Shaker revolutionizes the chat room, inviting the social media giant’s 800 million users into a virtual pub where they can make new friends.
What started out as a college marketing project a year ago has turned into one of the most popular new Facebook applications — and the hottest web app of the year, snatching a $50,000 prize at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. This is the show where startups that lead the way to future technologies often make their first appearance. And in the case of this year’s winner, Shaker, which followed the win with news this week that it had raised a further $15 million, that future looks like it’s going to be fun.
In a creation story that parallels Facebook’s, says Dr. Yaron Timmor of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), the five students behind Shaker first proposed their idea at the start of a seminar on marketing. Their concept was to let users virtually meet Facebook members with whom they are not linked as “friends.”
“They came in with the idea … before the application had even been written. Eventually Shaker became a reality, and they opened it up for a test run among students here at the IDC, and it got a great reception,” Timor, who directed the seminar, tells ISRAEL21c. “Just like with the creation of Facebook, they began tests in one college and then moved on to others. Now that the application won TechCrunch, they have tens of thousands of users.”
Facebook, home of some 800 million users, was designed as an online community of individuals whom you trust enough to “friend.” But it’s much more limited when it comes to meeting new people. That’s where Shaker comes in. Users of the program can see each other in a virtual pub, and make contacts there. Profile pictures and names are displayed as avatars, and you can tap anyone on the virtual shoulder and start a conversation using text entry. It’s sort of a Facebook generation update to the old chat room, with cool music playing in the background.
Anticipating a need
Adam Rakib, one of the co-founders of Shaker, has said that the idea came about when one of his partners, Yonatan Maor, went to a bar with his father and noticed some people interacted with others, while some did not. He saw a group of friends and went over to say hello, and others did the same — and before you knew it, he said, “They were talking to half the people in the bar. It made the experience much more interesting.”
The Shaker app transports this concept to Facebook. “With Shaker, you can do everything you would do in a real pub — talk to people, listen to music, dance.” Some 80,000 people used Shaker in the first three months it was open to the public, and that number skyrocketed following the TechCrunch award.
While the story of Shaker itself is fascinating, the back-story of how it came to be is just as interesting.
“The marketing seminar that I direct usually pairs up teams of students with large companies that provide assignments,” explains Timmor. “For example, this year we had projects from 3M and IBM. The five students who were on the Shaker team [Rakib, Ofer Rundstein, Yehonatan Maor, Andrew Fruchter and Gad Maor] already had the idea, and they presented their marketing plan even before the application was written.”
The team’s financial backing grew as the application came online and became more popular. Before the TechCrunch win, financial newspaper Globes reported that Shaker’s business entity, Scene 53, had raised some $3 million from Pitango and investor Zaki Rakib, toward what Facebook is hyping as “the next BIG thing.”
“When they were ready, they asked for permission to recruit IDC students for the application, in order to get feedback — which turned out to be mostly positive,” says Timmor. Mission accomplished, they then tried it at two American universities — Stanford and NYU — where the reception was just as warm. “And now, the rest is history, which is actually just beginning to be written,” he adds.
The new investors in the current round of fund raising are Menlo Ventures, Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund, Pitango, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, and Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter. Shaker is now opening an office in San Francisco, which will be the company’s new headquarters.
In the new Uncrunched blog, Menlo Ventures Shervin Pishevar said: “I was blown away by talent of the Shaker team. I’ve been searching for many years for what only Shaker has accomplished. Shaker is going to touch and transform human connection and entertainment worldwide. Within a minute, I knew what I saw was the future. I had been looking for this for years.”