Fingertips are an indicator of individualism. With technology now allowing both information and expression to be available on one’s touch screen, Boston-based startup Inmoji hopes to allow people to further use their smartphone for self-expression.
Inmoji was founded in May 2014 by serial entrepreneurs Perry Tell and Michael Africk. The app provides users of a messaging app, such as Textplus, with clickable icons that connect them to brands like Walmart and Fandango. Users can then send these “connections” to other users inside a regular message, as one would send a smiley face.
Africk claims that all sides of this transaction—the user, the brand, and the messaging app—benefit from Inmoji. The user can engage in a conversation with more accessible tools for expressing ideas, the brand is exposed in a peer-to-peer setting as opposed to engaging in a brand push, and the messaging app can monetize its network.
“It could be anything from sharing the location of a Starbucks, to sending somebody a gift card for a coffee, to viewing movie trailers, to going to getting the tickets for it,” said Inmoji co-founder and CEO Michael Africk.
The business strategy behind Inmoji capitalizes on the fact that sending emoticons is already a method of communicating instilled in the habits of texters. By taking a closer look at the mobile phone industry and the trending habits of the general public, Tell and Africk have developed a method to monetize the way people send emoticons through text messages.
“Before, you were using an emoticon to just express yourself … now you’re not only telling someone how you feel, but you’re expressing the things that you’re interested in, lifestyle choices, and things of that nature,” Africk said.
The startup was invited into PayPal’s Start Tank in September of 2014, a rent-free office space that houses multiple startups and gives entrepreneurs opportunities to work side-by-side, share ideas, and make connections.
“If you’re just in a good area that’s fostering life of young companies, you’re going to get good things from that,” Africk said. “Resources are available, the space is well laid out and has a positive energy, and people are just happy to come into work. It’s just a great place to be.”
Inmoji is split between Boston and San Francisco, but is headquartered out of the Start Tank in Boston. Before given the opportunity to work with PayPal, each of the two founders would venture into their respective cities—Africk in Massachusetts and Tell in California—in order to raise money.
“We basically determined, wherever more of the funding or opportunity came out of is where we would be,” Africk said.
Another feature of the app is that brands will have access to more information about their consumers and be able to tell what is popular among what age groups, and in what cities.
“We can give anonymized data back to a brand and say, ‘Hey, women 25 to 40 in Boston love the Starbucks frappuccino that you put out this past winter,’” Africk said.
Inmoji’s adaptable software is designed to be compatible with whatever the hosting app may be. This adaptability, however, is dependent on the company’s partnerships with these app companies.
“In order to be presented in the message bubble the way we are, the app itself has to write software that allows your images to be clickable in their text bubbles,” Africk said.
The partnerships Inmoji forms with messaging apps will influence the deals it makes with brands, as the emoticons will cater to the particular demographic that a certain app attracts.
“If we put this in something like LinkedIn, the Inmojis might be … for Staples, it might be for travel, conventions … you might have different icons that would be more helpful to someone who’s in a different app.”
Although the startup is Boston-based, Inmoji has a small office in San Francisco, and frequently does business with apps and investors stationed on the West Coast. Currently, the company has signed with big-named brands such as Walmart, Drizly, Draft Kings, and FanDuel. Looking to the future, Inmoji has many more deals in the works, with the main goal of getting its software into the marketplace.
“We’re talking to all the record labels, we’re talking to all the coffee chains, we’re talking to movie companies and movie studios, we’re talking to drink companies—you name it, we’re talking to them,” Africk said.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic