In less than a year, social discovery app Banjo has jumped from fewer than a million users to over four million. The mobile service allows users to discover real-time data across social networks, and learn more about places, and it recently launched a tablet app.
Street Fight caught up with Banjo founder and CEO Damien Patton (who is also a former NASCAR mechanic) before he headed off to SXSW to chat about the future of mobile, making money from apps, and the value of data.
Where is Banjo these days?
There’s a lot of good stuff going on. We’re doing a release [this week]: millions of people who can’t make it to South-by from around the world will be able to see South-by. Not only will they be able to see everything happening at South-by, but our new algorithm detects who the truly influential people there are and puts them at the top of the feed.
For example, I went to the NASCAR race last weekend, and the first thing I saw were the posts from the main drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. It just makes discovery so much different. Every time you go to a NASCAR race, a concert, a soccer match, or even a tech event like South-by, the people who matter are at the top automatically. No one has ever been able to detect non-geo content for a geo area and insert it into a feed.
You can [also] share a place. If you’re enjoying South-by on Banjo from Massachusetts somewhere and you want to share it with your friends, you can share everything that’s happening on the live feed even if they don’t have Banjo. If they have it, they will go right into the app where you’re seeing it, but if they don’t, they will get a link to a web view.
In some ways, Banjo is basically a content discovery aggregator. Is that how you see it?
It’s real-time event and location discovery across social networks. The difference between us and anybody else is that we are going across all social networks. We are taking all that information and personalizing it for the user. We have 500 million people in our social graph. We see interests. We see posts. We see photos. It’s the second-largest social graph in the world now, and it grows by 10-15 million people every day. We are customizing it so Banjo will take you to things you care about without you having to enter anything.
In the next few months, we’ll offer a list of events in Banjo and then infer what you’re interested in in the future by what you pick. That’s where we’re going. In order to make real-time event and content discovery valuable to you as a user, you have to be able to look at more than one vertical. You can’t look at only a Facebook, a Foursquare, or a Twitter. You have to look at the whole worldwide versions of social networks and other data you have entered. We’re really focusing right now on making it personalized to you through no effort of your own.
“I don’t believe in the traditional mobile advertising where you put up pop-up ads. I think there’s going to be a backlash. It’s a small screen, and these mobile devices are very personal.” — Damian Patton
You launched tablet apps in January. How is the tablet use case different than mobile, and how did that affect your development process?
A lot of social discovery companies are focused around the “here.” In fact, they all do. Banjo discovered that users really wanted was the “there” experience. They are already participating in the “here” and the nearby. There’s not enough changing nearby to keep you engaged, but there is enough changing all over the world in real-time.
We found that people were engaging in their mobile devices when events were happening on TV. You’d see news, like something that was happening on CNN, or a huge event like the Super Bowl, and during those times, people were on Banjo searching for these events.
We thought we should make it simple for these people who have a second screen to experience the Super Bowl or experience the breaking news. Now they get to see it from the eyes of the people who are actually there. Banjo is going beyond a social discovery app and creating the engines if you will.
How is your revenue model evolving?
I don’t believe in the traditional mobile advertising where you put up pop-up ads. I think there’s going to be a backlash. It’s a small screen, and these mobile devices are very personal. For us, it’s about emotional branding. If I can take you on a second-screen experience to an event that you would have otherwise missed out on, that’s great. Take South-by-Southwest. Most people don’t have the luxury of being there. Banjo is the only company in the world that can take everybody and give them the experience of being there. You can brand that with whatever. We just partnered with Oreo cookie, and we’re going to be doing this emotional branding within Banjo.
As a hypothetical, if I can take you as a NASCAR fan to that event in real-time — a real experience that you can’t get anywhere else — it can be brought to you by Oreo. I don’t mean brought to you like you have to watch an ad. The future of mobile is going to be like professional motorsports sponsorships. These companies pay billions of dollars collectively to brand vehicles and uniforms of the drivers. There’s no clickable action; it’s because you give a damn about that emotional connection. You relate a positive connection to that brand you see every weekend to something you may do in the future. It’s no different than mobile. If you can give users an emotional experience that they care about and then you can embed the brand into that, they will feel very positively about it.
The other two models are solving big data problems. If you think about our graphs of what we’ve built of over 500 million people, it’s across all these social networks. We’re looking at everything in real-time, so we can solve real-time data problems. For example, a big movie studio came to us and they don’t know who to target with their advertising. It’s a shotgun approach. They asked us who the true influencers are. They wanted to know who were the few hundred thousand people who say something from one network, and it goes across different social networks. Those influencers are the ones making the difference. Banjo can do that. We can see a piece of content that was said on Twitter that ended up on a Facebook wall, Foursquare, LinkedIn, or whatever. We’re not selling that data; we’re just giving them clues about their market. We can anonymize the data, but we can solve big companies’ problems in ways they’ve never seen before. We see all that and we see it in real time.
Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.