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Enquire: two lessons for early stage apps from this French-expat team

Lessons learned from a Dumbo startup whose app makes it easy to learn from neighbors.

Enquire app screenshots. (Image courtesy of Enquire)

What are the keys to building a smart application that’s compelling at launch?

According to the team behind the new iOS app Enquire, it’s getting good beta-user feedback that you can use to iterate without making your developers revolt. They believe a long beta period and using a dev strategy they call “Minimum Viable Stack” was key to a launch that got a nice amount of tech-press coverage and encouraging user retention since.

All the big social networks are based on who people actually know. Whether it’s your work contacts or your social ones, but those aren’t always the people whose expertise you need. In our increasingly rootless world, sometimes you need someone who just knows your backyard better than you do, and that probably means a neighbor.

Do you know any of your neighbors? This reporter doesn’t know any of his, nor any in his last neighborhood.

But do you want to be Facebook friends with the guy that runs the bodega? Probably not. Does he know a handyman nearby that won’t rip you off and shows up on time? Probably so.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask the people nearby questions about your neighborhood without going door-to-door? Enter the team behind Enquire, a location based social network built around asking geolocated questions and getting answers from nearby people.

No signup is required. You just need to give yourself a nickname. The key authentication built into the device is that you can’t talk about a neighborhood until you’ve physically been there at least once. In that way, it’s a bit of a fellow traveler with PlayAR, an augmented reality game played by overlaying virtual property with real property.

We spoke with Maxime Leroy, Cofounder and CEO of Enquire. He broke down what he believes to have been the two key lessons of his company so far.

  1. A long beta. The team recruited about 100 beta users into the app for about 6 months. “Some people say it’s a long time,” Leroy said, “but it was definitely worth it.” It started as a geolocated chat system. You’d open it up and you could talk with people nearby in real time. They soon realized that that was too open-ended to stimulate conversation. Questions yielded engagement, but then it got confusing as people tried to provide location context for their questions. Through about four prototypes, they dropped the notion of real-time chat and locked in on the idea of questions based on neighborhoods that other users could answer.
  2. Minimum Viable Stack. The team strongly believes in using backend as a service product to start. It saves loads of time and probably won’t cost much (or anything) while your user base is tiny. Take the story of chat from above. At first, they believed real time chat was critical. Later, they realized it wasn’t important at all. They could have built a backend that supported real-time chat, taking much more time. Or they could just license the software from another company and drop it painlessly once it became clear that the feature wasn’t important. If your company blows up, the market fit is working and the investor money is flowing, you can build the backend you need from scratch once you know exactly what you need. Or not. Fellow cofounder Solene Maître wrote about this in detail on Medium.

Enquire built its app in Dumbo, but the team is moving to a brownstone in Park Slope this summer in order to be in thick of a diverse neighborhood with lots of users. The team of four is all French, but they are going to bring on a native English-speaking community manager soon.

Leroy said that the team located to New York for two reasons. First, they saw the freelancer economy in NYC as a real asset, one that’s lacking in Paris. Two, if you want to build an app based on discovery and diverse activities, New York City can’t be beat. “San Francisco has more tech,” Leroy said, “but New York has everything else.”

Word.

Companies: Enquire
Series: Brooklyn
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