San Francisco-based investment company Benchmark and others have invested $22.5 million into French tech startup Zenly. These investors include Peter Fenton, who sits on the board of Twitter and is known for social media investments. He has now joined the board of Zenly. Other notable investors include Jerry Murdoc, the co-founder of Insight Venture Partners, European firm Idinvest Partners, and French tech financier Xavier Niel.
Benchmark is perhaps the most surprising since it's rare for an American firm to invest in a French startup. But they didn't hesitate. Zenly raised this sum in only 28 days. They are still spending the $11.2 million they raised last year, but Zenly is committed to its product and its mission.
The Zenly App
Zenly is making location sharing a hot concept again. This is not an original idea, and there is still stiff competition for such a product. But the company went to a lot of trouble to plan its app from the ground up to meet consumer expectations. Their app makes it easy to share your location with friends and family - all of them, if need be.
The app's mapping is accurate, battery efficient, and provides perks that set it above and beyond its rivals. For instance, it's so precise that you could actually watch the live progress as your friends drive through downtown or ski the slopes. You can control all this through the app's settings. Zenly provides better technology, and more use scenarios, than any locator app you've seen previously. Far beyond checking in with friends, the app is fun, versatile, and fascinating enough so that teens are becoming addicted to it.
And it's easy. Their location technology is built on top an infrastructure known as the ZenEngine that was 3 years in the making. This incorporates a system of sensors and beacons for precise location. Some of the benefits of Zenly's lovingly created app are a very simple setup, privacy controls, and cross-platform compatibility. Perhaps the best benefit of all is that Zenly is free.
The map appears as soon as you open the app, with your's and your friend's positions already showing. You can tap on a friend to see their exact location, scan the entire group at a swipe, or jump from one to another at random. The display will show the live position of your friends on the map, the battery level of their devices so you can check before communicating, and it allows you to add your own location with a single tap. You can watch your friends move in real time.
Yet another locator app may not seem like a very useful product. You can share locations with friends on existing apps like Foursquare or Apple's Find My Friends. A number of other locator apps have come and gone. Most of them were a drain on mobile batteries, and who has time to keep tabs on what their friends are up to, anyway? But Zenly put a lot of thought, and a lot of work, into their version. And they've really raised the bar.
Despite being such a powerful app, it's designed to preserve your battery charge. It works on a "Zpulse" system to make connections very quickly. Zenly doesn't automatically track your location; unless one of your friends opens the app, it does nothing. Even using it several times a day doesn't have much of an impact on battery life. And you can always remove yourself from the grid if you really want to save the battery, or just want some privacy.
Its mapping and messaging capability allow you, for instance, to receive automated notices if several friends have gathered at the local sports bar. Zenly can also determine when a place is trending by the user traffic that congregates there. Even if friend are bar-hopping out of town, you can always catch up with them.
But teenagers more than adults have responded enthusiastically. So far over 2 million people have downloaded the Zenly app. It's showing up in schools with growing frequency. Where adults have jobs - and teens - to keep tabs on, or a stubborn need for privacy, a high school student will add dozens of friends in a couple of days, and keep checking back to see what they're up to. In the social pressures of pre-adulthood, it's important to them to know where the popular hangouts are, where the parties are starting, and who may be romancing who. Even if you're just bored, the Zenly app can be a good way to pass the time.
Zenly is as well-designed as it is unique and addictive. It's more than a social and messaging app. It' s more than a locator utility. It's something that blends all three, and then goes one step beyond. Zenly's detailed features make it a satisfying experience. For instance the ability to add whomever you like provides a certain level of reassurance. You can add someone to the map whether you're waiting on a plumber, a business associate, or your sister is a no-show for dinner. You can likewise send someone else a link to add your location for just a few hours so they can track where you are. This can be useful if you're going on a blind date or experiencing car trouble.
Zenly's geolocation technology shows their dedication to the concept. It's robust, efficient, and accurate. The locator algorithm does a good job of figuring out the exact location of your friends, and with very few errors.
But there's more to come, as Zenly is planning to incorporate multiple layers of data features on top of the locator concept. This will significantly enhance Zenly's functionality for users.
It's a late-comer to the geolocation field. Major corporations like Google and Apple, among others, are working hard to develop their own next-generation mapping software. Rather than rely on existing technologies, Zenly will develop its own system of data mapping to provide users its own brand of service.
Co-founders Antoine Martin and Alexis Bonillo launched Zenly in 2010 with a small team of designers. Today they have 35 employees at its office, and an advisory board of 4 specialists. But thanks to Benchmark's input they are planning to open a second office in San Francisco. The engineering team for the most part will remain in France. But with a generous investment in its account, the company is in a position to spend less time worrying about operating costs and more time focused on product development.
Location sharing is not something that everyone will be happy with. Some people are protective of their privacy and just don't want to have their location known to all their family and friends 24/7. But Zenly has thought of that, and their solution is to include features that let you share or hide your location from everyone or only certain friends. If you want confidentiality, you can share your location with only the one person that matters at the moment, or simply remove yourself from the map. You can be as sociable or as invisible as you like.
Zenly worked hard to put together a top-of-the-line product before it was ever released, and it's taking off fast. Most people never even knew Zenly existed. But as soon as one of your friends downloads the app, you'll hear a lot about Zenly.
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Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker