Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Interview with Josh Resnick, ntro
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Have you ever been sitting around in an airport or public place, and wonder if there is someone around you should be introducing yourself to and meeting? That's the problem that the mobile app ntro is looking to solve. Josh Resnick is a serial entrepreneur, and the founder and CEO of nProgress, the company behind ntro. Josh was formerly the President of Pandemic Studios, and helped co-found the company, merge it with Bioware, and eventually sell the combined firm to Electronic Arts for $860M. Josh sat down to talk to us his new company and its new app.
What's the idea behind the ntro?
Josh Resnick: What ntro is about, is trying to uncover meaningful connections with people around you. It also works great for people you already know. You might think you know your friend, but then you might discover cool new interesting things and passions they have that you didn't know about. It might point out things you have in common, or it might allow you to discover new people you haven't met yet. The app is free to download on iPhone and Android, and available in both app stores now.
A few years ago, I was spending lots of time in airports. I realized I was surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of different people. I remember one day, looking up, and everyone was on their phone. They were talking on their phone, checking Facebook or their email. It was one of those weird moments--I thought--there has got to be someone here I have something in common with, and it would be interesting to meet. I'm not the guy to just walk up and talk to someone, saying hey--I'm Josh, I'm into videogames and scotch--so I thought, there must be another way, from a technology standpoint, to solve that problem. I know lots of people think they don't have time for that, but there are those moments when you're in a coffee shop with twenty minutes of free time, or when you're plane delayed, or even if you're at a networking event or conference, and you are curious who is around you. And who knows, they might be a really good fit.
The problem we're trying to solve is serendipity, which is so bloody rare. When it happens, and when it strikes, it's such as amazing experience to get to discover those people, meet someone new you have lots in common with--and we want to help that happen more often.
When did you decide to start working on this as a company?
Josh Resnick: It was roughly eighteen months ago, maybe two years ago when we started. I actually had the idea sitting around with my partner around three to four years ago, but we were both pretty focused on our videogame careers at the time. However, I transitioned out of video games a couple of years ago, and was going to take a few months off. But, I realized that it was the perfect time to do something like this. Smart phones are out there, location awareness had just been released and enabled on the iPhone, and you now had the ability to run multiple apps in the background. So, it made sense to start working on this to solve this problem. We saw some activity out there--mostly dating apps on some activity on networking apps--but no one was really tackling the big problem of how anyone could connect on any interest, in any situation, not just dating or networking, but really broad and open.
We're quite familiar with your background, but for those who aren't, talk about how you got here and Pandemic?
Josh Resnick: I've been in video games for about fifteen years. I started at Activision, and worked as a producer and director. In the late 80's, I broke away with my partners, and formed Pandemic Studios. We were based in LA, and started with just a handful of guys, about a dozen people. We grew that to about five hundred people here at our studio in LA, as well as in Australia, and then we partnered with Bioware, the maker of role playing games in Canada, and then sold to Electronic Arts in 2007. I stayed there for a couple of years after that, and in 2010, I started working on ntro.
Why did you decide to start a company in the mobile area, rather than the video game business?
Josh Resnick: At the end of the day, I just go to where my passions are. I was a passionate videogame player since I was twelve, and it was an easy decision to get into video games. After video games, which I did for a long time, I had realized a lot of my dream and what I wanted to do there. In this case, my focus was not so much on mobile, but my focus on a big social problem, helping people to connect in a meaningful and efficient way. I was just sitting and mulling on it for a long time, and the timing was right for me to start working on it. Mobile was just obviously the best platform that, because the smart phone has essentially become a ubiquitous device.
We notice you've initially targeted Los Angeles and San Francisco. What's the strategy there?
Josh Resnick: For us, density is everything. Often, you'll see these apps in the App store, or where they'll go to the press, and then reach out to friends and family--and just hope and pray that enough people discover the app, and that it builds enough density and takes off. We didn't want to take that chance with something like this. The experience is only fully realized when thousands of people on ntro can connect with each other after entering their interests. That's why it's really important that we achieve density quickly. The reason we're focusing on certain locations, is so we can go out and do some grassroots outreach efforts. For example, with those cities, we're doings things like pulling up a Sprinkles cupcake truck in an office location, and we'll give out free cupcakes if people will download and play with the app. We've partnered with a great food truck blog, Roaming Hunger, which is based in LA, and we're reaching out to 200 food trucks in LA, in a promotion where you and one hundred of your friends can get a food truck party for a day, just by entering your favorite food truck during registration when you download the app and experience it. We're also partnering with local charities, to help drive awareness for those charities. If a charity wants to introduce their members to ntro, as a benefit to meet other supports and members, we'll donate $2 for every signup we get to that charity. We'll be doing that at holiday events around the two cities to achieve the density, and get that great experience. For example, you might really love a really unique scotch, and want to meet others that hold a monthly scotch tasting event. Maybe only a few people are really into that particular scotch--statistically, you need lots of people to meet that person. It's easy to find people in West LA who are into yoga or something like that, but we're all about connecting people over things they really care about. We need lots of people in this service, who are able to connect on those long tail, unique interests.
As you mentioned earlier, everyone seems to be stuck behind their phone in their own world. Do you think you'll be able to get people from out from behind that phone?
Josh Resnick: That's the big question that is unanswered. I do believe that someone is going to solve this problem. Someone is going to help us break out of our self-imposed, digital blankets, and look up from their devices and connect with the real people around them. I believe we're in a position to solve that problem, because it hasn't been solved yet. Lots of people have been trying, but people have erected pretty thick barriers around themselves. But, I think people are becoming much more accustomed to and comfortable with interacting with people they already know--just look at the success of Facebook, and its 800 million users. They didn't use to be, it's a relatively new phenomenon. I thin the way to get people out there, is to connect people over interests that they really care about. That kind of opens up the door, and makes people more comfortable with the idea. Say you are deeply passionate about X, Y, or Z, I think that makes it feel okay and makes you comfortable connecting with someone else. Another thing that gives me hope, is that when serendipity does strike--say, in line at a coffee shop you meet someone from your hometown, who has the same interests you have, or who you know from twenty years ago in elementary school. You weren't looking for that to happen, but when that happen, it's the most wonderful experience, which you remember forever. You feel great, and you tell your friends and family--you won't believe who I ran into. I think that if we can get people comfortable with taking the stapes to download ntro, and to register and enable the experience, we can get people there.
Real quickly, since you're gathering location information, can you talk about privacy and how you address that?
Josh Resnick: We take privacy super seriously. We won't share your location with just anybody. You have to connect over an interest, and then we let them know that there is someone nearby--within 500 feet, a thousand feet--and we'll never share your actual location or share key personal information about you. We don't share your last name, your email, your phone number or anything. We do encourage you to upload a photo, so in case you happen to be at a party or at an event, you can look across the room and introduce yourself. But, you can remain anonymous, as well, if you're more comfortable with that. Also, if you want to be anonymous, you won't be able to see another person's photo. We take privacy really seriously.
Last question--what's your big goal for the next few months?
Josh Resnick: It's really driving awareness, and getting as many people onto ntro as possible. We want to get them download and comfortable sharing it with friends, and what we're hoping to do is start hearing about lots of stories about people meeting each other. We're already starting to heart some of that, people forming groups over their interest. There's nothing that feels better to us that getting real world stories, and we hope to hear more of those over the next few months. It would be great if a couple of tech entrepreneurs started a business, someone found someone to go running with, or found someone to join their book club, or started dating. There are so many uses for this app, so I'm really looking forward to hearing stories and getting more people exposed to it.
Thanks, and good luck!