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Tell the story of your next social event with Bonfyre

Oh, what a horrendous three thousand headed monster Facebook has become. All I want to do is see a few pictures from a party last weekend, but instead I have to wade through a cesspool of Farmville invitations and irrelevant Likes from all corners of the internet.

If sites like Twitter and Instagram are proving anything, it’s that focus and simplicity are going to win the social networking race. St. Louis startup Bonfyre knows this mantra very well, with a mobile app focusing on events rather than accumulating social connections. Users create bonfyres that become the central hub for all things surrounding one event, where attendees can make comments, post pictures, and share whatever they want about what’s happening. The bonfyre eventually becomes an organically compiled scrapbook of everything that happened at that crazy party last Saturday, the Cubs game you went to with your buddies, or your favorite annual charity event.

I sat down with Bonfyre co-founder and director of communications Ray Gobberg, who later made a bonfyre for our brief 20 minute phone conversation. Oh, the memories.

What is the backstory behind Bonfyre?

We’ve always been focused on developing a place where you can share your experiences with the people that make those experiences memorable. We launched an alpha version of the product way back in 2011 focused on a segment of the market. We were testing the idea of sharing location with the people that you care about in a private setting.

We released that and over the months we iterated and launched out of beta in October of 2012 at DEMO in Santa Clara, California. We launched then and came to market with a partnership with the St. Louis Rams. We did three home games with them last season and are continuing that partnership this offseason and into the next one.



What has the response been so far to your unique mobile social network?

The response has been great. In the first 15 weeks we saw 250,000 app sessions (that would be from October into December/January). In the past eight weeks we’ve seen over 300,000. We came out and we’ve been iterating and changing some things, optimizing the product for our audience. We’ve seen the reflection of those iterations in the numbers.

Have there been any unexpected or surprising ways that you’ve seen people using Bonfyre?

We launched with a very direct consumer social application and we see the technology implemented in several ways, some of which we planned and some of which were spontaneous and I think speaks to the unique value proposition that the product brings.

There’s a school using our app in a classroom of second graders. Teachers typically can’t effectively share those photos to that set of people because broadcasting to a social network is not legal -- there are sensitivities around privacy there. But creating a Bonfyre for that class, where the teacher can share photos daily of what the children are doing in school and invite the parents to see and comment, really opens up communication channels between the parent and the students and the parent and teacher. What we’ve seen is a more dynamic learning environment with a tighter feedback loop. To me, that’s one of the most unique that we’ve seen.



How did the new professional component of Bonfyre come about?

The top line mission statement about Bonfyre is organizing around experiences. An experience can be anything from a road trip to that second grade class to a Rams game to a charity event or gala. It’s something that event producers can use to enhance the experience of the event for their attendees, better connect with them, and increase the length of storytelling.

A charity event it can be a four hour dinner on a Friday night, you invite people, they show up and have a good time, take some photos, they leave and they maybe come back next year. An event professional can utilize Bonfyre as a pre-event communication channel, an in-event sharing channel, and a post-event followup and recap. They can use this mobile technology to engage with their attendees and the attendees can use the product to share with each other and create a more complete event for themselves and the event producers.

What’s one area of your business that’s keeping you up at night?

That’s a tough question. I can’t speak for everybody on the team, but personally, as an entrepreneur, there’s always more to get done with less time. The constraints of your environment and your ability to move the flywheel and push it faster and faster is not necessarily something that keeps me up at night, but something that I and the rest of the team strive to do every day. If you can move faster you can iterate faster, and you can improve faster, and you can grow faster. Making sure that we’re operating as efficiently as possible is something that I’m extremely focused on.



What advice would you give to any entrepreneurs looking to get into mobile?

I would say do your research. Use as many mobile products, whether it be an application or hardware or software, as possible. I use hundreds of apps all day and night. I’m constantly trying to understand what’s out there, what the best practices are, where the markets are evolving to, especially when it comes down to creating intelligence. It’s all about building your intelligence around the market you’re about to enter and being diligently focused on that.

What’s next for Bonfyre?

We’re continuing to grow and explore the distribution channels that have been effective for us. We actually just added three members to our team: a project manager and two developers.

Really at the end of it, if you’re not building something that people want, you’re going to lose. We’re focusing on building something that people want as simply as possible.


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