When college students say they're obsessed with texting, they're likely referring to sending abbreviated sentence fragments ending in acronyms or sideways smiley faces. But 26-year-old Greg Neufeld's obsession ended with something far more rewarding than LOL: an app that drew 10,000 users in its first six weeks on the market.
Studying entrepreneurship and finance at Babson College from 2002 to 2006, Neufeld was a student during the dawn of popular texting. He was always in pursuit of the "latest and greatest phone." But his quest became more difficult when he realized his loyalty to his favorite texting program, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), was holding him back from his ideal platform: Apple's iPhone and its iOS operating system.
Together with Syracuse University computer science graduate Jason Fertel, Neufeld imagined an iOS-based messaging app that provided enhanced features similar to AOL Instant Messenger and BBM, as well as advances in group messaging--without expensive texting fees.
In March 2011, Freespeech debuted in the Apple App Store, offering free text and group messaging, along with free video, voice and picture messaging. "You register with your name, your e-mail and your phone number, and that's it," Neufeld says.
"If you ever change devices, we just identify you from your e-mail and your phone number."
From the start, Neufeld wanted to gear the app toward everyday phone users. "We approached more mainstream [blogs] like UrbanDaddy and Thrillist for reviews. We didn't go after the tech blogs," says Neufeld, who credits the app's success to its universal appeal--and to guerilla marketing. The founders handed out Freespeech T-shirts and demonstrated the app at this year's SXSW conference in Austin.
Giving free texting to iPhone and iPod Touch users might seem expensive when applying the mobile industry's going rate of 20 cents per text. But Freespeech relies on bulk purchasing to draw a profit. "We are paying for the text messages, but what people don't realize is that a text message is less than 1 KB of data--and it's about 99.9 percent profit for the service providers," Neufeld says.
Keeping overhead low allows Freespeech to chase other revenue--like getting merchants to offer custom deals to its users. And, according to Neufeld, Freespeech for Android users is coming out later this year.
Joel Holland, 25, is the founder and CEO of Footage Firm in Reston, Va.