Bump, With a Fresh $16 Million, Explores New Ways to Connect Mobile-Device Users—Q&A with David Lieb and Jake Mintz

1/12/11Follow @wroush

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social networks that will emerge, and that number is very small—like 10. And he sees Bump as the social network for physical proximity, for the people and things you are physically interacting with. That is the network Bump has created and captured. So that is the core, high-level thesis he has.

X: But in practice you’re only the proximity-based social network for people with Android phones and iOS devices. Do you have plans yet to expand to other platforms like BlackBerry and Windows Phone?

Jake Mintz: Currently we are going to continue focusing on Android and iOS. We think those are the platforms of the future. They have the most momentum and they are growing the fastest. As we continue to experiment with our products, we can do everything we want to on those platforms. We would rather take our limited engineering resources and put them toward incrementally improving the product that millions of people already have, rather than spending five times the resources to bring out a basic version on other platforms.

DL: But since we last spoke, we have rolled out a bunch of new features, especially on the iPhone side of things. We added music sharing, we have improved the photo experience, and we have expanded what you can do with Bump. Previously, you could only connect with people by physically bumping with them. We got a lot of user feedback saying things like ‘I love Bump, but my brother lives in New Jersey and I’d love to share content with him as well,’ so we opened it up to allow connections not based on physical proximity.

X: So much of your identity is around that act of physical bumping with someone who’s right next to you. How do you extend the feature set beyond that without losing touch with that?

DL: Our focus is still enabling these powerful, in-person interactions. But as part of that, we’ve built this really flexible messaging platform that works really well for lots of things. So when people asked us to open it up, we created this idea of a long-distance bump.

JM: There are a couple of ways you can add a friend without bumping with them, and the primary way is through your address book. We think that’s a pretty good representation of the people you actually communicate with and care about. It’s interesting—our algorithms for matching people are pretty good, but we actually see slightly more than half of the suggested connections get rejected. And one possible explanation for that is, when we look at the way people use Bump, most of the time they aren’t sending a few messages to a lot of people, they’re sending a lot of messages to just a couple of people. So it remains a powerful, close network rather than being this gigantic network that crosses a lot of social groups.

X: When I visited in September, you had 15 employees, and now it’s four months later and you still have only 15 employees. Is that a sign that you’ve been trying to be super-efficient and keep the burn rate low? And is the hiring pace going to accelerate now?

DL: We have had a very high bar for hiring. In a software company like ours, it’s very important to get the top engineers and the top designers and developers. Those types of folks are [2x to 10x more productive than the average person. So we’ve held our bar really high, and we haven’t added anyone since you were here—we’ve converted a few interns but we haven’t hired anyone new. One of the big things we are going to do with the money is … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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