Photo: Alyson Shontell/Business Insider
Last year, Highlight caused a stir at South by Southwest (SXSW), a big interactive, music and film conference in Austin, Texas.It walked a fine line between brilliant and creepy. Founders Paul Davison and Ben Garrett built an app that showed people near you on a Google map, even if they were total strangers. It showed you the person’s Facebook picture and whereabouts, as well as little information about them, such as their employer.
When you’re in a room with a lot of familiar faces, Highlight can be helpful placing those people. But if you’d rather not have strangers identify you, Highlight can be off-putting.
Nevertheless, Davison and Garrett generated significant buzz for Highlight last year in Austin. Then, the team was just two people strong, and the app had only been live for about about six weeks.
Since the buzzy launch, Highlight has stayed largely out of the press. We wondered what had happened to it. But as we wandered the streets of South by Southwest last weekend, we came upon a popsicle stand. At it, Garrett, a Highlight co-worker and a T-shirt wearing bulldog were promoting the app.
“We received a good amount of attention [last year at SXSW], but it wasn’t really something we had planned or were focused on,” Davison tells us via email. “When we got back to San Francisco, we spent a lot of time building out infrastructure and the team so we could have the solid foundation we needed to build a really meaningful, long-term company.”
How have they been building a long-term company?
Garrett and Davison tell us what’s been happening at Highlight.
The Highlight team is now 7-people strong, and the founders say they’ll be hiring more people over the next few months. While he won’t disclose exact user numbers, Davison says the number of active users on Highlight has “roughly tripled in the last six months and engagement has increased significantly.”
Garrett tells us the team saw an unusual surge of activity during SXSW this year, much like it did last year. It also saw a pop when Davison appeared on Anderson Cooper last April.
The following charts show the traffic uptick during SXSW, and some of the tripled traffic Davison was talking about. (Note: These charts do not sure total Highlight users; AppData only shows users who have logged into Highlight via Facebook. Davison says the numbers don’t accurately portray internal analytics, but it gives us a broad idea of the app’s growth).
Highlight traffic over the past month:
Here’s how that data compares to last year (you can see the pop from SXSW 2012 and Anderson Cooper in April 2012). It looks like daily active users have more than doubled in the year, from 7 million to 20 million, and monthly active users have too, from 70,000 to more than 150,000:
In addition to tripling its users, Highlight has launched a number of updates to the app in recent months. It’s almost unrecognizable from its original version. Davison’s team also improved the app’s battery life, which was a complaint many users made last year. Since the app was always keeping tabs on your location, it drained iPhone power quickly.
Photo: Business Insider
“We made battery life 4x better,” Davison tells us via email. “We rebuilt the backend entirely. We redesigned our notifications service so that we were sending fewer and more relevant notifications. We launched in 10 new languages, we released our Android app, and we were excited to finish the year by be being named to Apple’s Best of 2012. Most importantly, we built out an amazing technical team. A few weeks ago we launched Highlight 1.5 – our biggest update ever and a significant evolution of the product, and we followed it up with a smaller release last week.”
So what’s it like returning to the conference that helped put Highlight on the map?
“It’s been a lot of fun coming back to SXSW this year (this time with the whole team), but we try not to get caught up in the marketing side of things,” Davison says.
“We think that ambient location technology is going to change the world in a very meaningful way and we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our goal is to stay focused on the product and the long-term vision, and to have Highlight steadily get richer and more useful with each release. It has been really exciting to see people using the new photos and events features at SXSW and the feedback we’re hearing has been great.”
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