Unparalleled technology. The market has dozens of location-tracking apps that are either battery hoarders or inaccurate at best (not real-time or not precise.) Zenly shows surprising accuracy and battery efficiency from a 3-year research project for a child safety app before founding Zenly. Even from the early days, Zenly hired Ph.D.-level researchers to acquire unparalleled tech talents. Server and Front-end engineers were mainly seniors, forming a small elite team.
Targeting the right group. Zenly targeted Gen-Z's, finding that when a quarter of a school uses Zenly, it takes less than a week to saturate the entire school. Zenly focused on sub-group-led growths; for example, Japanese students studying abroad at Taiwanese University eventually spread Zenly to the whole island. One interesting note was that teenagers surprisingly did not care about privacy; the CEO regretted that privacy concerns in the early days were a waste of time—the market always outmove makers.
Branding. Location tracking is creepy, so they aimed the Best Friend Forever or In Real Life Friend vibe: pop interface, Gen-Z copywriting, cute colors, and smiley emoji everywhere. When asking for the actual location, it emphasized spending good times with your friends rather than the location tracking itself.
** Acquiring talents**. Zenly had not only exceptional engineers but also outstanding designers and operators. 10x people don't join a startup upfront, so Zenly made them involved in the company by hiring them as a freelancer and then onboarded them to the team.
From the Stay Home challenge in 2020 to a mass-scale 3D map update in 2022, Zenly prepared for its upcoming future. However, the recent layoff at Snap wiped out the Zenly team alongside the Snap Mini App team. I do think this is Snap's mistake. Even my university peers do not use Snap anymore but still use Zenly. It almost feels like Facebook is killing Instagram for Facebook. I hope Zenly's revolutionary DNA gets well-integrated into Snap, seeking revival.
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