We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Sam McCaa”, CEO of the US based start-up “Hereat”

Below is the interview we conducted with him:

1.    What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?

We believe, in the future of tomorrow, people will use their smartphones to discover new people, find new places, purchase new products, and uncover new opportunities based on their current location; Here@ Networks is developing mobile applications to make the future a reality today.

Our application will use your profile to help you find a new friend or love interest, find a new job, network with other professionals, find exciting new events, and discover deals and incentives within walking distance.

2.    When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?

We started Here@ Networks back in September of 2011 and spent 1-1/2 years designing and developing our back-end and middle-tier systems.  In December 2013, we released our 1st mobile application called Mingle@ and recently, we achieved its 10,000th download.  Because Mingle@ isn’t focused on a persons looks or “hot or not” game playing, we’ve seen great traction with that product, and we expect to see even greater success as we prepare to launch our 2nd product aimed at middle-school and high-school students in the Fall ’14.  We are currently seeking funding to strengthen Mingle@, release on the Android platform, build our team, and grow our customer base.

3.    What is your start-up business model and how does it work?

We are using a Freemium model to build wide spread adoption, and will drive revenue and profits from in-app advertising as will as in-app purchases for Premium Features.  We also realized that as a person’s situation changes throughout their lives, so will their needs, so our model is to offer applications that fill different needs.

4.    How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?

All of our team members met through either a business or social relationship.  Steven R. Anderson, our Chief Technology Officer worked at a previous IT consulting firm 12+ years ago, and Rodney A. Young, our Business Advisor and Board Member, met 25+ years ago playing hoops at a small gymnasium near the University of Minnesota.

5.    What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?

When the inspiration to build what would become Mingle@ hit us, we each, as fathers of daughters, thought long and hard about whether we wanted to build just another “hook-up” app, or if this was a much larger opportunity.  As we focused on that point, we realized there is a much larger opportunity here.  We realized, we could help teens and young adults find new friends, help people find a new job, help professionals network with other professionals, help retailers large and small connect with consumers, and yes, if done the right way, help someone find a new love interest.

We then realized, in order to capitalize on this opportunity, we couldn’t have apps that focus on a persons looks or had a game like feel, but rather would need to be able to match job candidates to HR professionals, and CPA’s to people with financial professions, and restaurants with foodies, etc.  So we focus on creating a solution that allowed us to classify and categorize information about people, so that we could feed that information to a common search algorithm.  Once that technology was in place, it gave us the ability to easily create a portfolio of applications with these advance searching and matching capabilities; no matter how rich the user interface.

6.    What is your growth like?  And what milestones have your startup achieved so far?

We launched Mingle@ in December 2013, and through July 2014, our monthly downloads have grown 91.4% month-over-month, and monthly in-app purchases have grown 25.1% month-over-month.   In terms of milestones, we applied and received several trademarks, begun the process of applying for a provisional patent, completed the development of our next app designed for middle-school and high-school students, and in August ’14, reached our 10,000th download of Mingle@.

7.    Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?

Mingle@ has numerous competitors such as Tinder, Zoosk, OkCupid, Grinder, and Badoo, and as we introduce products for professional networking, the job market, and retail, we also face competition from companies like LinkedIn, Google+, Monster, CareerBuilder, Amazon, and even Facebook.

As we introduce future products we’ll have to position each of them against their respective competitors in the marketplace, but all the apps will have extensive profiles and rely on our search and matching technologies.  Collectively, our apps will be designed to serve a different segment of the population giving our customers multiple ways to use our apps as their situations change, such as when their relationship changes from “single” to “attached”.

8.    What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?

As you can image, we face (and still face) numerous obstacles and challenges, ranging from technology, to personnel, to funding, and in every case, we overcame with using one simple technique… sure will and determination.  Since we didn’t have a large budget to build and launch Mingle@, we hadto be very efficient with our capital resources at every stage.  For instance, we didn’t have a QA team, and we couldn’t hire a QA firm, so instead, we purchased 50 refurbished iPods from Apple™, installed the app on all of them, and on 3 different occasions, invited friends and family to take part in a “group” beta test.

We gave them just enough information to create an account and profile, and let them all have at it.  We really learned a great deal from just letting people play.

9.    What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?

I would have to say, it’s our overall vision, but isn’t that the case for all disruptive businesses?  I mean, did you ever think you could say everything you need to say in 140 characters or less?  Or how about being part of a network that potentially connects you to 15% of all the people on the planet?  For some, it’s hard to believe that you might find your next great position because you and your new employer share a passion for basketball, or that your most influential mentor might be sitting across the convention hall, or that the love of your life, might be across the ball field.  In the future, we believe your smartphone will be just as important in making new connections, as it is to maintaining the connection you already have.

10.    Why are you going to succeed?

We hate to admit it, but the world is becoming less social.  More and more, people are turning to smartphones and tablets to work and play, and they are losing the ability to work a room and press the flesh.  140 character limit.  Emoji.  Text messaging jargon.   These things don’t aid in learning how to walk across the room (or as we like to call it, “Walking the Green Mile”), and introducing yourself to someone.  We believe this trend is going to continue, so apps like ours will more and more be relied upon to break the ice.

11.    If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?

As I mentioned before, we believe we have a pipeline of apps that touch on retail, human resources, and potentially education.  Developing and lunching these other apps will help us to expand in other markets.

12.    Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?

The idea for an app like Mingle@ came to me while friends and I we were at a restaurant watching what looked like a first date.  We could tell things weren’t going well, and we all thought, would it be great if we could send a message, “End this tragedy, and come hang with us!”  For months, that’s all it was, an idea.But eventually, I began to wonder: “What it would take to create such an app?”  “Do I want to create a hook-up app?”  “Is this an opportunity to build a business?”  It’s while trying to answer these questions that I realized, there’s an opportunity here, to create a portfolio of apps to help people find a friend or love interest; find a new position; network with other professionals; and in general, learn about and discover things near them.

13.    What have you learned so far about launching your idea?

That there is a market and appetite for apps like we’re producing.  With all of the existing options in the marketplace now, we were still able to achieve 10,000 downloads with a minimum marketing budget.  We also learned a great deal about how to market our applications and how to position them correctly against the competition.

14.    Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?

We’ll still be working hard on expanding our customer base, until we have enough people on board so that you can find a match near you.  We’ll also be improving Mingle@ and developing new ways to keep existing customers engaged, because we know as hard as it is to get new customers, we’ll need to work even harder to keep them.

15.    What’s the benefit for the customer/user?

In a nutshell, the new connection our customers will make, that they might have otherwise missed.  A new friend, or new love interest, an exciting new job, a new business opportunity, or the great deal that saved you money.

16.    How did customers / users find out about you?

Well, to be honest the majority of them haven’t!  We know we need to get many, many more customers on our networks before things work the way we envision, but we have had some success in finding customers so far; using a variety of Facebook™ and Twitter™ ads.  We know we need to ramp up those efforts as well as implementing some in-app advertising, and potentially using some traditional marketing and advertising platforms.

17.    Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?

This is the great thing about developing apps for iOS and Android, and using Amazon Web Services and the Internet.  We have customers from all over the world: USA and Canada (59%), Europe (28%), Asia Pacific (7%), Africa, the Middle East, and India (5%), and Latin America and The Caribbean (1%).  Our furthest customer to date lives nearly 11,000 miles away down in Australia!  56% are men and 44% woman.  51% are between the ages of 21-25, 18% are between26-30, 13% are between 31-35, 7% are between 36-40, 5% are between 41-45, and 6% are older then 45 years of age.  53% are Caucasian, 14% are Black / African American, 12% are Asian, 10% are Hispanic, 5% are American Indian, 3% are Middle Eastern, and 3% are East Indian.

18.    Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?

Right now, our apps are only in English, so we only advertise in countries which English is the primary language spoken, and that is where we get our customers.  We believe our customers are trying us, because they tried the hook-up and the “hot or not” types of apps, and now they’re looking for ways to find real relationships.  That’s where our search and match algorithm come into place.

19.    What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?

We’ve gotten great reviews of our Mingle@ in the Apple™ App Store, receiving 4-1/2 stars out of 5.  Here are some of our recent reviews:

a great new app and so much more…
by KDBJ74 – Jun 17, 2014
This is a great new app that has helped me find a match according to my interests, likes and activities.  I highly recommend this app!  I love it!

Real-time social networking
by Rajeep matha – Aug 13, 2014
Best new evolutions to social networking with real-time locations services geographical information and user friendly to use.

20.    How are you going to scale?

In terms of technology, we’ve built our back-end platform on the Amazon Web Service, and implemented auto-scaling services, so that our application servers and database will scale as our customer base grows.

Until we get widespread brand recognition, we’ll scale our business by using a variety of advertising and marketing channels such as Facebook, Twitter, SEO, and in-app advertising.  We’ll also do some affinity marketing such as holding Mingle@ Girl model search, or partnering with a beverage company to create a Mingle@ cocktail.  Additionally, we plan on working with companies, which promote events and services to college students, such as Spring Break promoters.

21.    What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?

We have a roadmap to add more and exciting features to our products to continually meet the needs and wants of our customer’s, but at this point, the one thing customer’s keep asking for isn’t a missing feature, it’s for more people to be on our service.

22.    Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?

In a sense, we are already international, however we don’t yet fully support a broad range of international languages.  That will be the first step towards being a fully international organization, having products that people can download in other international stores.
As we rollout some of our products, we may need to open international sales offices, however it is our intent to product applications and services which for the most part, won’t require them.

23.    How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?

We believe our organization can create apps that will one day be used 250 million active users worldwide.  We believe this; because we are creating apps, that help people do something they naturally already want to do, discover new people, places, things, opportunities, and events near them.  Understand this natural desire and creating apps that focus on these different opportunities is how we plan on achieving our goal.

24.    Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?

Once we complete our funding round, we do plan on hiring a new workforce.  We’ll need a variety of people from software engineers, designers, analysts, and traditional office resources like people with clerical and administrative backgrounds.  When the time comes, we’ll have more information on our website.

25.    Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?

We are currently raising capital from VC, and have profiles on a number of crowd funding platforms such as EquityNet.com (https://www.equitynet.com/profile.aspx), crowdfunder.com (https://www.crowdfunder.com/hereat-networks-inc), and AngleList.com (https://angel.co/here-networks-inc).  Potential partners / investors can contact me at: Sam McCaa, CEO of Here@ Networks, Inc, Minneapolis, MN 55416, sam.mccaa@hereat.net, 612-844-1213.

26.    What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?

Dream bigger than you ever imagined, and then put in the work to make your dreams come true, and remember, it’s going to be tough, because if it were easy, everyone would do it!
27.    Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

I just really appreciate this opportunity to talk about and showcase Here@ Networks, and to thank your staff and readers.

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