Connect, a social address book and friend finder application that launched earlier this year, has raised $10.3 million in new funding as the company prepares to expand into messaging, and also to additional international markets including China, Russia and elsewhere. The Series A round includes investment from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Fosun International, the “Berkshire Hathaway” of China, which invests in Silicon Valley through its investment arm Kinzon Capital.
According to Connect co-founder and CEO Ryan Allis, the team was impressed by Kinzon managing director Brad Bao’s experience in a similar space. Bao came to Kinzon from Tencent (WeChat’s creator), and has been studying mobile technology for a decade.
Additionally, Allis is interested in taking the Connect app to international markets including China, which is why an investment from Kinzon/Fosun made sense.
The app, for background, launched in February as an address book of sorts that lets users connect their Google address books as well as other social networks like LinkedIn, Instagram, Foursquare, and Twitter. The app can then display your nearby connections on a map, based on things like check-ins, geo-tagged posts, or more explicitly shared location data. What makes the address book smart, however, is that it lets you also receive alerts for things like when out-of-state friends are visiting town, or if local friends are hanging out nearby, for example.
Since its launch, Connect has grown to 2.5 million users, and now sees just under 1 million monthly actives, despite being limited to the iOS platform.
Now with the new funding, Connect is preparing to also launch on Android in Q1 2015, then expand via localized versions to other markets. Unlike some other apps and games, localization for Connect means more than just handling translations – other regions of the world will have different sets of social services made available to them. For instance, Chinese users may be offered the option to find their friends from WeChat, Renren, or Baidu, and while in Russia, it may integrate with Vkontakte.ru.
Another big change for Connect is that the company will also be expanding to become more of a communications platform starting next year.
“The word ‘connect’ for us literally means connecting all your contacts into one place, then having a tool – whether it be video, whether it be audio, whether it be SMS – any method of communications can and will go through Connect in the future,” Allis explains. “That’s where we’re going – into the WeChat, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger market.”
The goal is to eventually offer messaging features like video calling, he says, but admits that in terms of true interoperability with other third-party services, the app is limited by those that don’t have an open API. But wherever APIs are available, Connect will use them.
Further down the road in 2016, the company plans to introduce its revenue model. Instead of going the ad-supported route, the current plan is to have Connect make money via payments, and by bringing people together in the real-world – like by pointing friends to local events, splitting a restaurant bill with friends, or connecting to Uber from within the app.
Now a 14-person team based in San Francisco, Connect is also expanding its engineering, biz dev and executive ranks thanks to the new funding.
As a number of companies, including Facebook and LinkedIn, have been breaking apart their larger social networks into a suite of smaller applications for mobile, Connect will either succeed or fail by pursuing an entirely different philosophy.
“We think what’s best for the user is one application that combines all communications and interactions with friends,” says Allis. “That’s something nobody else has done yet.”