‘Six degrees of Separation’, a theory originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy and popularised by a play written by John Guare, states that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away — by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. A a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. 6degrees, a self-updating phonebook, actually does that.
À la LinkedIn, 6degrees users can search for a contact — not originally in their phonebook — as a connection of one of the phonebook entries and subsequently ask to be introduced.
The core function of any phone is calling, messaging and managing connections. Two of these three foundational pillars — calling and messaging, as according to Niranjan Rao, CEO, 6degrees, have been disrupted by various companies. “But as far as connecting is concerned, the phonebook, which is the most information-rich resource and represents almost your entire universe of contacts, is very unintelligent. It doesn’t recognise human identity and it doesn’t let you share your network,” states Rao.
This needed to be changed, and hence 6degrees was born. Available on the iOS and Android platforms, in seven languages, the app claims to have over 13,000 users spread across 100 different countries around the world. Majority of the users come from the US, Singapore, India, Brazil, the Middle-East, Taiwan and Indonesia. Taiwan is an important market for the startup because it is a major hardware hub with many big players. “We are hoping to look at the Chinese markets, and some of the Android stores in China are very attractive. We have exciting conversations going on with Yellow Pages players in Hong Kong and India,” he concluded.
The app emerged as the best startup at Seedstars Singapore, the Singapore leg of the Seedstars World 2014, a global startup competition for emerging markets and fast growing startup scenes. It also received the IDM Jump-start and Mentor (i.JAM) grant from the Singapore government, earlier this year.
Remain updated in your contact circle
6degrees allows users to change their contact details on their connections’ phones by just updating their own phonebook. It integrates contacts from social networks too. “Your contact on your own phone now acts as the master key for your contact on all your friends’ phones,” Rao says.
Keeping the phonebook connections updated with one’s new contact details, was the initial pain-point that 6degrees was trying to solve. Last year, when Arun Samudrala returned to India from the US to build a technology startup, he realised that he would have to carry out a tedious task of sharing his new number manually with all his contacts. He discovered that this was a common pain-point for everyone and in December 2013, along with his techie-turned-investment banker friend Niranjan Rao, he created 6degrees.
“We wanted to make something that would allow users to share their entire network of connections with people whom they trust — usually family, friends and good acquaintances — in return for access to theirs,” says Rao.
What more? The app can also detect, merge or remove duplicate contact information with “smart algorithms”.
On the social side, the app will have a provision to allow it to be linked to other social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter in the coming months. “We are also trying to create a feature where you can invite someone on multiple social networks at one go,” the Singapore-based entrepreneur says.
But what about the privacy concerns? Users can “Lock” contacts they do not want to share with their network. “In addition, certain contacts too can be blocked out from viewing your directory. Which means that users on your ‘Trust List’ only can view your contacts,” says the CEO.
Is it a free party?
According to Rao, direct monetisation by adding premium features to the app is a potential revenue model. He plans to work with product partner Yellow Pages in different countries and create a revenue-sharing agreement with it.
The app also has a nearby location feature that helps in searching for nearby places — cafes, shops, etc. right from your phonebook. “The company has a small database right now but we are planning to partner with classified services in order to provide instant search options in the locality of the user,” Rao adds.
He also has plans to get restaurants have a ‘Live Profile’ on the app, with a feature that will initiate a call on the number given and open up the address on the Google Map if a user wants it. A file management feature too is on the feature-list, which will allow restaurants and cafes to upload their menu.
“We will also add a search line… wherein, if there are two cafés equidistant to each other and one of them has been visited or liked more by your Facebook friends or clicked and called by your 6degree friends, it will get a higher search rank,” he reveals.
According to Rao, the competition to 6degrees is in the contacts syncing space only, from Addappt and Brewster. “These companies only do contacts but we have a lot of other compelling features for the user,” Rao states.
The startup is self-funded right now but is looking to raise funds later this year.
Convincing people to replace the phonebook with an app is challenging
There are several challenges that startups including 6degrees face. The single biggest challenge is to convince people to replace their phonebook with the 6degrees app. “It is like telling people that newspapers will die with the growing penetration of digital. There is still a resistance for newer things like 6degrees. However, they are purely organic and we are very thankful to Singapore for its early-stage support,” the CEO says.
The startup also wants to hire more people and go deeper down into the phone architecture. “We want people to share their contact with each other when they are in close proximity without needing the internet and those contacts being live,” he adds.