To paraphrase George Bush; fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. When coANDco’s old offices near Old Street were broken into during the riots of 2011, Christoph Burgdorfer, who runs the UK arm of the Swiss Digital Creative Agency, took steps to make sure it didn’t happen again. Extra locks, burglar alarms? Security guard? Not quite. Christoph installed motion sensitive lamps which work via an API controlled by his iPhone, flashing and sending an alert to all of his staff whenever movement is detected outside office hours. Fool proof, ingenious. Welcome to the world of coANDco.
As Christoph shows me round the new office, an elegant open plan on Southgate Road, 15 minutes from the Silicon Roundabout, some of the gadgets on display remind me of the scenes from a James Bond movie when Bond goes to visit Q, the inventor. The robot in the corner that gratefully accepts coins from staff who arrive late, and can tell them how much they have deposited. The lamps of course, and a tiny Raspberry Pi inspired camera that transmits a live feed to the Swiss office; I half expect to be given a Walther PPK with a fingerprint sensor, or dodge a flying dummy’s head activated by a retractable ballpoint! It’s good to see that even a business working with top blue-chip clients can demonstrate a lighter side. Occasionally Christoph glances at a monitor in the corner of the room that showing a world map; the focus zooms in and out of seemingly random locations. This as it turns out, is what we are here to talk about.
First a brief history. Originally from Berne, Christoph studied art in Zurich before accepting a job in the UK working for a Swiss mobile tech company. Meanwhile, a close friend set up coANDco in Zurich with a business partner. Initially the agency helped progressive clients with customer engagement, persuading businesses that they were better online than off. Christoph came on board a few years later, when the Company decided to leverage London’s reputation for innovation in Tech, taking charge of product development. Using his artists’ eye, he began to create bespoke software to enhance the effectiveness and penetration of his clients online marketing strategies; successful products include Banner Cockpit, working with Google to allow companies to remotely control which banner ads they display, and Social Wi-Fi; providing free Wi-Fi to nearby consumers, in exchange for a Facebook like or other social media endorsement.
It was whilst out celebrating a new product launch at the nearby Rosemary Branch pub that the WhereAreYou app was born. Later that night, around 2am, the team received a distressed text from a new employee, along the lines of: “guy’s, I’ve left the bar, now I don’t know where I am, I keep going in circles, help me out?” “Go home, you’re drunk”, was the general response, but typically, it got Christoph thinking: what would be the quickest, most efficient way to track somebody’s location, without spying on them or unduly invading their privacy?
It transpires that Christoph the boss can be as innovative as his products. Every last Friday of the Month he uses “Lab Friday”, to brainstorm with the team, exploring new ideas, and this particular Friday, WhereAreYou was born. Ok, there are plenty of location trackers available, but WhereAreYou stands out because whomever you want to locate does not need to own the app for it to work. They simply receive a text from you, click on the link, and their momentary location is revealed to the sender in seconds. A killer USP.
Picture the scene: your new girlfriend / boyfriend is over from Italy, visiting you in London. They’ve got a smartphone and they have Google maps, but you know they hate using it. They normally end up walking in the wrong direction, phone turned upside down, trying to follow the blue blob, and bumping into passers-by! So you call them, “Where are you?” “I don’t know, I can see a red bus, there’s lots of people…wait, wait, I can see a statue”. We’ve all been there. What if you could send them a text, all they have to do is click, and hey presto, you have pinpointed their exact location.
The app went live in February 2013, and to date has notched up an impressive 173,000 users, 22,000 in May of this year alone. Another excellent feature is that having received a text, a user is given the option to download it, which more often than not they do, and so the phenomenon spreads. Christoph shows me the data he has collected on Flurry, and uses the monitor I mentioned earlier to conduct research into where the app is gaining traction. The results are intriguing, and unexpected. WhereAreYou has been used in most places you can think of, but at present it is growing fastest in Thailand and Vietnam, and the team want to know why. Could it be linked to the civil unrest in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital?
The team have held off on a marketing push whilst they try to understand how people are using the app, and what the options for monetisation are. A paid for satellite view functionality has already been added, and of course WhereAreYou is an advertisers dream; no spam, just relevant, targeted content.
Christoph is not looking for funding at this stage; the overheads are low and by partnering with Google he has the Technology he needs, but In a world where the now infamous Yo app, whose only purpose, lest we forget, is to allow you to say “Yo” to friends and family, can raise $1 million in funding practically overnight, the possibilities are exciting to say the least. For those who object to revealing their whereabouts, Christoph is quick to stress that this is a one-time location tracker, and it is up to you when and how often you use it.
coANDco is the kind of Company that brings innovation to Tech City, challenges norms, and pushes the envelope. Christoph says he is happy to be here in London, although we discuss the growing influence of the US, and to a lesser extent China, on funding and infrastructure in the UK. We agree that the UK and Europe could do with a Facebook, LinkedIn, even a “Yo”. Its early days, but WhereAreYou and the team at coANDco have as good a chance as anyone on the playing field right now. And now you know how to keep track of them.
Christopher Burgdorfer is Managing Director, Partner, Founder of coANDco, a Swiss/UK based digital agency who helps businesses to thrive online
WhereAreYou app is free and available for download on Android or iOS here: http://whereareyou-app.com