectacle of herself during a live MTV broadcast or there is an election, Knotch can instantly push out charts based on its users’ opinions to CNN and other TV networks.

The next big developments for the startup include Knotch on the web, which will include a bookmarklet like the Pin It button for Pinterest to encourage people to Knotch about YouTube videos, articles and other online content.

The second version of the Knotch app, which is tentatively scheduled to launch in the next few months, will include more social discovery features and private chats, since many people now use the app’s comment sections to have conversations. Some of the most passionate Knotchers have even moved to Google Hangouts or added each other on Facebook, Gansca adds, so private chats will encourage them to stay within the app.

“It will be a lot more people focused and help you find like-minded people instead of just serendipitously discovering them,” she says. “We capture all this data and we can use it to help you get to know people you will like.”