Zenly proves that location sharing isn’t dead


Image Credits:

Now that you are giving up on check-ins and sharing your location with your friends, a French startup is coming up with better technology and new use cases to make location cool again. Zenly has been quietly working on location for years, and teenagers are now getting addicted to this app. SoLoMo is back.

Zenly couldn’t be more straightforward. When you open the app, you see a giant map with your location and your friends’ location. You can tap on a friend’s picture and see exactly where they are. Or you can just aimlessly swipe through your friends and jump around the map. This is Zenly’s core feature.

When I first heard about this pitch, I wasn’t convinced by the idea. What if you could share your location with your close friends and family? This question doesn’t sound compelling at all. It sounds a lot like Apple’s Find My Friends, a bit like Foursquare, and it’s also very reminiscent of dozens of failed startups (R.I.P. Sam Altman’s Loopt, Gowalla, BrightKite, Highlight…).

And I’ve also never been a fan of constant location sharing. First, I care about my privacy. Second, background location apps kill my phone’s battery. Third, why would I even use something like this anyway?

Zenly - 4

But I gave it a serious shot and liked it a lot. Zenly is a well-designed, addictive app. I tend to open it every now and then just because it’s so different from everything out there. This isn’t another messaging app. This isn’t a social network. This isn’t a utility. It’s something that sits between all of these areas. And I keep opening the app.

And it starts with the location technology. Zenly has a rock-solid, efficient yet accurate location algorithm. The app tries to figure out the exact address of your friends. In my experience, with a few exceptions, Zenly has been accurate and displayed my friends’ home addresses for example.

At the same time, Zenly doesn’t kill your battery. I’ve been opening the app regularly, and yet it wasn’t even in the top 10 of biggest battery killers for the past 7 days — it has eaten up 3 percent of my battery.

Behind the scene, Zenly tries to save as much battery as possible. For instance, the app doesn’t track your location when nobody wants to see it. If a friend opens the app, then Zenly will request your location. But during most of the day, Zenly doesn’t do much.

And then, the app is full of little details that make it a polished experience. For instance, you can see the battery level of your friends. This could be useful if you’re wondering why someone isn’t answering your text messages, for instance.

If you want to share your location with someone for just a few hours, you can send them a link so they can track you on a map in their browser. This could be useful if your friends don’t have Zenly or you’re just trying to meet up with someone who’s selling you a bike on Craigslist.

But location sharing isn’t for everyone. I’m already comfortable with it given that I’ve been checking in on Foursquare and then Swarm for years. But many of my friends are still reluctant. You can choose to only share your current city with some of your friends. Or you can even temporarily hide your location for all of your friends or just some of them.

But even with this kind of friction when it comes to privacy, Zenly has taken off for no apparent reason. The startup has been working on building a killer product before sharing it with the world. While the app has been available in the App Store and Play Store for a year and four months, the startup has acted more or less like a stealth startup.

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.16.29 AM

Yesterday, I went to the Zenly office and looked at the metrics dashboard. Zenly is about to hit 1 million registered users. There are now around 340,000 monthly active users and around 80,000 daily active users. And these numbers are growing rapidly. Not bad for a startup that hasn’t focused on growth yet.

Who are these users? Teenagers. The app has been spreading around some high schools and middle schools like crazy. Some users add dozens of friends in just a few days. And they keep looking at what their friends have been doing, if they’re hanging out together, if there’s a party happening on Friday night. Maybe some of them have a crush on another Zenly user, while others are just bored.

That’s why the company has recently raised an $11.2 million Series A round (€10 million) with Idinvest and Xavier Niel leading the round and other investors also participating, such as Kima Ventures, Solomon Hykes, Tony Jamous, Damien Morin, Edward Bouygues, Maxime Prades, Olivier Thomas, Romain Cottard and Bastien Cadeac.

It’s clear now that Zenly has cracked the code of seamless location sharing technology. Now, there are two serious challenges ahead for the startup.

Like other social apps, Zenly needs to become as sticky as possible for existing users. If you don’t open the app every other day, you’re going to forget about it. The startup has a few ideas on this front. Second, Zenly needs to find a way to keep growing so that it becomes a must-have. Having three friends on Zenly is cool. But having twenty friends makes it much more interesting.

Now that Zenly has nailed down the core feature (location sharing), the startup can add social layers on top of it. Recently, the company added emojis, so you can ping your friends with symbols. For instance, I’ve been sending emojis to say that I’m on my way or that I’m running late. I’ve also used this feature to ping long-distance friends and say hi. And, let’s be honest, I’ve also used it as a joke to spam my friends with emojis.

More obvious, you can tap the meet button and start an itinerary in Maps, Citymapper or Uber. If your friend is not that far, you can use Zenly as a compass. It could be useful if you got lost at a music festival for example.

These are just some examples of social features that make sense when you combine them with a map. Zenly doesn’t want to become yet another messaging app, or yet another feed-based social network app.

But there’s a lot of value in knowing your friends’ locations. Compared to other consumer apps, users don’t need to be actively posting every day on the app. Sharing your location is already interesting. And it could Zenly’s most interesting trick to foster user growth.

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo