By Lauren Keyson and Sarah Grieco
Max Stoller, founder of the Red/Green App, was a NY Tech Meetup Hack of the Month. The app allows a user to send a note to a contact saying “Hey, I’m in the city, want to meet?” It took him six months to create, and he acknowledged that his life is better with it.
MS: I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in five months or people I honestly wouldn’t have had dinner with through a text message. I find myself meeting people I certainly wouldn’t text message but that end up resulting in real life hangouts. Right now they need the app too, but I’m working on a version where they can receive a Green without having the app.
One of the reasons why I built this was because when I graduated I was hanging out with fewer people. Part of the problem was I’d leave work and want to get dinner or drinks, so I’d go to my contact book in my phone and individually text a few people I felt comfortable reaching out to. The group of people whose company I’d enjoy for dinner or drinks is substantially larger than the group of people I’d be willing to text message.
There are people that I haven’t seen in a couple of months or had met in school or was a former colleague, and we don’t really have a texting relationship. So it may be a little weird if I just randomly text them on a Tuesday night to get drinks or dinner. In my mind, this is sort of a human problem. Everyone I’ve talked to has experienced this or understands it almost immediately.
LK: Were you worried that your app was similar to other social apps or that the market was flooded with too much social media already?
MS: No, not really. I think a lot of people have tried to build apps to solve this problem, but just haven’t quite hit it. That’s because they weren’t focused on the right problem. They have the wrong approach. A lot of the products in this space are focused on suggesting places for people to go, like restaurants and movies. A lot of them problematically try and determine a time that works for both parties. You would give me your calendar and I would give you mine and the software would figure out a good time to meet. I actually think that’s the wrong approach. It doesn’t solve this deeper psychological problem: How can I suggest to you without exposing myself? Just because I’m free between 2:30 and 3:00 doesn’t mean you actually want to grab lunch with me.
LK: What kind of feedback have you gotten?
MS: Very positive all across the board. This is a classic problem that several individuals have experienced. I’ve spoken to a lot of college students. I also meet people who are using it and want to use it in very different ways. I spoke to a mother in the audience during NYTM’s Q/A and suggested that she could use this to indicate to other parents that her child is screened for availability.
LK: This is something you created for fun — do you think you will be able to make money out of it?
MS: I honestly think that you can make money from anything that reaches internet scale. When they were building Snapchat, they were not sure they would make money from it, but now there are so many users they can easily make money. If you are able to build a giant network of people, there’s no question if there’s an opportunity to make money.
I keep working on the product. I just want to make sure the product isn’t awful and people can easily use it and understand it. And I want to be more thoughtful about engineering growth. So, right now there’s no way to tell if their friends are on the app or even if they have it installed. You look at these successful social apps, and they all have sophisticated invite systems. So, you can’t really succeed without those things.
Right now the app is just marketed by word of mouth. The experience is much better if you have friends in the app, but the question becomes, ‘How do you invite your friends into the app?’ One way is by giving them a very simple way of doing so. For example, if I have the app installed, I can determine friends I should invite to the app. It’s built entirely off the contact book. So, for example, if I find my friend John in the contact book, it knows that I have 15 friends who have the app installed and John is probably a really good candidate for Red/Green, so it could push him to the top of the list.