Echoer is a new iOS mobile app (free) that launches today in Canada. The app will be available in the US, Europe and elsewhere later this year.
The company behind Echoer started about a year ago by Daniel Cowen (CEO) and Davin Sufer (CTO). (We interviewed Davin about his job at WowWee back in October 2010.) Daniel’s already got one app under his belt (Last Night Never Happened), although his background is in international law. Davin is the tech guy behind Echoer, and is also the CTO at WowWee. They worked together on Last Night Never Happened as well.
Here’s Daniel’s elevator pitch for Echoer:
Have you ever wondered what the people in the same place or event as you were thinking, or whether they are sharing the same experience as you? Maybe it’s the below-par service at the local diner, or that wonderful new band playing at your favourite bar. Built on a highly interactive visual platform, Echoer lets you leave your thoughts in different locations, explore what others around you are saying, and see what’s echoing loudest in a given place or area.
Echoer is a full-time project for Daniel and Davin, although Davin remains CTO of WowWee. Daniel says that WowWee is a “key stakeholder in Echoer” and they’ve leveraged a lot of the expertise at WowWee already.
NextMontreal: How does Echoer work?
Daniel: Echoer lets users post and experience local thoughts, events and discoveries, leaving them behind in the places you visit. These posts, called ‘echoes’, can be recommended or ‘amped’ up by other users. In turn the Echoer app displays on a map those echoes which are the most local, recent and popular.
Echoer has been designed to be elegant and easy to use. The visual nature of the platform makes it quick and simple to find out relevant, timely, and popular recommendations, news and opinions about local restaurants, bars, gigs and events – wherever people gather.
When exploring your local area, the most popular and up to date content is displayed more frequently and prominently on the screen. When users drill down into a specific location, they can see a striking visualization of the echoes within that place, moving around in real-time as they’re amplified or new echoes are added.
Why start in Canada?
Daniel: We have a large contact base in Canada and Montreal specifically. We have a number of campus initiatives and other events planned around the first month of launch. One of the benefits of doing an initial launch in Canada is the ability to refine the app’s functionality and use cases in a discerning market, ahead of taking it into other countries. We are also pleased to be partnering with well known destinations like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts as we work to integrate Echoer into their overall social media strategy, and the experience of visitors to the museum.
NextMontreal: Why do you think people will willingly submit content into the system?
Daniel: We live in an age of sharing now, with users more and more used to broadcasting their thoughts and bridging the real-world and digital on a daily basis (particularly with the prevalence of smartphones). People love to air their thoughts on events they are at or restaurants they are in (to name a couple of examples). The one thing we have noticed during private beta testing is that users have really embraced our colourful and interactive UI, leading to a higher contribution to consumption ratio than expected.
In addition, users can push their location-based thoughts to their Facebook and Twitter accounts via Echoer, making this a natural tool for them to use when letting both friends/followers know what they are thinking in a particular place at a given point in time.
We have some exciting updates planned which will give users even more reason to come back into the system and see what is being echoed and amped up around them.
NextMontreal: You’ve put a lot of thought into monetization as well (as witness in your Le Web presentation). Can you explain that further?
Echoer will not be monetizing off the bat, but as with most start-ups these days, serious thought has to be given to how to create value. We have some very exciting plans in the works, many of which will enhance the user experience and provide businesses and venues with very novel ways to engage their audience. But I have to emphasize that we don’t want to intrude on the user experience, and this will always be subject to the mechanisms within Echoer that ensure users only see what is timely and relevant to them.
NextMontreal: What’s your biggest challenge at this point?
Daniel: The two largest challenges a platform like ours faces are content generation and user acquisition.
We wanted to ensure that on Day 1 our first users were not faced with an empty map devoid of echoes. With that in mind we have spent a lot of time working out how best to “pre-seed” Echoer to give you as authentic and stimulating an experience as possible. We are constantly seeding content through partnerships and in time the “pre-seeded” echoes will either be amped up by our users, affirming their real-time relevance, or they will deplete (in line with the Echoer relevance algorithm) and ultimately disappear off screen.
As for user generation, we have a number of campus initiatives and other events planned around the first few months of launch, and will be attracting users through social media marketing and PR. I don’t want to let the cat(s) out of the bag, but we have a couple of very cool things planned which gel in a very unique way with Echoer’s strengths and use-cases.
NextMontreal: What are some lessons learned so far?
Daniel: Stealth development is great to a certain extent, but don’t forget to listen to experts and users. Now and then take a step back and sanity check. We are doing something really new with Echoer, but some of its features skirt areas that many smartphone users are well experienced in and have spent many hours poking and prodding. Listen to them, stay true to your core concept, but tweak where necessary, and try to marry great UX with your overall vision where you can.
For example in mid-July, only a few months into development we had gotten too close to our product and had created a visual experience that would have been both impractical to execute and may have left first time users overwhelmed. I’m incredibly grateful to the frank feedback we had from people close to us at the time. It was far less painful to change course at that point in time than it would have been months later.
The other big lesson. Pitch, pitch, pitch. As well as helping shake (some) of the nerves, it also helps you become better at explaining things and gives you an understanding of how you are presenting your product through the eyes of others.