Posted: July 01, 2008
Tech Startup: Brightkite (dba for No Sleep Media LLC)Eric Peterson
Founded: 2007 (No Sleep Media Founded 2006)
INITIAL LIGHT BULB
While working day jobs at Denver search and content provider Local Matters, Brightkite co-founders Brady Becker and Martin May started a second company — dubbed No Sleep Media because it precluded them from getting eight hours a night — and developed a mobile group-notification product called Loopnote. The company was accepted into the TechStars program last year, so Becker and May quit their day jobs to attend the summer-long startup boot camp in Denver.
At TechStars, Loopnote morphed into Brightkite, which May described as a "location-based social network," adding, "I don't know if that term existed before Brightkite." Now based in downtown Denver, Brightkite has three employees and was at press time in the process of hiring three or four more people.
IN A NUTSHELL
Brightkite allows users to let friends know where they are in the real world, in real time, via their cell phone or Internet browser. Brightkiters can communicate with one another via test messaging and leave posts in the form of text and pictures that will be associated with that location in what May termed a "virtual layer."
The technology utilizes Google Maps and an in-house database to identify users' locations in the real world. For now, users check in to locations manually, but the company is primed to unveil a geospatial system based on GPS technology in cell phones.
Users can choose from three views on the Brightkite interface: "Me and My Friends" shows where your circle of friends are in the real world, "Around Me" reveals other Brightkite users in the vicinity, and "Brightkite Universe" keeps tabs on every Brightkite user on the planet.
"Just like in the real world, you don’t want your acquaintances to know where you are every single second," Becker said.
May described multiple revenue streams. "The most obvious one is location-based advertising, because we know where the user is and where they’ve been in the past ... we can insert ads for stuff that’s around you."
He also highlighted other potential revenue generators in selling "real world analytics" to businesses that illuminate their customers’ behavior and fee-based registration of places in the Brightkite universe, but he stressed that the company's first steps are refining the technology and fostering the user base.
The latter doesn’t look like it’s going to be much of a problem: Since the beta launch, Brightkite’s invite-only user base has grown dramatically. May and Becker believe they could have upwards of 1 million registered users by year’s end.
Jennifer Van Grove, a social media consultant and blogger in San Diego, started using Brightkite a week after it became available.
"The key benefits are still being discovered," she said, touting the "placestream" concept of a growing series of media posts for a given venue. "It tells a story."
Van Grove said Brightkite's strength will grow with its user base and become more and more useful. "The enthusiasm spread like wildfire, and I don't see it stopping."
With U.S. cell phone penetration now north of 80 percent, four out of five Americans are potential Brightkite users. Becker said Brightkite does not compete with MySpace, Facebook and other profile-driven social-networking sites, but in fact complements them. The company will target bars, music venues and conferences. For the last of the three, "You can see who else is there," May said. "You can narrow down who you want to talk to."
After getting $15,000 in seed funding from TechStars, Brightkite closed on a Series A funding round of $1 million earlier this year from undisclosed private investors.
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com