The interview: Kealan Lennon, Cleverbug

9 Sep 2014

Kealan Lennon, CEO of Cleverbug

“No question, video has become a core element of social expression,” says Kealan Lennon, CEO of Cleverbug, the company behind Clever Cards that has just added video and audio messaging services.

Cleverbug, the social giving company that earlier this year raised €4.4m in a funding round led by Delta Partners, has moved to capitalise on a trend consistent with what Vine, Instagram, WhatsApp and others have done.

The company has updated its service to make it possible for consumers to be able to send digital greeting cards with video and audio via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

The new service is now available on the CleverCards iPhone and iPad app. Users can now record personal video and audio greetings from within the CleverCards app, as well as upload video content from their camera roll.

It’s all part of Cleverbug’s new premium service, which is available via an in-app subscription purchase and offers unlimited usage of both video and audio for €0.89 per month or €8.99 per year.

More than 100m people have interacted with CleverCards

Lennon told that more than 100m people have interacted via the CleverCards service and said the service has been highlighted in a Facebook case study as ‘best in class’ in the use of social and mobile.

This year, Dublin-headquartered Cleverbug will add 25 positions to its company to expand operations, broaden the breadth of the product and its functionalities, and seek strategic partnerships.

“The ability to personalise greeting cards with photos has driven stellar growth over the last number of years but I can tell you the future is going to be video messaging. That’s the next big thing.

“Ironically, you only have to look at the whole ice bucket challenge – there are guys from school I haven’t seen in years videoing themselves, it’s just amazing.”

The revelatory point, Lennon said, is how comfortable people are with recording themselves today.

“There are now 1.5bn smartphones out of 5bn mobile devices in the world today. We all have cameras in our hands. At what point are we going to stop calling it a smartphone with a camera app and start calling it a camera with a phone app?”

The next wave of social expression

One group of industry that is watching this trend with interest, Lennon said, is the mobile operator community. “They are not making as much money on voice or SMS. Instead, 84pc of growth last year for mobile operators was driven by data.

“Four years ago, the number of photos uploaded to social networks was 350m and that was mainly to Facebook. Today that has grown to 1.2bn and every day some 1.8m photos and videos are uploaded to social networks. Of the 1.2bn photos uploaded last year, some 700m are now on WhatsApp, which has overtaken Facebook as the biggest photo library in the world.”

Moving beyond personalising photos for greetings cards to now including video and audio, Lennon said, is on-trend with what is happening.

Another key trend Cleverbug is targeting is photo retrieval. Lennon said that while cloud networks are great for storing photography, retrieval and discovery is not their strong point.

“We have developed algorithms that allow us to retrieve socially contextualised and appropriate images from thousands on your phone or stored online.”

He said that just by typing in a friends’ name on the CleverCards Facebook app, photos will be retrieved appropriate to the occasion, such as birthdays, engagements or weddings.

Working closely with players such as Facebook, Lennon said the hosting of the photos takes place on the social network.

“We have already crossed the 100m threshold in terms of the number of people who have received a CleverCard in their news feed and we expect to cross 200m this year,” Lennon said.

“So far it has all been on the photo side but by introducing video and audio we believe we’ll capture the next wave of social expression.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years