Our Start-up of the Week is BFFinder, a platform set up to connect people who share interests, allowing them to organise and attend gatherings with other members.
BFFinder was co-founded by Liam Burke and Louanne Vautour, a duo who wanted to help people make friends online and find others with shared interests.
“We’re targeting adults of all ages,” Burke told Siliconrepublic.com. “For example, people whose friends have recently emigrated, people moving to a new town or country, people travelling to Ireland for work, and au pairs coming over and looking to connect with people to see more of the country and practise their English.”
Vautour is a full-time mother of two who has decided to venture into the world of tech and is currently learning how to code after years of working in the service industry. Burke, meanwhile, is a front-end developer, with a degree in multimedia and communications from Limerick Institute of Technology.
“I graduated with a range of different skills, and I focused on WordPress and theme development,” Burke said. “I’ve run my own business Burk for the past 10 years and have been lucky to have worked with some amazing agencies from all over the world, but more recently helping to set up local businesses and companies with a web presence.”
With a new idea in mind, Burke and Vautour developed BFFinder, a custom-built social platform where users can create a profile – either manually or using a Facebook social login.
“We’ve aimed to keep the profile as clean as possible, by just asking for their county (to help people filter members by location), their nationality (we noticed a large number of au pairs joining and felt that members might like to converse with people in their own language before messaging other members), and people can state if they’re looking to make friends online, offline or both,” Burke said.
Once a profile is created, interests can be added, and users can browse other members with similar interests – or even polar opposite interests if they’d like. There’s an inbox feature to facilitate private messaging, and a forum to encourage public conversations.
‘We’re happy to be a little fish in a big sea at the moment’
– LIAM BURKE
“We thought the next obvious step after this was to build functionality to allow members to post events, gigs, cinema trips or coffee chats etc that they would like to share with someone,” Burke added.
“This has been our most exciting feature to watch. We had four gatherings organised by our members in January, with 11 attendees at one cinema trip. We plan to extend the functionality around this and hopefully partner with some businesses to offer discounts to assist the gathering of new people.”
Other features include an activity stream, which is a live feed of all members, and a points system to increase engagement. This ranking system ranges from ‘stranger’ to ‘BFF’, and awards badges to members who contribute to the website by creating blogposts, forum discussions, commenting or messaging other users.
The journey so far
Burke spoke about how important it is to “go and do”, when it comes to setting up a business. “Louanne gave me her pitch for this idea and we grabbed some A4 sheets and started drawing out wireframes, and within 30 minutes of brainstorming, we had a name and logo. Within a week, we had an early beta ready.”
In November 2019, the company launched a public beta version and within two months had grown a community of 550 users. Within the first few weeks of this launch, the messaging functionality was rolled out.
“We’ve steadily been adding new features and making improvements to the design and overall member experience,” Burke added. “We’re focusing on the mobile version, as 85pc of users are interacting with the site via mobile devices.”
Gatherings is live! Looking for someone to attend a concert with, go for a coffee with or some retail therapy? You can post details and see who can go with you! You can also view to see if someone in your area wants to spend time with a new friend.https://t.co/jAicX8UU94 pic.twitter.com/GsDG5dp17y
— BFFinder (@BFFinderie) January 3, 2020
Vautour and Burke want to lay down the foundations to connect as many people as possible and run regular real-world events to help people meet up across the country.
While discussing the challenges BFFinder has run into, Burke said: “When people learn about our idea, they immediately compare us to much larger version of this idea such as GirlCrew and Meetup or Facebook. We’re happy to be a little fish in a big sea at the moment.
“We differ because we’re focusing on anyone over the age of 18 currently living in Ireland. It’s 100pc free to use, with no limit on message sending, and we’re agile so we can quickly implement new features, track usage and adjust the site based on member feedback.”
The site is currently looking for new ways to encourage people to initiate conversations, with the aim of growing the platform further this year.
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