Poncho, a Weather App That Speaks for Itself

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poncho_half_logoMost of the time weather does not speak for itself. But that may soon be changing thanks to a small New York-based company called Poncho.

Poncho delivers weather alerts to users via either email or SMS at the times that the users select. So users can choose to get a wakeup text at 7 a.m. when they’re deciding what wear, and they can get an email at 5 p.m. when deciding if they should grab the umbrella under their desk on their way out of the office.

The year-old company only has six full-time employees, but it has accrued “tens of thousands of subscribers” due in part to word of mouth and an effective referral program. And according to the founder of Poncho, Kuan Huang, that user base is engaged, with an email open rate of 50%.

“The interesting thing is everyone’s life is getting busy, people forget to check weather,” Huang said. “Most of us don’t really need to know many details about weather. [Poncho is] kind of like curated content for people and now there’s so much noise on the internet, so much to do in your life, this is just a way to make your life easy.”

Huang thought of the idea for Poncho while at Betaworks, a startup studio that invests in early projects. The inspiration actually came from his own mother. As a college student in China, Huang’s mother called frequently to update him about the weather.

“She understands my daily routine so say she knows I’m going to the library usually Wednesday evening, if she sees there’s a drop in the weather she’ll let me know to bring a jacket because it’ll get cold,” Huang said. “She never tells me it’s 14 mph windspeed, 6% chance of rain. She gives me useful forecasts to say it’s going to rain bring an umbrella. It’s going to be windy put on a scarf. Her translation of weather took out the thought process of these numbers that most apps give you.”

In the beginning, Huang would write the messages himself. “Mostly cloudy & breezy throughout the day, with temps in the low 70s. Go fly a kite! An IRL kite, or maybe a kite flying app,” a text might read. He has since hired a handful writers to produce copy for the messages, which are available in five states — New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

But the writers do not have to come up with a unique message for every single location. The company has developed a unique technology that groups together zip codes with similar weather forecasts to help optimize the human resources and limit the number of messages the writer has to come up with.

That same technology also poses an interesting opportunity for marketers, says Huang. Though Poncho isn’t currently focusing on monetization, he recognizes that it offers a huge potential for local, targeted advertising. Marketers could create relevant messaging based on the weather, and using Poncho’s technology, send it out to the correct audience based on their location.

Poncho has already tested this out with two campaigns. The first was with Duane Reade during the high pollen season. Poncho users received a deal for a discount on allergy medicine at Duane Reade locations in New York. The second partnership was with Quirky and General Electric for a smart air conditioning unit they launched.

Poncho has also realized that its ability to target specific users based on location raises the stakes in terms of how to interact with users and what tone to use.

“Weather is a very local thing, and I think it’s very important for us to set the tone right,” Huang said. “People in New York have certain inside jokes that only New Yorkers will get versus people in Chicago have their own culture. And also different weather patterns, if it’s raining in New York it’s no big deal, but if it’s raining in Los Angeles it’s a huge deal.”

Rebecca Borison is a contributor at Street Fight.