Tue. Jun 2nd, 2020

Feather helps new friends flock by making it easy to participate in small group meetups

6 min read
Team Feather from left to right: CEO and co-founder Andy Lin; Chris Jung, product designer; Mikayla Jones, iOS engineer; and Shawn Lee, co-founder and chief technology officer. (Feather Photo)

When someone is seeking a romantic partner, it’s generally expected that they’re going to be pretty choosy, building detailed, curated profiles and making careful selections. But when it comes to finding friends to just hang out for dinner or a board game, the bar is a bit lower. In the simplest terms, people are looking for someone who likes doing the same things they do.

An Issaquah, Wash.-based startup called Feather is trying to make it easy for people to find their “flock” (birds of a feather and all that) with an app that quickly pairs people up for weekend events.

The app targets people who are new to an area. Those who “are ever dreaming of greener pastures. Packing your life into bags to seek greater opportunity in a new city, country or continent can be a scary prospect,” reads Feather’s website.

Andy Lin, CEO and co-founder of Feather. (LinkedIn Photo)

Feather matches potential pals based on interests, inviting roughly seven users to a dinner or other event, with the expectation that three to five will ultimately show up. Users can check in Monday to Wednesday to share their availability and interests, on Thursday the participants have the chance to chat and coordinate, then sometime from Friday to Sunday the meetup takes place.

By eliminating the need for elaborate profiles and removing the responsibility of coming up with plans, “we basically save the user a lot of time,” said Andy Lin , Feather co-founder and CEO.

The small groups are less awkward than one-on-one meetups and can feel safer to people, Lin said. He and Shawn Lee , co-founder and chief technology officer, created the company in part because of their own struggles making friends in new cities. The two met a decade ago in ninth grade. This is their first startup.

They launched Feather in January; the team includes Mikayla Jones , iOS engineer, and Chris Jung , product designer. Lee previously worked at Microsoft as a software engineer, and Jones and Jung work there currently.

“What I thought would be really hard, because I hadn’t started a company or built a software technology from the ground, was building the application. It turns out that wasn’t that difficult. We got that done pretty quick,” Lin said. “What was really hard was the marketing aspect, and trying to get the word out to people and get users without spending a lot of money.”

The team has been recruiting new users by going to other meetups organized through platforms run by the competition — namely Facebook groups and Bumble BFF. Another competitor in the friend-making space is Seattle-based Thaw .

Feather is currently only available in Seattle and on iPhone devices. The startup plans to offer an Android app soon and is looking to expand into Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The service is free; Lin said at some point they’ll offer a subscription for premium services.

They’re also building a feature that allows a user, when he or she RSVPs, to invite a friend through Facebook or a text to come with them. Then the friend can install the app and go through an expedited sign up process.

Feather has organized 25 meetups so far, in Seattle and during a test run in LA. The team sometimes attends the events, and has waited to reveal their connection to the app until the end of the meetup in order to hear peoples’ honest reactions to Feather.

Feather users select their availability to get matched up with an event. (Feather Image)

“It’s a very interesting way to get user feedback,” Lin said. “You get to see people in their natural state.”

We caught up with Lin for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What does your company do? Feather is a curated event discovery app that automates the process of organizing a time, place and group for users to meetup. We aim to make it effortless for our users to meet new people and discover their city by joining group activities they enjoy.

Inspiration hit us when: After moving repeatedly for school and for work, we found it more difficult than expected to rebuild our social networks in every new city. After doing some research and running a few tests, we realized a critical reason that nobody has really solved this problem at scale was that not enough people are willing to take on the organizer role for strangers. With machine learning solving new challenges everyday, we realized that if it’s fed enough data, an algorithm could take the place of a human organizer.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’re currently bootstrapped, but seeking to raise a seed round in the near future. We want to grow the Feather community to a healthy size before introducing monetization, and to do that we need some starting capital.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our matching algorithm has the capacity to match millions of potential users groups with multiple overlaps — age, location, interests — within seconds. This algorithm also receives feedback in the form of successful — or failed — events and improves itself over time.

While it’s not so much of a “secret sauce,” we also believe that Feather will succeed where others have failed because we’re taking a fundamentally different approach. Friendship is not like dating, but other apps tend to treat it that way. With Feather, there’s no swiping, chatting or awkward friend dates — you skip straight all of that and jump right into doing something that you actually enjoy.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: We tested our product in the cheapest way we could think of before building the mobile application. We ran Facebook ads to generate a list of signups and used email to match these “users” with activities and groups. This test allowed us to validate our product assumptions before investing into an expensive development process. During this email-based test, we had more than 200 users in the Los Angeles area sign up, and we sent them on several food, hiking and board game outings. This demonstrated that there was an audience for a product like Feather and encouraged us to build the app.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not launching even sooner. So many people are on social networks these days that startups can afford to launch multiple times. We spent too much time iterating in our own corner instead of getting the product into the hands of users quickly and getting their feedback.

Feather does the work of picking a place to meet potential new friends. (Feather Image)

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Whitney Wolfe Herd, the CEO of Bumble. She created a successful dating app in late 2014 in a crowded market that already had Tinder, Hinge and other big players by taking a unique approach with her app. She was also the head of marketing at Tinder, and was credited with coming up with the name, logo and wildly successful grassroots launch campaign Tinder had at college campuses. As a startup launching in an adjacent space, we’d benefit from her uniquely creative way of getting her products into the hands of the right users and designing memorable branding.

Our favorite team-building activity is: We have a running list of recommended activities around Seattle that we use to create recommendations for users. We often “beta test” these recommendations ourselves by going and doing the activity ourselves.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We like to hire people who are domain experts in something that’s important for our product. So far our hires have primarily come from my co-founder’s previous co-workers at Microsoft, where they collaborated to bring mobile experiences to millions of users.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Test your assumptions and audience as thoroughly as you can before you build anything. With how easy it is to set up a landing page and a few Facebook ads, there’s no reason you can’t validate to a high degree of confidence if people actually want what you’re making. You can also use this method to cheaply experiment and iterate — it’s a lot harder to iterate on an actual piece of software than a few lines of copy and visuals on a landing page.

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