Meet Stephen Smith, co-Founder and COO of WhosHere. The app allows users to connect with other people based on compatible geographic locations using GPS capabilities. Smith shares with WashingtonExec WhosHere’s target audience and their needs, using social media to connect locally and why “cutting the carrier” is not such a new concept.
With more than 5 million WhosHere users in over 150 countries, Smith knows a thing or two about how mobile savvy users connect, develop professional contacts and find love social media style.
WashingtonExec: Please tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to start WhosHere.
Stephen Smith: I have known my business partner, Bryant Harris, since freshman year of college…some 20 years ago. We have stayed in touch over the years. We both lamented the fact we never tried a start-up in the mid 90’s when the Web blew up. Fast-forward to late 2007 and Apple’s announcement that they were going to make an SDK available for 3rd parties to develop apps for the iPhone and distribute them via iTunes. Bryant gave me a call right after the announcement. We started talking about a lot of app ideas and he kept coming back to an idea that would become WhosHere.
WashingtonExec: How would you describe WhosHere’s target audience and demographic? Do you see users downloading your app for professional use or for more casual/dating encounters?
Stephen Smith: The core user base is 20-29 and single, but the age range stretches from teenagers to people in their 60s. The two most common use cases are chatting and dating. On the dating front, it goes from very casual users to those who are tired of paying an arm and a leg for Match.com or eHarmony. We know of many users who started relationships by first meeting on WhosHere, and we know of many who found the love of their lives on WhosHere and are now married. One “WhosHere” couple recently told us they are expecting their first child.
Other use cases range from professional networking (people find clients and jobs through the app) to selling things like futons and sports tickets. It’s actually a great app for negotiating. Unlike Craigslist, WhosHere enables real-time text and image messaging and free VoIP calls. And, an especially important feature for dating: All exchanges can be done without disclosing a phone number or email, which makes it a risk-free experience.
WashingtonExec: At the “Monetizing Mobile” event, a participant said that all entrepreneurs should have the mindset “technology first, security second”…where do you see the balance between privacy, security and public accessibility?
Stephen Smith: My view is that technology and security should go hand in hand.
WashingtonExec: I have recently started hearing the phrase “SoLoMo” (social, local, mobile)…could you tell us a little bit about what it means for the technology industry? Or your own business?
Stephen Smith: SoLoMo is exactly what WhosHere is. It is fundamentally a social networking app that lets you meet local people on your mobile phone. So what does it mean for our business? Well, it is our business. But it’s funny that this is currently being viewed as “new” since we’ve been doing this for 4 years.
WashingtonExec: I have heard a couple different executives talk about “cutting the carrier”…is this a drastic change in infrastructure; do you see this emerging in the foreseeable future?
Stephen Smith: I’m a big believer that “cutting the carrier” has huge potential to drastically change business models. The packet switching infrastructure is going to be the same and will largely rest on the likes of AT&T and L3. So, I don’t see the infrastructure changing. I see direct relationships with the customer changing. I see cell carriers being wide open to being intermediated by the likes of WhosHere, Apple (FaceTime), Skype, etc.
I think “Cutting the Carrier” is happening now, but it’s still in its infancy. Just look at our stats – 6 billion free text messages sent over the WhosHere network. Small, I’m sure, by AT&T standards, but it is still a big number. Plus, millions of pics and VoIP calls have been sent via WhosHere. Sure, a lot of this is going over the iPhone, but many of these texts (think SMS), images (think MMS) and VoIP (think phone call) are going across the WhosHere network on non-phones, specifically iPod touches, iPads and soon things like Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
People talk and write more about “cutting cable TV.” Frankly, I find accomplishing that a huge pain. Hulu, plus Netflix, plus hooking up your TV and computer, plus putting together a DVR…plus…plus…plus…Frankly, I just want it to work, and I don’t want to be an IT guy. The Verizon guy comes over, does his thing and with one remote, I’ve got everything I want on a DVR.
So coming back to “cutting the carrier,” I see that being exceptionally easier to accomplish for the average person and therefore, yes, I do see people switching away from “cell plans” in the foreseeable future.
WashingtonExec: What is on your iPad? What is your favorite app (besides your own)?
Stephen Smith: Besides WhosHere, my next favorite would be Safari. Not sexy, I know, but it’s what I use when I wake up every morning and start reading news. Other apps on my iPad are Sudoku2, Flipboard, ABC News, SkyChartsPro, ForeFlight Mobile Aviation and SXSW.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job?
Stephen Smith: Well, the first dollars I ever earned was for mowing lawns as a kid. My first paycheck came as a short order cook in high school. But, my first professional job was working as a staffer in the US Senate.