If the Smurfs had to plan a picnic, one problem that they could
run into is simply deciding which medium to use. Facebook?
Whatsapp? Simple phone calls? In today's world where we're all on
several medium at once, cohesion, rather than access, can become a
One of the more interesting applications coming out of Pakistan lately is Hoodere, an online service that works to solve that problem by helping users discover and coordinate real-life social plans, collecting information from a variety of social media services. It works almost as a virtual, reliable personal assistant that coordinates among your existing social networks, is ever-vigilant, and can be accessed from the web or your iPhone/iPad or Android device.
The reason it's interesting is not just because of its simple interface; it was also built by a kind of entrepreneur we're beginning to see more of, one who gave up a promising career abroad to return to launch a local company and reinvest in his country.
So how did a high-flying corporate banker and management
consultant end up becoming a Pakistani tech entrepreneur?
When I first met Sameer Noorani, Hoodere's Founder and CEO, around six months ago at a friend’s office, he had recently quit his high-paying job at McKinsey and moved to Pakistan to found Hoodere. I still remember his passionate and fiery one minute elevator pitch. He left after making me promise that I will try out the application once it had launched.
His inspiration for the product came during his travel as a banker and management consultant, as he often wondered which of his friends were living nearby or also passing through a new city he was visiting. Knowing in advance about their plans would allow him to make plans and make his entire travel experience better. He also realized that even when at home, making casual plans with multiple friends was a chore that often required multiple status updates on Facebook, back and forth emails, phone calls and SMS exchanges.
He launched Hoodere to solve that problem, building a mobile app that integrates with social media to notify users which friends and plans will be near their future locations, while also allowing users to plan events on the app and coordinate with others- even if they aren't on Hoodere yet.
How it's different from Meetup
When I finally got around to testing this 'social' service, I expected it would take me a few days of building my network inside Hoodere to extract full value from it. That turned out to be untrue. After registering and connecting the application with my Facebook account, it automatically started discovering my friends’ plans on Facebook and allowed me to start coordinating with them right away.
Due to this deep integration with Facebook, this ‘social’ application is useful on day one and does not require seeding its own independent network. This also sets Hoodere apart from similar event planning applications like Shoutplans and Meetup.com, where social planning and discovery happen based on existing interests or events originating within those applications.
One current weakness, however, is that Facebook is the only supported social network so far. Most of my professional contacts are on LinkedIn, so that’s a feature request I immediately forwarded to the company. It claims to be working on both Twitter and LinkedIn integration already.
The application also allows me to discover future plans and whereabouts of my contacts and coordinate my own plans with them making this an ideal tool for the frequent traveller. For the social butterflies, it has a proximity based plan overlap algorithm that notifies the users about friends hanging out nearby so they never miss an opportunity to drop by and say hello.
Necessarily, the application provides privacy control options to
limit the circle to which the plans are visible. Aside from the
default Public, and All Friends circles, Hoodere allows the users
to control privacy down to custom Friends’ lists which could
potentially contain one or two users also. I found that to be an
adequate privacy feature set for a social application.
How does a meetup app monetize?
So how does Hoodere plan to make money? Sameer has a clear monetization strategy in mind. After building out its user base, he plans to serve up personalized, targeted advertisements to users, based on the knowledge of their intent and locations. Planning to go to Dubai for a day? Expect to see hotel deals somewhere within the application. The challenge, like other social platforms, will be to serve these ads in a way that they do not negatively impact the user experience.
The app may be on its way now, but Sameer's journey as Hoodere's founder has not been smooth sailing. Moving back to Pakistan to conduct product development here has tested his faith; while the country's immense talent and resilience makes it conducive to founding and growing a company with big ambitions, it has been challenging. Retention of good talent is a problem faced by most companies, small and big, in the tech sector. Soon after that realization, Hoodere decided to outsource most of the software development function to an established software services company. Electric loadshedding in the country required that some of the precious seed capital of the firm be invested in UPS and generators instead of, say marketing. Yet Sameer has already invested north of $75,000 to bootstrap the business and back that faith in his country. "Most of these and many other challenges are not insurmountable at all. I am already in discussion with two international investors, but until any outside money comes in, I will continue to fund Hoodere myself," says Sameer.
Amidst raging debate on whether social networking platforms are bringing people closer or drifting them apart, I am glad that this tech product in Pakistan can reverse the current trends and leverage online social networking platforms to actually help people meet and connect in real life.