Shhmooze is a smartphone app that makes networking at events and conferences fast, smart and effective. Michelle Gallen, founder and CEO at Shhmooze, explains how every event junkie out there can benefit from Shhmooze and why she admires founders.
Could you start by explaining what Shhmooze is about?
It comes from the fact that we felt that networking really sucks, it’s hard work, it’s painful, it’s time consuming, and most of us are actually pretty rubbish at it. However, networking is really important when you are in business and even more so when you are in the startup world. I have been in this space for quite some time now, and I felt that there has been a need for a service like Shhmooze.
Shhmooze is a smart phone app that allows you to make smart connections by helping you to check-in to events, both massive conferences like Le Web as well as smaller meet-ups like Tech Club.
When you check-in with Shhmooze, it will show you who is at the event. This is done by analysing a lot of publicly available social media and network data, and as a result we don’t only tell you who is at the event, but also who you already know there, and more importantly, we provide you with smart recommendations of who you should talk to. In conclusion, Shhmooze helps you make smart connections so that you can have fantastic conversations at any event you go to.
How did you come up with this idea? Was it because you went to so many events and got frustrated that you couldn’t connect with people in a better way?
I am definitely an events junkie but it’s a little bit more interesting than that. In my early 20’s I had a brain injury and I basically went from having a fantastic job, working on Regent St, being super happy and active – to being sent home to my parents in a wheelchair. I had to spend a lot of time learning how to do a lot of basic skills again, such as learning how to walk, and how to read and write. I spent a lot of time working with technology to support my learning process. I had memory problems and I needed to often look things up when I was out, so when the first smart phone came on to the market I jumped on it. This made me realise very early on that mobiles could help my brain.
I love to go to events and to meet new people. However, as a result of my brain injury I have prosopagnosia, which means that I really struggle to recognise names and faces. So when I was looking at my mobile one day, I thought about how my phone actually has information about where I have been, as well as information on where all these other people have been via Twitter etc. Therefore the phone can basically scan the room for me, and let me know who I know. It is something which can really help me on a personal level but actually, it also helps a lot of other people since many of us struggle with networking.
How long have you been working on this idea?
The company was formed in April 2010. The technology was built over two years in order to be really solid. We wanted to make it right, and not turn it into a service that is about shouting out that you are in a room and that there are 50 other people there too. We wanted it to be about creating an understanding to why someone would be at a particular event, understanding to what level they want to be connected and to understand what they might want to talk about. We want to make things happen in the real world.
What is the market like for an app like Shhmooze?
I am going to be generalist about this. I think maybe 95% of the competition consists of generic conference apps that are based around the conference organisers’ needs. Sometimes these apps only work at one event since the conference organiser pays for them. There is also another section of apps, which are more about discoverability and work to inform you that this friend of a friend is having pizza at the same restaurant as you are.
I think the difference is that when I go to a conference, I am switched on and I am there with a purpose, that’s when I want to know whom to talk to. I don’t think that there are a lot of apps in this space, and I don’t feel like a lot of people have done the same deep thinking as we have.
What is your strategy for monetisation?
We have a freemium service that anyone can use, but if you are a power networker, then you can purchase additional features. We also work with conference organisers. We offer to upload schedules and speaker profiles for free, but for a certain fee, give them to possibility to have their own brand on the app.
Considering the fact that you seem to be a very avid conference-goer it would be interesting to get your point of view on the startup community in London. Is there a community, especially in regards to Tech City, and if so does it provide any support?
I think it is kind of like the music scene, at first you have an underground scene and for a while, everyone thinks it is cool and then it goes mainstream. I think what Tech City has done is that they have identified a scene, and they are now trying to find a way to consolidate it.
To have the government behind you is very powerful, even if it’s not the only solution to sustain London’s tech community. I think we need a more solid support and slower voices – and you also need the renegades and the anarchists, the people that are out there pushing it. I think Tech City is just part of an interesting support system that is happening. The one thing that I am little bit concerned about when it comes to Tech City is that it seems to be such a focus on geography. I think it we would be great if we get over spatting over geographical boundaries and instead focused on the amount of amazing tech startups that we actually have here.
I know you have been involved in the entrepreneurial scene for quite some time now and I was just wondering what it is that you personally find to be the most appealing factor with this choice of career?
Well, my father warned me to never gamble, as we have had gamblers in the family that had bet their entire savings on a horse. So I didn’t go into gambling, I got involved in startups – which is obviously completely different…
I left a career at the BBC to do my own thing [TalkIrish.com] and after that I just kept on going. I think you have to be somewhat of a risk taker. Personally, I had no guarantees when I left my job, I just walked. You will need a great deal of confidence in the fact that everything will work out.
I think founders are different from people that join startups. I have a massive amount of respect for individuals that have actually founded companies, the people that grind away and do a lot of deep thinking. Founders are an incredible, interesting species.
Do you think you are born a founder or do you think it involves a certain set of skills that you can learn over time? Do you think anyone can become a founder?
I think anyone could do a startup but I think that you wouldn’t be really interested if you are not a certain type of person. I think founders are usually people who are risk-takers, and people who can see potential and not resist the opportunity to do something they believe is right or try something new because they believe they can make a positive difference. There are plenty of people out there doing startups because they know that what they build will generate money, and that’s great too, but for me it has always been about creating something which will make things better, and then I try to come up with a revenue model.
Interview by Philip Gasslander