In April, Blackboard co-founder Michael Chasen founded a new venture called SocialRadar, planning to build a new app that will provide real-time location-specific information about people nearby. Eight weeks later, Chasen and his team raised nearly $13 million from New Enterprise Associates, Grotech Ventures, Swan & Legend Ventures, Steve Case, Ted Leonsis, and Dave Morin. The money will fund an ambitious launch plan.
We asked Chasen about his quick and successful fundraise, how Blackboard informed the founding of SocialRadar, and why the world needs another social discovery app.
You raised $12.75 million just eight weeks after founding the company. That is remarkable. Why were VCs so eager to fund SocialRadar? What are the plans for the money?
A proven track record is hugely attractive to the VC community. I was able to demonstrate that I could grow a company with my college friend to a global market leader with over 3,000 employees and 30 million users that was valued at $1.7B when it was sold to Providence Equity Partners in 2011. But past success is not the only factor; you also need a disruptive idea. Interestingly, the ideas that are the most disruptive quickly seem indispensable — something we have to have. SocialRadar is a concept that people get — and want — instantly.
We are using the money to build our development team with the best node.js, iOS, Android, and Google Glass developers in the area (and even some who have moved from other cities to join the team). We will launch SocialRadar on multiple platforms within the next six months and needed the resources to move quickly. We will also devote dollars to user acquisition — concentrating on the Millennial (sometimes called the Connected) Generation. Our plan is to vigorously test our message to ensure we are resonating with our users.
We haven’t yet launched the SocialRadar app but about one hundred people are already using it through TestFlight, a service dedicated to help apps in development. Preliminary reactions have been glowing. After our launch this fall, we’ll have more detailed metrics to share.
How did your experience at Blackboard inform the founding of SocialRadar?
While at Blackboard I spent considerable time on college campuses, giving me a front row seat to observe how quickly and pervasively students adopted new technology. Students were, of course, among the first to use social networks on mobile devices. Students were also pioneers in “checking in” and sharing their location on their phones — in other words, using their phones as location beacons.
I realized that the combination of mobile, social, and location services has the potential to redefine how people meet and connect in person, so I created SocialRadar.
What is one mistake you made at Blackboard that you’re hoping to avoid at SocialRadar?
It would be a challenge to pick just one. The key is to identify any mistake and try not to make it again. At least not the next day.
Since this kind of response can seem like a dodge, here’s a more specific one. In starting Blackboard, I had great faith in the idea but did not develop as extensive a roadmap for future applications as perhaps I could have. With SocialRadar, I have done my homework and I see various ways it can be used years from now. We are preparing for those opportunities now.
There are plenty of people discovery apps out there. What separates SocialRadar? It sounds like you aim to give the user more control.
While plenty of applications will let you know when friends are nearby, SocialRadar has a much different focus. SocialRadar gives you real-time information about the people around you. It tells you who is around, how you are connected to them, and what they have been up to. This makes SocialRadar an invaluable tool whether you are at a conference, out for the evening socially, or in a new city for either business or pleasure.
Social discovery apps work best when a lot of people have them. How do you go about achieving that level of market penetration?
It’s the chicken/egg question reinvented for the modern age — and we think we have solved this issue. SocialRadar works by aggregating location and social data from the top social networks (Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Instagram). So even if there is just one person using SocialRadar in any given setting, that individual can see where his friends are checked-in across all of his networks. Of course SocialRadar will become even more powerful as the user base builds and we are fortunate to have a marketing team with extensive social experience and fearless ideas to grow that user base. SocialRadar has already attracted considerable attention in the press and at industry events, even by people who have not yet experienced it. We’re confident that once it rolls out, our jobs will be made easier by enthusiastic word of mouth.
I have no intention of changing my mistake answer to “being overconfident!”
Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.