Technology

Startup bets social app’s future on Treasure Valley

zkyle@idahostatesman.comApril 24, 2014 

salmon social.JPG

Samantha Nicholson and Bryan Payne worked together at Picaboo Yearbooks for two years before quitting to create Salmon Social.

PROVIDED BY SALMON SOCIAL

The Treasure Valley will be the testing ground for a smartphone app that its creators think can follow in the steps of Facebook, Twitter and other social media successes.

Called Salmon Social, the app is designed to get users engaging in face-to-face conversations rather than through online posts or messages. Users can check in when they arrive at public places like bars, restaurants or conferences. The app displays basic profile information about the other Salmon Social users in the same place, including their job, ages, genders, interests, and whether they or not they are single. Those checking in publicly will also disclose first names and photos. The app also suggests venues where similar users are frequenting in real-time.

The idea, co-creator Bryan Payne said, is that users sharing an interest in biking or knitting or anything else may approach each other and strike up a conversation.

“We’ve all had that moment sitting on a park bench when somebody you don’t even know starts talking to you and you have a wonderful conversation,” Payne said. “The whole idea for the app is to be able to engage with people, to almost be an ice-breaker.”

Payne was president of Picaboo Yearbooks, a Silicon Valley company that developed an online yearbook creation platform, until he quit in February to pursue Salmon Social. Samantha Nicholson, who was marketing director at Picaboo, also left to co-create the app.

Payne, 48, and Nicholson, 24, signed two Boise software developers to the project and decided to set up shop in the Treasure Valley. Payne and Nicholson arrived in Meridian on March 2 and set up headquarters in a condo where they meet with the rest of their team, which includes a designer, a legal expert and a documentarian who signed on to video the project. The six team members all share ownership in the app, with Payne owning the largest share and Nicholson owning the next largest, Nicholson said.

The team unveiled Salmon Social on Wednesday at Boise Tech Cocktail and hopes to release the app for free download on both Android and iPhone platforms by May 14. They expect a beta version to be available May 1.

A test run in the Treasure Valley will make or break the app, Payne said. If it takes off here within two weeks — Nicholson is shooting for 100,000 downloads — the team will begin a national expansion effort. If Salmon Social doesn’t take flight in the Valley, it will die, Nicholson said.

They would need 40 million downloads to succeed nationally, she said.

“Of course, we both realize this is a one-in-a-million shot,” she said. “It’s not a slam dunk this will be next great app. I’ve had moments (of doubts)… We’re so close to the end, and we have no way of knowing if people will like it.”

Payne estimates he’s already spent in the six figures developing the app and $40,000 on a promotional video shot in Boise. The team set up a crowdfunding account on indiegogo.com to raise money for the full documentary. Nicholson said they decided to film the process because it would make for good documentary fodder whether or not Salmon Social succeeds.

“We realized this could be a really cool inspirational story, even if doesn’t’ work,” she said. “We quit our jobs to pursue something we believed in.”

The Salmon Social team found instant celebrity in Boise that wasn’t available in California. Since coming to town, Payne and Nicholson have met with government and business leaders, including Mayor Dave Bieter, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Technology Council President Jay Larsen, all of whom pledged to help the app succeed in hopes of bringing positive attention to the area, Payne said.

Revenue from the free app will come from packaging demographic information based on app users to businesses to use in marketing, Nicholson said. Payne said he plans to start talking to investors next week. He said the team probably would sell the app if it became a national success, though he doesn’t rule out hanging onto ownership.

Nicholson said over the last few months introductions of “Sam and Bryan” became “Salmon Bryan.” She and Payne embraced the happenstance in their app’s name.

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