By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Facebook recently announced that it was losing its popularity among teenagers. Could the new social discovery app Anomo be one of the reasons why?
Co-founder of VinaSource Benjamin Liu, along with James Sun, the first Asian American male finalist on Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice, are the business partners who created Seattle-based Anomo, the latest social discovery app that helps people meet and interact with new people in their own geographical location. With a red panda as its mascot, Liu and Sun picked a cute, masked animal to exude the anonymity of the app.
Liu and Sun met after Sun and Liu’s wife were reconnected out of pure luck — the two had attended the same church previously. The chance encounter led to the friendship and business partnership between Liu and Sun.
“So many little things are based on chance encounters and serendipity,” Liu said. “The app allows people to control serendipity, where you can see the people around you who share common interests as you.”
Liu had initially envisioned a pure profile app where people posted their real profiles, but Sun had the idea of keeping it anonymous.
“Our mission is to help the world meet the people they need,” Sun said. “People want to interact and meet new people …whether it’s for friendships, networking, or dating.” Sun added that the avatars give people a sense of ease by limiting the negative feelings that come with possible rejection.
“It gives a person 100 percent control over their privacy and information. They only reveal pieces of their true identity when they want to,” he said.
Sun describes the ideal Anomo app user as someone who is 17 to 22 years old, early adopters who are highly engaged with social networking, and those most eager to meet new people. Older people will also find it useful for meeting new people and making business contacts.
“Anomo is all about getting users who want a new and differentiated social experience of meeting new people. They include outgoing and also introverted folks.”
The anonymous component of the app allows users to interact and meet people safely without revealing too much until they are comfortable. Anomo helps people connect to people they don’t already know. For example, Liu looks forward to meeting new clients for his other business in software development.
When users sign up for the app, they start off with an anonymous avatar. After that, they can start chatting or play “ice breaker” games with others as they feel more comfortable.
The games are simple and consist of five inconsequential questions, such as: “Do you prefer coffee or tea or Pepsi or Coke?” This is the process that allows users to get to know one another, which eventually leads to deeper conversations and topics.
Liu said that 2 million of these games have been played with an average of 30,000 games a week. There are about 3,000 questions in the app system. People can play the games over and over, and they receive a compatibility rating after each game.
In the app’s next update, set to roll out in a few weeks, Liu hopes to allow users to specify their specific intentions — “Who do I want to meet?”
The long-term vision of the app is to drill down on locations, and to have the ability to automatically help people find similar interests with like minds.
The app had a soft launch in February, but the official launch was in June. There are now 60,000 users, and the company has raised about $350,000. Anomo has some influential investors, including Scott Swerland, founder of Seattle Sun Tan, who has provided guidance and mentorship for Liu and Sun throughout the process.
Right now, the team is focused on getting more users. Liu explained that for this type of app, monetizing is not worth spending the time on until they get enough users, although they do have monetization strategies involving the ice breaker games. They are also looking at improving the chat system with the addition of stickers and in-app purchases.
With the emphasis on creating a safe virtual environment, the app has the capability to ban and block users. “It’s a key initiative to make it a safe community for people to be in,” Liu explained.
He also said that the community polices itself very well — people report abuse immediately and the team gets notified of the incident.
Liu stressed that they want to make sure they’re not branded as just a dating app. The goal is to have enjoyable conversations whether for friendly, romantic, or professional reasons, he said.
At this point, there are no other apps like Anomo, but other location-based apps in the social discovery space include Glancee, MeetMe, Skout and Tinder, in which users reveal their real profiles.
Both Liu and Sun hope that by the end of 2014 Anomo will have one million users and be the “fastest growing mobile app in the universe!”
“We really wanted to shoot for the moon with Anomo,” said Liu. “It’s our homerun derby. We think this can change the world, and change the way people socialize and interact with each other. We’re going for everything, and we honestly believe that it can be bigger than Facebook.
“Facebook is about connecting people with people you already know,” Liu continued. “The universe of people you don’t know is infinite times bigger.” (end)
Nina Huang can be reached at email@example.com.