Local tekkies generate buzz with an iPhone app focused on ‘real friends’
There is a specter haunting social media. And though you may hate to admit it, your technophobic uncle somehow managed to hit the nail right on the head in his requisite New Year’s Eve diatribe on how things were better in the “good old days.”
Let’s face it, you don’t hang out with 95 percent of your Facebook friends, you will never even meet half the people you follow on Twitter and you certainly don’t care that Ashton Kutcher is waiting to get a triple venti mocha on North Beverly Drive. All the same, tweets and status updates such as these are edging out the important ones: a friend you haven’t seen in years is passing through town today; an old flame you’ve been hoping to reconnect with is heading to your favorite bar for drinks; a potential client is attending the same seminar as you. You missed all of these vital pieces of information because your high school sweetheart, who you haven’t seen in five years, just got a new lap dog.
“Twitter and Facebook have become way too noisy,” says Sol Lipman, leader of a new project that aims to eliminate that noise and put you in touch with the people you actually know. “Social networking needs to come down to real friends.”
Lipman believes that the human tendency to add as many friends as possible to your Facebook and Twitter accounts is, in many ways, “ruining these applications.” He sees an opportunity with his new app to redefine social networking, or at least provide a different kind of social networking tool, focused on the handful of people you actually interact with on a regular basis.
Enter Rally, Lipman’s new iPhone app, which he created with a small, hand-picked group of entrepreneurs working out of NextSpace in Santa Cruz.
FIND ME The Rally App allows friends to find each other around town, among other things.
When Good Times last checked in with Lipman, he had just launched a campaign to bring real live faces and voices to status updates with 12seconds.tv. His idea, to take the Twitter model and swap video for text, has been met with success. The popular TweetDeck iPhone application, which allows users to update Twitter, Facebook and MySpace status all in one place, recently added a 12seconds.tv update button. Now Lipman, along with a “dream team” of coders and graphic designers, has created a way to track what your real friends are doing in real time, right from the palm of your hand.
Rally is part of a larger group of smart phone applications known as “location-based services.” These apps use GPS to allow users to mark specific locations on the map and store that information for other users to access.
Using the Rally interface, a user “checks in” at a given location. Checking in can be accompanied by a text message or picture—Lipman suggests snapping a shot of the cutie at the end of the bar, or the delicious sandwich the user is primed to devour. The application then sends that message out to all of the user’s Rally friends, complete with a GPS stamp.
In order to discourage the noise of Facebook and Twitter, Rally will not allow users to sync with contacts in other social networking accounts, something a competing app, Foursquare, does allow. “When you register for Foursquare they ask you for your Twitter address and you get all these people that don’t need to know where you are,” Lipman says. “It’s not about all those people. It is about your real friends.”
“At first, we were like, ‘Are you kidding?’On Wednesday, we were like … ‘we’re going.’” — Ruby Anaya
The app also encourages checking in at home, but allows users to forego the GPS stamp for this location. Real friends, after all, know where their real friends live.
Davy Reynolds is co-founder of Parachute Creative, the NextSpace graphic design firm Lipman tapped to create the Rally aesthetic. Reynolds says meeting up with his friends on a Friday night is now effortless, thanks to the app.
“If I go downtown on Friday and I don’t have a set plan, I can check in to see where all my friends are,” he says. “If a friend of mine comes in from England, he can step off the plane, check Rally and see right where I am—the Red Room. And using Google Maps, he doesn’t have to text me for directions. It’s all right there.” The map of Reynold’s location can be pulled up within the application.
“If I go downtown on Friday and I don’t have a set plan, I can check in to see where all my friends are. If a friend of mine comes in from England, he can step off the plane, check Rally and see right where I am—the Red Room. And using Google Maps, he doesn’t have to text me for directions. It’s all right there.” — Davy Reynolds, co-founder Parachute Creative
When Reynolds checks in, his outgoing message appears on his friends’ iPhones, accompanied by two buttons: “I’m on the way” and “Get directions,” which makes responding easy. His friends can also reply directly to him with a message of their own.
If for some reason the crowd at the Red Room were to suddenly become strange, Rally provides possible solutions at the touch of a screen. On a recent weekend barhop, Parachute Creative co-founder Ruby Anaya checked her Rally and discovered that a group of her friends were at 515 Kitchen and Cocktails. She headed straight there.
The application remembers every unique check-in ever created. Now that Reynolds has checked in at the Red Room, other users can see the location on their Rally maps and leave their own comments about the bar, the same way Yelp users leave anecdotes about places they’ve been.
The inspiration to create Rally came suddenly—on a Tuesday, as Lipman recalls. He would pull together a group, rent a van and drive down to the Shalom Institute, a Jewish summer camp in Malibu, where he has worked many a summer as a counselor. The idea was simple enough: “We’ll surf in the morning and code all day and night,” he remembers explaining to his recruits. “Let’s go down there for a week and build this crazy app.”
Everybody said yes.
SOCIAL BUTTERFLY There’s so much to do around town, something the folks who created Rally count on.
Jacob Knobel, who first met Lipman as a camper at the Shalom Institute and now works for 12seconds.tv, recalls the fateful afternoon. “Sol says a lot of crazy things,” Knobel explains. “I was pegging the possibility of this actually happening at like 5 percent on Tuesday.”
“At first, we were like, ‘Are you kidding?’” Anaya says. “On Wednesday, we were like, ‘Fuck it, we’re going.’”
Over the course of that week, Lipman recruited five more team members—Ben Porterfield, a Flash AIR guru; Ethan and Stacy Nagel of Nagel Technologies; and Andrew and Jeffrey Lyon of Lyon Bros. Enterprises, who, according to Lipman, are “totally sick coders.”
