There are a number of services today that allow you to create and send digital invitations to birthdays, parties and other events, where the invites themselves are sent out via email, social networks, or even by postal mail if you choose. But a new application called Hobnob, launching now, is designed instead to support invite delivery entirely via SMS and MMS. This means recipients will receive the invites immediately, the company says, and organizers in return will get prompt RSVPs.
As someone who has sent and responded to my fair share of Evites and Facebook Event invites in the past, I get the appeal of this app. In fact, I hacked together just this sort of thing for myself in the past. I saved a screenshot of the paper invite I was sending out for my daughter’s birthday party, which I then texted around to friends and family. It was just easier that way.
Hobnob co-founder and CEO Tina Fitch, previously the CEO of travel commerce and loyalty platform Switchfly, found herself facing a similar situation. She says she couldn’t believe she was still receiving invitations to events via Evite emails filled with ads. Meanwhile, she noticed that Facebook Event users often failed to RSVP.
“I found myself organizing and discussing these types of events via group text, not social media or email,” explains Fitch. But that had its drawbacks, she says. “Group text is fine for chat, but is annoying for things like group events where you get random comments from people whose number you don’t recognize at all hours of the night. And it doesn’t get anyone excited about the occasion,” she adds.
That’s how she came up with the idea for an app that would let you build invites that looked great on the phone, while also supporting the conveniences of group texting without the annoyances. She then asked longtime friends Mark Quezada (co-founder of FastCustomer and CardBux) and Tiffany Quezada, whose background includes event management and fashion, to help her build Hobnob.
The Hobnob app itself is as easy to use as any other invite app. You begin by entering details about your event, including the event name, location, start time and date, and, optionally, the end time and date. You can pick one of several designer templates provided by swiping through the various previews, or you can upload your own photo or design.
There are only a handful of templates, so you may prefer to use your own photos. But more templates will arrive in time – including paid options, which is how the startup plans to generate revenue for its otherwise free service.
As a last step, you select your event recipients by pulling their contact info from your phone’s address book, enter in your own name and phone number, and your invites are sent out automatically.
The best thing about the app is that you don’t have to register for an account to use it; it asks you to confirm your mobile number, but there’s no email sign-up or social networking integration required. And even better: your guests don’t have to download the app in order to read their invite either.
Instead, they simply receive a text message which includes a photo of the invite you designed. The accompanying text explains that the host has invited them to an event, offers a link to the event’s web page, and instructs them to reply “YES” or “NO” to RSVP. (They can also RSVP from the web.)
Event hosts can also manage their RSVPs in the app and chat with their guests directly.
“We believe there is app fatigue, and more and more people want to see value from services like ours without having to always download an app from the start,” says Fitch. “We accomplish this with hybrid messaging, leveraging either SMS or push notifications depending on each user and what is most convenient for him or her.”
The startup has been running a public beta with over 1,000 testers around the U.S., and has now spread the app to nearly every U.S. state. Testers have been using the app for events that range in size from just 2 people to over 340, notes the CEO. And they’ve seen 300 percent higher guest response rates when compared to Facebook Events or Evites, she says.
The bootstrapped startup is a team of four based in Hawaii. Hobnob is currently a free download from iTunes. An Android app is in the works.