A new mobile application called Snowball, launching today, is going to give iPhone users Android envy. The app serves as a universal inbox for your many mobile messaging clients, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SMS, Snapchat, Google Hangouts and more, and appears right on your Android homescreen in a format that resembles the small, circular “Chat Heads” icons introduced by Facebook.
Snowball is also announcing a $2.3 million round of seed funding led by Bill Trenchard of First Round Capital, followed by Google Ventures’ MG Siegler, also a former TechCrunch writer.
Others participating in the round included Felicis Ventures, Lowercase Capital, Metamorphic Ventures, Golden VP, Cherubic Ventures, David Lee and other angel investors.
Going Android-First, Because Snowball Won’t Work On iPhone
Snowball’s move to launch Android-first is not surprising, given the backgrounds of its founders. Anish Acharya and Jeson Patel met at the University of Waterloo and ended up in Seattle working at Amazon and Microsoft, respectively. They later ventured off on their own and sold their first company, a mobile social games publisher SocialDeck, to Google in 2010.
While at Google, Patel founded Google Play Games (now a part of the Android team with over 100 million users), and Acharya ran mobile product for Google+. Acharya left Google for Google Ventures where he worked at an investing partner for around two years, and for the last few months, as an EIR (entrepreneur-in-residence), which he vacated in August.
Snowball, meanwhile, has been in development since May 2014.
Acharya explains that the idea for the app came to them because they realized that some of the same challenges from back in 2007 still existed today. “We have all these fragmented, siloed social experiences,” he says, referring to the plethora of mobile messaging apps out there today that now coexist alongside traditional SMS. “We have all these different representations of who we are and who we know on our phone, but no one has done anything really thoughtful to connect them,” says Acharya.
Snowball is their attempt at doing just that. The app works with the top messaging apps to start, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Google Hangouts, Twitter, LINE, WeChat, SMS, and Slack.
And what’s clever about the way it’s implemented is that it’s not working with the authentication mechanisms provided by the mobile messaging providers themselves – it’s pulling the notifications out of the Android system itself instead.
This is also why the app is launching on Android first. iOS wouldn’t allow an app to plug itself in this deeply into the OS.
After setting up an account, the Snowball icon floats on top of the Android homescreen like a “Chat Head,” showing you how many new messages you have in each messaging client. With a tap, you can then launch the selected messaging app in order to respond. The company doesn’t want to become another chat client itself, Acharya stresses. “We want to become symbiotic,” he says.
The Snowball “Chat Head” works as you may expect, if you’re familiar with the experience Facebook popularized. You can drag the icon around your screen, and even pull it to the trash to hide it until the next message arrives. However, in tests on a Nexus 5, the app’s overlay was sometimes difficult to read – but its kinks can be worked out over time.
Although the company isn’t currently working with the messaging apps it supports in Snowball, the team would like to in the future, as developing a relationship with the apps would allow Snowball to display richer, more detailed messages. And the benefit to the messaging app providers could involve increased user acquisition as Snowball could tell users through its user interface what other apps a user’s friends were now on, explains Acharya.
Going forward, the plan is to address the “long tail” of mobile messaging, expanding beyond the top apps to include a number of others as well. (Each integration only takes about an hour to set up and a day or two of testing, the company claims.)
But the bigger vision for Snowball is something the team is still keeping under wraps for the time being. Acharya will only hint at what’s ahead, saying vaguely, they’re working on another product that uses the messaging and communication layer as a platform. “You can imagine that understanding who people are across all these networks is a pretty interesting data platform, and we’ll basically use that data to build other mobile products,” he says.
Given the team’s Google ties, we had to wonder if Snowball would be a quick turnaround for the company, selling itself back to Google. But Acharya says the goal is not a “short-term financial outcome…we’re trying to realize the vision we set out years ago, and we’re finally in the position to do it.”
Snowball is a free download on Google Play.