How LiveProfile Netted a Million Users in Five DaysDarrell Etherington
Cross-platform messaging app LiveProfile recently shot to the top of the App Store charts, adding 1 million users in just five days, doubling its total user pool and taking down its servers. So how did an app that's been around since October for Android (GOOG), and since January for iPhone (AAPL), suddenly achieve such massive success?
The answer might surprise you, especially if you're following the falling star of RIM (RIMM), at least as it's generally depicted in the press. The surge in users is because LiveProfile just introduced a BlackBerry version of its messaging client on Mar. 25. The client offers instant messaging with status updates, message delivery confirmation, and photo/video messaging. LiveProfile's chief executive, Phil Karl, said in an e-mail interview that he thinks LiveProfile's success has a lot to do with the product's advantages over SMS and its "unique feature set and beautiful interface," along with the fact that LiveProfile "is much more than just a messenger," with planned additions to social network features in the pipeline. But Karl also acknowledges that the recent addition of BlackBerry no doubt prompted "rapid growth on all platforms." BlackBerry and Android are currently the fastest-growing platforms for LiveProfile, though the iPhone is "not far behind."
Kik was the last service to offer BBM-style messaging across Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry devices, until RIM pulled the app and began legal proceedings against the company. Kik, too, experienced massive early success before it first ran afoul of users with a spam e-mail campaign, and then the BlackBerry client was pulled, after which it fell out of the App Store rankings. Karl is confident his app won't suffer the same fate. He believes RIM's primary reason for going after Kik was the possibility that a former RIM employee, now Kik's chief executive, brought over and used trade secrets at his new company.
Karl also maintains that LiveProfile is a different type of product. Clearly, though, LiveProfile hopes to capitalize on its similarity to BBM, or it wouldn't have used a typeface for its logo that looks remarkably similar to the one used for BlackBerry's branding. It even provides a PIN number that allows others to add you to their networks.
Crashing the Servers
Following the introduction of the BlackBerry client, LiveProfile made its way into the upper end of the App Store charts in some countries, including Canada, where it's currently the No. 1 free app. Based on info from developers I've talked to, a coveted position atop the chart generally leads to a massive uptick in downloads. The app is currently seeing around 250,000 to 300,000 new registrations per day, from all sources. The excess load led to an unscheduled eight-hour service outage on Wednesday, and the LiveProfile team has been scrambling to recover, installing two to three servers per day to the in-house cluster it uses to host the app. The team is also rewriting the back end at the same time to make the service more efficient. It just completed a major system upgrade late Thursday to make sure it can scale properly to meet future demand, and Karl also credits infrastructure-as-a-service company SoftLayer with providing servers on short notice to help scale and Amazon S3 for allowing it to scale "indefinitely with little effort."
New York-based LiveProfile was co-founded by Phil Karl and William Key, both of whom bootstrapped the company. Working alone, they "designed, developed, and launched the initial Android application and infrastructure" in just one month, according to Karl. In January 2011, two more engineers were brought on board to help aid the platform's expansion to iOS and BlackBerry platforms. Karl says LiveProfile is currently working on raising Series A funding from "some amazing investors" who have yet to be announced. For the foreseeable future, at least, LiveProfile will not be charging for any aspect of LiveProfile, nor will it be introducing any in-app advertising, and it will work instead to continue to improve the experience and feature set using invested funds.
LiveProfile may not have been an overnight success, but it is a remarkably explosive one that seems well-positioned to continue to experience rapid growth. Between LiveProfile and Kik, the message is clear: Users want more options for cross-platform communication. Instagram and Viber are proof that some apps will succeed even if the developers focus on just one mobile platform, but reaching all major smartphone users seems to be a fast track to startup success. It may be that because of the network effect, reaching one user on a platform that's normally left out of the party, such as BlackBerry, translates into that person's contacts choosing one client over another on their own, more popular platforms, but that's still a good reason to consider casting as wide a net as possible.
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