By Alpa Agarwal
In the spring of 2005, Sam Altman, a sophomore computer science major at Stanford, had an epiphany as he walked out of class. Turning to his friends, classmates, and eventual co-founders Alok Deshpande and Nick Sivo, Sam asked, “Wouldn't it be great if I could open my mobile phone and see a map of where all my friends are right now?” From that idea Loopt was born in Silicon Valley. The co-founders won first place in the business plan competition by the Business Association of Stanford Engineering Students (BASES) and after that were able to secure funding to build a prototype service from Y Combinator, an early stage investment company that helps young entrepreneurs get past the challenges of starting a business. By September of 2005, the response to the prototype was so strong that the Loopt team made the decision to leave school and pursue their dream full time. Joined by co-founders Rick Pernikoff and Tom Pernikoff, they launched the company with $5M in funding from leading venture capital firms, Sequoia Capital and New Enterprise Associates.
Loopt provides a “social mapping service” – that focuses on finding friends, places, and events -- who's around, what's going on and where to go, helping friends connect on the fly by showing users where their friends are located and what they are doing via detailed, interactive maps on their mobile phones. Users can share location updates, geo-tagged photos and comments with friends in their mobile address book or on online social networks, communities and blogs. The service facilitates serendipitous meetings between friends, allowing users to receive alerts when their friends are nearby, explore places and events recommended by friends, and share their own GPS-based location, status and photos with a few or all of their friends. Users can add friends to their trusted network by entering a mobile number, by searching the contacts on their phone, searching for Facebook friends also on Loopt and from a “suggested list of friends you may know on Loopt” feature. Encouraging these serendipitous friend meetings is a core part of what makes Loopt users come back time and again. I remember spending many wonderful afternoons in Brady Commons at my alma mater, the University of Missouri. Hanging out with friends, eating greasy pizza & watching people walk in-and-out; hoping for serendipitous meetings consumed, I have to admit, much of my time. This was before mobile phones, but even those would not have helped because as Loopt’s co-founder Alok Deshpande notes, “A phone is not good at multi-way communications.”
In addition to the popular Friend Alerts feature that notifies users when any of their friends are nearby, Loopt offers Pulse, which helps users find something fun to do. Pulse integrates information from multiple sources to show users what’s going on around them. Information from Microsoft Bing, Citysearch, Zagat, Eventful, and Tasting Table, as well as the personal recommendations of a user’s friends and the Loopt community can all be consolidated on one screen. The Tips feature allows users to post their own recommendations on local places and events. Users can view their friend’s journals to see what they’ve been doing and leave comments for them, or access their friend’s favorite places and events, to navigate new neighborhoods or cities.
Loopt was designed with user privacy at its core and offers a variety of effective and intuitive privacy and security controls. Location and other information can be hidden as well shared and Loopt users are added as Loopt friends only after they accept a user’s friend request or if a user accepts their friend’s request – so it’s a ‘double opt in’ friend connection.
On March 10th, Loopt announced a new version of its application, which expands the Loopt’s Pulse feature to include tens of thousands of local events, and allows check-in to events, and the ability to RSVP to events posted on Facebook. For some music events, users can actually hear a sample of the band playing at a certain venue right within Loopt. This new version of Loopt also features a full guide to the music, events and celebrations at this month’s SXSW in Austin. Loopt users can check-in at certain SXSW venues for the opportunity to win giveaways and other special offers. “Locally-relevant content is crucial for helping people to truly discover the world around them,” said Sam Altman, CEO of Loopt. “By adding Events to our Loopt Pulse, our users can now not only find great places to eat and drink, but also discover music, movies, dance, comedy and theater events going on in their neighborhood right now.” Loopt now features music and entertainment content from new partners SonicLiving, Zvents and Metromix – expanding upon Loopt’s existing suite of leading content providers – including Zagat, CitySearch, Microsoft’s Bing and TastingTable.
Today, Loopt has over 50 employees and more than more than 3 million registered users, and has launched its social mapping service across all major U.S. wireless carriers, including Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Boost & MetroPCS, and over 100 mobile phones. The startup makes money through hyper-local targeted advertising and coupons.