Salmon Social app makers fine-tune beta version

zkyle@idahostatesman.comJune 11, 2014 

Salmon Social co-creators Samantha Nicholson and Bryan Payne.

COURTESY OF SALMON SOCIAL

The entrepreneurs who came to Boise to develop and release the Salmon Social smartphone application always knew they faced long odds.

Bryan Payne, a 48-year-old who has several successful online printing startups to his name, and Samantha Nicholson, 24, left their jobs in Silicon Valley to build the social networking app with a pair of Boise developers in 90 days. They wanted to help people interact face-to-face.

Nicholson and Payne came up with the Salmon Social concept while working together at Picaboo Yearbooks, where Nicholson worked as Payne’s assistant.

The app, which allows users to check in and see the ages and genders of other app users at businesses such as bars and restaurants, was built in 62 days. It was released for beta testing May 21. Nicholson said the team will continue beta testing and hopes to launch the app in September.

That’s a revision of their original plans, which had called for release in June followed by a two-week effort to secure mass adoption of the app in the Treasure Valley. Now, Nicholson and Payne say they’ll take whatever time they need to determine if the app is successful enough to launch nationally.

Payne said they decided to postpone the target release date so they could add several several features. “We need to get widespread adoption,” Payne said.

To encourage sign-ups, the team has hosted events at Treasure Valley businesses such as Proto’s Pizza and 10 Barrel Brewing in Downtown Boise where people received free T-shirts or beer to download the app and fill out a survey.

The nearly 300 survey responses were mostly positive about the app’s concept and offered several suggestions the team decided to develop. The most common complaint was that the app required users to log in through Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, Nicholson said. The developers are adding an email login option.

“Those were problems we weren’t anticipating, but in hindsight, it makes a lot of sense,” Nicholson said.

Payne said the survey scores were encouraging, and several respondents have checked in on the app up to 64 times since attending beta parties. Payne was surprised that some respondents wanted to provide more information on their profiles, including their marital status. Meeting people for dating was not among the leading uses of the app, a result Payne said he expected.

Salmon Social users can check in on their phones at each business they visit. They can choose between two privacy settings. The first supplies only a user’s age, gender, interests and whether the user is single. The second also gives the user’s first name and a photo. The idea is that users who sign in are inviting other users to approach them and strike up conversations. The app doesn’t provide personal facts such as last name, address or contact information.

The app is free. The developers hope to make money by compiling user information to sell to businesses as marketing data.

More beta events coming

Nicholson said she will continue hosting beta events, including one at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12, at the Downtown technology business incubator, The WaterCooler.

The largest beta event will be at a Boise Hawks baseball game in September, at which each member of the crowd will be encouraged to download the app.

Nicholson said the app team will go forward with a full release no matter how many users download it during beta testing. Before the beta release, Nicholson had said the app would need 100,000 downloads during its Treasure Valley release and 40 million to be successful nationwide.

Payne has founded several tech companies and left his post as president at Picaboo to pursue Salmon Social. Jay Larsen, president of the Idaho Technology Council, said Salmon Social has a chance to work because of Payne’s previous success and because of Nicholson’s enthusiasm.

“That valley of death has a lot of big rocks in it because there are so many variables,” Larsen said. “But that combination can overcome a lot of difficulties.”

Goodbye, condo

At first, Payne and Nicholson stayed together at a condo with several team members and planned to remain there for the duration of the project. But Payne recently flew home to Toronto, where his family lives. He said he’ll spend the next three months bouncing between San Francisco and Boise as he pitches the app to investors. Payne, who said he invested “low six figures” to get the project running, said he raised a similar amount during a first round of meetings with angel investors.

Nicholson said she has moved out of the condo — where she slept on an inflatable mattress — and into a house where she plans to live permanently whether the app takes off or dies.

“We all hit our limit with living with each other,” Nicholson said. “Once I got my own place, everyone had a little breathing room and it got back to the way it used to be.”

Zach Kyle: 377-6275

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