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Interview with Jay Goss, exactly.me

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

In the world of social networking, there are lots of apps and services which connect you with people you know, but not so many which help you connect with others like you. Los Angeles-based exactly.me (www.exactly.me) is hoping to change that, with an app that connects you with other like minded individuals, based on your reaction to photos. Jay Goss, CEO of the startup--who is a veteran startup CEO here in Southern California-- talked to us about the new startup, which was developed by the technical co-founder of AskJeeves.

What is exactly.me?

Jay Goss: exactly.me is the app behind the company known as exactly Messaging Inc. exactly.me is an app that combines a photo sharing experience with a people discovery slash messaging experience. Where theare are plenty of apps to message people you already know, and plenty of apps that do photo sharing, this is different. What exactly.me does, is by virtue of how you reach to ten, fifteen, or twenty images that you swipe and when you swipe--telling the app if the image is exactly me, or some degrees of me, or degrees of not me, the app literally gets to know you. The app was built by the technical co-founder of the original search engine, AskJeeves. If you think about what he did for AskJeeves, that was a website recommendation engine. With exactly.me, he's built a people recommendation engine. It uses very sophisticated, AI machine learning , to learn about our users, by virtue of how they interact with photos provided by other users. Over time, we get a great handle on how you are wired, and we figure out your similarity to other users, who we recommend you reach out to. It's not for the sake of dating, not for pen pals, or for talking about sports or the tech scene. It doesn't know why you might want to reach out, simply that this person is like that person, we've made a match, so you might want to reach out. The app enables that, by virtue of a video messaging system, where you can send me a video message, or I can send you a fifteen second video message. So, for example, I might say, hey, I see you're into snow skiing, thought I'd catch up with you, maybe we can meet up at Mammoth sometime next weekend.

Is there a need for yet another social networking app?

Jay Goss: That's our thesis. This is the year, according to all the data, where mobile messaging will surpass social. Even without knowing the exact number, we know social is big, but that this year, mobile messaging will pass it in terms of user engagement, sessions per day, and minutes per day. This is the year human beings will spend more time with mobile messaging than traditional social medial. Whether that's Facebook Messenger, SMS, LinkedIn, or any other messaging platform, it all adds us, to more messaging than on social networks. However, all those mobile messaging platforms that do exist, they exist to let user A communicate with user B, where they already know each other. You don't use SMS to send a test message to a stranger, and you don't use Facebook messenger to send a message to a stranger. You use those platforms to message friends, family, and colleagues. All of those are fundamentally there to put two people in touch who already have a relationship. Our app starts from the opposite premise--not to be a messaging platform for people who know each other, but a messaging platform to connect you for the first time. Our tagline, is where strangers become friends. Now, we don't necessarily say all of our users become friends, but that's the premise.

How did you get involved with the company?

Jay Goss: I got involved around April of 2016, as the company was putting the final pieces together on the app. The app, like so many companies, was far from a straight line journey. What it started out as, and what it received funding for morphed. They launched a product in the app store, got some users, morphed a little more, and gathered more user feedback, until what we have today. Everything I described to you has now been really well validated for product-market-fit, and the company is now ready to become a company, not just a development shop. I was brought in because it was time to get the app to market, do some consumer marketing, and start to think about a revenue model, and also raise more money for the company, all those things involved in developing a company. Before, where we were a bunch of programmers developing a product in a vacuum, we're now a company. I got involved as the missing piece for the founders, which hadn't been an issue because they didn't need a person in that area until they were ready for a real launch. That's why the founders found me on a search for a professional CEO, in the first place.

As a serial entrepreneur, what has been the biggest lesson you have learned from your experience with startups, that you are applying here?

Jay Goss: (laughs) There are a hundred! I think what I've done elsewhere which applies here, is largely making sure we try a lot of different things to get the word out about our app. Whether you have 50 cents to spend on marketing, or $50M to spend on marketing, the idea is this is a product that is brand new to the world, and a new concept. It's not an ordinary messaging app, it has a lot of people discovery components. The key to this company's success, is getting lots of users on the app, get users highly engaged with messaging, so they tell their friends, and so they can start finding people around the world and have this spread. It's all about how you light that fire. What we've done in other companies where I've seen success, is try a lot of things, track the things that work, do more of what is working, and stop doing things that aren't working. Fail fast, if you are going to fail. Figure out what is working, and put more resources on that. We now have a really good, four-person marketing team which is doing different parts of what we think of as an omni-channel marketing campaign for the company, which includes Facebook advertising, PR, and influencer marketing. We're trying everything under the sun, and we're keeping very close track on all of those things, so we can very quickly discontinue things that don't work, identify those that work, and put more resources on those things. That's the main goal for the company, which is to start to build a user base in the next three months, and then take it to the venture capital community here in Southern California and also in Northern California. While the company has raised money, they haven't taken any venture capital--it's all been from angels and other institutions. Those were stepping stones to get the story into place, with metrics and proof points and unit economics, so we could take it to more sophisticated investors, which we'll do in 90-120 days and knock their socks off.

You mention the company started with technical founders, what advice would you give other technical founders on making your company successful?

Jay Goss: Probably the thing I've learned across most of the companies that I've been engaged in, is you can't be afraid to get your product out there. The typical technical founder, for all good, virtuous reasons, tends to be a perfectionist. They don't want to have their baby out there in the marketplace--whether it's a website, app, or piece of software, or a video, until it's absolutely perfect. The consequence of shooting for absolute perfection, is you never get your product into the market. It's okay to have it mostly good, and in the market, just so you can get feedback. That's actually something this company has done a very good job of. We have brilliant technology and product people, but they've had a great orientation about gathering product feedback. You have to get your product into market, even if you're a little uncomfortable that you haven't dotted all the i's and crossed every t, and maybe you don't love every pixel. You have to get market feedback, and you're probably not going to get a false negative if you have 95 percent of what you need in there. It's all about MVP, Minimally Viable Product, so you can learn what is and isn't working. Even if you don't like everything you hear, it allows you to get feedback from lots of people, rather than just the opinions of a couple of the founders. Making decisions on product from feedback you've gathered from 10, 100, or a 1000 people is much more reliable.

Finally, what's the next step on your journey?

Jay Goss: We are heads down, just coming out of the gate with the next app. That includes the messaging functionality I described. This is literally something that didn't exist six months ago. That's the stepping stone we're using, and we'll spend the next three months building a user community and seeing if the dog will hunt. We'll find out how much people love the app, how many times they use it, how many messages they send, how many pictures they are uploading, and if they're telling their friends. We want to quantify and qualify the user engagement over the next 90 days, and then start a roadshow to do our first venture capital round. We've raised $6M so far, none from venture capitalists, and that next round will help us start to start talking with venture capitalists and share the story, here with investors in Southern California and maybe also Northern California.

Thanks!


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