Life360's Family Safety App Embraces The Check-In, Then Surges

For the last two and a half years we’ve been tracking the progress of Life360, a startup that looks to help you keep your family safer by offering a variety of tools, like protection against identify theft and an alert system to monitor for sex offenders in your neighborhood. It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect to go viral. Except that’s what just happened.

Recently, Life360 has been adding over 10,000 families per day — it just set a new record last week, with 72,000 family signups. In total, it is approaching 1 million registered families, 363,000 of whom were active last month. And these are families we’re talking about — the absolute number of downloads is higher.

So what’s driving the growth?

The sudden boost in press attention has helped. Life360 has recently been profiled in a number of newspapers and on CNN. And the messaging hasn’t been focused on making it sound appealing to technophiles — Hulls says that it’s middle America families that are really latching onto the service. Parents, it seems, like the notion of turning their child’s new smartphone into something that can make them safer.

The other catalyst has been a relatively minor tweak in the application’s UI. Life360’s mobile applications on Android and iPhone have offered a ‘Panic’ button for some time — if a child hits it, their parent will immediately receive a message via push notification, SMS, or email. Life360 kept that functionality, but it recently changed the name of the button to a less alarming “Check In”, and things have taken off from there.

Hulls says that parents, as you’d expect, like the peace of mind of knowing that their children are safe. But kids aren’t big fans of the Big Brother approach of constant location tracking, and the check-in system is a compromise. Parents simply tell their kids to ‘check-in’ via the Life360 app every so often — it only takes one tap, so it’s less of a hassle than sending a text message. When the child checks in the parent receives a notification with their GPS coordinates. And parents are apparently telling each other that they’re happy with the system, which is driving further growth.

The Check In feature still has some room for improvement: it doesn’t actually associate the coordinates with a nearby venue, and there isn’t a text field for the child to explain where they are (Hulls says that this increases the friction, so kids are less likely to check-in). But he says that even without this context, many parents are happy that they’re getting the digital equivalent of a thumbs up from their child. And there’s a new version being released next week that adds additional features.

Finally, there’s been one last key to the sudden surge in growth: Life360’s mobile apps are free. Previously the startup had more of a focus on its premium services (which include offering GPS-equipped hardware for keeping tabs on your children, an alert system that can monitor if sex offenders are moving to your area, and so on). Now the focus is on getting distribution with the free mobile application, with plans to upsell these premium services, and other new ones, down the line.

Life360 has raised a total of $1.5 million, and is in the process of raising another round of funding. Other services that also look to help parents keep tabs on their children include AT&T’s FamilyMap (powered by Location Labs and Whereoscope.