The van ended up being an RV, but sure enough the whole group was heading south by Friday afternoon, with little more than a concept and a case of brew.
“Once we got on the coach and cracked a beer open, we were like, ‘We need to get a name for this,’” Reynolds recalls. For the entire trip they bounced names off of each other but nothing stuck.
“All we knew was that we didn’t want the app or the name to be kitsch,” Anaya says. Rally is competing for market share against two other similar smart phone apps, Foursquare and Gowalla.
Reynolds and Lipman say they aimed to differentiate Rally from their competitors by keeping it as simple as possible. There are no games or elaborate graphics to be found in Rally, as is the case with its two major competitors.
When the group got to the Shalom Institute grounds, they checked into their rooms and spent the night playing guitar and drinking. “Jake drank the most beer on the trip,” Reynolds says with a cracked grin.
“That’s not true,” Knobel mutters, quite unnecessarily. Reynolds, with his thick English accent, wild hair and excited eyes likes to tease Knobel, whose appearance is much more reserved.
The next morning the group hiked to a vista overlooking a verdant valley. This is where they came up with the name for their app. “We want people to rally their friends,” Lipman explains, “go out and have fun. It’s kind of a lifestyle brand, I guess.”
They spent the rest of the week crafting Rally, often staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. “The cool thing about the camp,” Knobel says, “is that there was only one thing to focus on—the project.”
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had working,” Reynolds says. “Everyone there was extremely good at what they did. We’re like the A-Team,” he adds with a smile, “and Sol is Mr. T.”
As a matter of fact, the team gave Lipman a Mr. T haircut before returning from Malibu with a functional app, which, all agree, has remained true to the group’s original intentions. Rally is simple, with few frills. The main screen of the app displays friends’ check-ins in chronological order. On the left of the screen appears the user’s thumbnail icon followed by the user’s name, location, a brief message and a picture, if one has been included. At the top of the main screen is the check-in button; at the bottom there is a dock with shortcuts to the check-in feed, friends list, stamps and alerts.
Everyone involved with Rally agrees that the project wouldn’t have come to fruition if it weren’t for what Lipman and others call the “NextSpace effect.”
Located at 101 Cooper Street, the shared workspace is an idea incubator. Everyone involved in the Rally project has offices at NextSpace. The walls of most of the offices at NextSpace extend only slightly above eye level. The shared airspace, when considered metaphorically, says everything about the NextSpace philosophy—that ideas should be allowed to float freely through the air, available to anyone who is willing to contribute and build upon them.
There are lawyers, filmmakers, architects, green tech companies and marketing firms with offices at NextSpace. The networking possibilities are seemingly endless.
Lipman and Knobel first hooked up with Reynolds and Anaya when 12seconds.tv needed a logo for its iPhone app. The two companies clicked and continue to teach each other new things.
“When I look at him doing his code, I’m amazed,” Reynolds says of Knobel, to which Knobel responds: “I’m always in awe of raw creative talent.”
“Honestly,” Anaya adds, “I think that it’s a kind of energy that NextSpace has. You go and get coffee and you end up talking to someone for 20 minutes about a subject you don’t know much about. You end up learning something and sometimes collaborating.”
Rally is available in the iPhone app store. The Apple phone is currently the only smart phone that supports the app, but Droid, Palm and BlackBerry versions are in the works. The Rally crew hope to eventually allow video to be incorporated with check ins. For now, though, everyone involved is excited about the application’s future.
“It does what it does,” Reynolds says. “It does it well. And it will only get better at doing it.” Learn more at rallyapp.com.
When it Comes to Pursuing Dreams … Just Jump
A prudent financial planner likely would have advised Davy Reynolds and Ruby Anaya against founding Parachute Creative. The two were broke when they decided to start the company last year.
“We had literally no money,” Reynolds says. “Ruby and I had zero money in our bank accounts.” In the middle of a tanking economy these two brave souls spent their final paychecks from previous gigs on a cubicle in NextSpace. Luckily, they were also able to secure a small business loan to get the computers and other equipment they needed to hit the ground running.
And they did just that.
“For us it didn’t really seem like the economy was that messed up,” Reynolds says. He and Anaya have managed to stay fairly busy since they opened for business, a fact Reynolds attributes to his firm’s laid back, yet professional, approach.
Anaya agrees. She says that Parachute Creative is about building personal relationships with clients in order to fully understand their needs. “We’re very chill,” she says, adding that she and Reynolds make a great team. “We bounce ideas off of each other very fluidly.”
Parachute Creative works on print and web design projects. They are currently building the Rally website and just finished some design work for the new Santa Cruz Rehearsal Studios. Reynolds designed the rehearsal space’s logo—a simple, symmetrical anchor, ringed by the studio’s name. The top of the anchor morphs into the neck and headstock of a guitar.
“Our goal was to create a logo that would look cool enough to go on a T-shirt,” he says, “but be simple enough to go on a business card.”
Reynolds got his start in graphic design working for bands on album artwork and concert posters. He and Anaya make sure to stay engaged in their work by seeking out interesting projects.
“We don’t just pump the stuff out to get the paycheck,” Reynolds says. “We’re trying to do work that we like to do, not just work that we have to do.”
As such, Parachute Creative will take on pro bono projects when they have time.
“We’re trying to do work that we like to do, not just work that we have to do.”— Ruby Anaya
Both Reynolds and Anaya say working in NextSpace has been essential in growing their business. Sol Lipman of 12seconds and now Rally, as well as Andrew and Jeffrey Lyon, of Lyon Bros. Enterprises, have all proven to be great friends and incredible resources.
Reynolds and Anaya are excited about the future of Rally and their firm. “It wasn’t easy,” Reynolds says of founding Parachute Creative. “It’s been a struggle. But it’s time well spent.” | NV
Learn more at parachutecreative.com.