WNM Live (you can find the Windows 8 app in the store) was founded by Brian Hamachek and Robert Gerleman in a Palo Alto garage – just a few blocks from the garage where HP started. Brian, an avid tennis player, decided to build a social network for meeting new people after becoming frustrated that it was so hard to find someone to play tennis with. The social network was first launched on the Windows Phone platform and was subsequently released for the iPhone, Web, Google Chrome, and Windows 8 platforms. The company has been entirely bootstrapped and has not taken any outside investments. The Windows Phone version is also available.
The WNM Live app for Windows 8 brings all of the features from the WNM Live mobile applications and presents them in Windows 8’s modern UI. You can use the application to browse user profiles, create or edit your own profile, engage with other users on the Live Stream, and send or receive private text and picture messages with users nearby or around the world.
The WNM Live back-end server (RESTful API, website) are running on Windows Azure.
WNM Live has been built almost entirely using Microsoft Technologies:
- SQL Azure and Azure Blob Storage are used as the back-end data store for the social network.
- The RESTful API which all the WNM Live client applications use is built using ASP.NET & WCF and resides in a Windows Azure Web Role.
- A Windows Azure Worker role is utilized to perform periodic long-running tasks.
- The Portable Class Library framework in Visual Studio 2012 has been utilized to allow for the Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Website to share the same codebase.
- The Windows Phone and Windows 8 applications were created using Visual Studio 2012 and Microsoft Expression Blend.
- The iPhone application was written in C# using Visual Studio 2012 via Xamarin’s MonoTouch solution.
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
We have decided to build for scale first as much as we can. Because we are entirely bootstrapped though, we have been forced to consider revenue somewhat as well. For our business, scale and revenue can often be mutually exclusive goals, especially in the early stages. When we focus on revenue (ads), it often detracts from the user experience, which slows growth of the community.
Do you make reasonable predictions about how you are going to achieve revenue and then test them out, or do you start with a business model and deploy it, to see if it brings in revenue?
We believe that our focus at this stage should be on building the best possible solution to address the problem we are trying to solve – helping people make new friends. We really aren’t focusing on revenue much yet at all. For example, only one of our client apps even has advertisements in it. We are very confident that if we can build a product which genuinely helps people make new friends, monetization will be fairly simple to work out later.
What questions do you and your technical co-founder / engineering team feel are the most important to solve about the business aspects of your company?
The largest challenge in building a company like ours, which is in essence a community, is marketing. Trying to combine human psychology, user research, and engineering to create a viral marketing plan is a difficult thing to pull off successfully. Those companies that have managed to do so though, tend to be incredibly successful.
Where do you include technical members of your team during the building of your business plan?
Our company’s technical members are key contributors in every business decision we make.
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
Initially we built WNM Live primarily for fun, although we have always taken the problem we were trying to solve very seriously. After seeing how many people began using the product though, we quickly realized that the product was extremely viable and began to seriously focus on improving and expanding it.
When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
The realization that we were “startup material” came early on in the process. We knew from the beginning (first line of code) that what we were doing was special; a unique approach to solving a problem that plagues most of us on a day to day basis: How to meet new people. This varies from the abundance of social networks that are centered on connecting with people you already have a friendship with in the real world. What gave WNM Live its market potential is our open ended approach to creating new relationships and the utilization of proximity to focus user experience.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
We hope to create a social network that will enable users to develop new friendships and connections in an environment that removes them from the daunting (often perilous) endeavor paralleled in the real world. We believe that the need for meeting new people is equally large, if not greater, than the need to connect with your existing friends. We hope to address that need and change the lives of people worldwide as a result of it.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder or developer at a startup, when it comes to dealing with family life, or socially? Does working on a startup change the way you associate and interact in these areas?
To do a start-up correctly you and your startup must become one. Your personal email address should become your first name @ your startup.com. You have to always be looking for ways to work your startup into every conversation in order to promote it. Luckily, none of us at WNM Live are married or have any kids. Otherwise, it would be much more challenging.
What characteristics do you possess that make you an entrepreneur? What makes your startup a startup?
I think the number one characteristic an entrepreneur must have is a willingness to try things that other would say are impossible or difficult. You have to have absolute faith in yourself: both your vision and your abilities. Our company is a startup because our team is mission driven. We think there is a world-wide need to meet more people and the right technology can enable them to do so easily. We won’t be satisfied until we solve the problem of meeting new people for everyone.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft in building your startup?
WNM Live would not be nearly as successful today without the support from Microsoft that we received. Before we had even started building WNM Live, Microsoft was actively engaged with us. They provided technical reviews and advice, in-person developer training, pre-release software and hardware, discounted Windows Azure hosting, and an incredible amount of visibility and marketing on both their websites and mobile marketplaces.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
From our experience, Microsoft has a genuine desire to support the start-up ecosystem. Their reach and resources can only be matched by a small handful of technology companies, but it is their willingness to utilize that reach and resources to help you grow your startup which really sets them apart from any other company. Regardless of what technology you plan to utilize for the foundation of your start-up, you are bound to also come across the need to use software from Microsoft as well. Building a start-up is hard and you will need help from as many people and companies as you can find.
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
Our entire service’s back-end is built on Windows Azure.
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
We utilize SQL Azure and Azure Table Storage for our back-end data store. We utilize Azure Cloud Compute to host our RESTful API and website.
How did you get excited about Azure?
I became very excited about Azure almost immediately. We have been utilizing Windows Azure since the very first public beta of the platform.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
We needed a way to scale quickly. That requirement combined with our team’s background in Microsoft technologies made Windows Azure a clear choice.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Take the time to read the higher level documents on cloud architecture. Applications need to be built with cloud best practices in mind, particularly in regards to statelessness.
Video: WNM Live Company Video
Video: Product Demonstration: WNM Live helps an actor meet new people!