What should come first for Bump Technologies? Product or Platform?

A few days ago I sat down with Jake Mintz and David Lieb to chat about their startup Bump Technologies.

For those of you that don't know Bump, Bump is a mobile application (available in your iPhone or Android app store) that lets you exchange contact information with another person by "bumping" your phones. Download it, make a friend download it too, hold your phones and fist bump.

Lieb explained that he got the idea for bump because he was frustrated by typing phone numbers into his cell phone. This frustration led Jake and David to leave the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and become members of Y-combinator's Summer class of 2009.

Will Bump replace business cards? Maybe... but not quiet yet. Bump's traffic patterns show that most users are using Bump on the weekends and around holidays: in casual settings with friends and family. This makes sense: since two people need to install bump in order to exchange information, most users hear about bump through friends that want to show off the cool new app. Unless you're at South By Southwest, it's unlikely you'll offer to "bump" someone to exchange contact information at a business conference or meeting.

But through these social meetups, Bump is spreading fast. In early March, Venture Beat reported that Bump had close to 10 million downloads, which puts Bump on approximately 10% of Apple's phones.
At this point, Bump could take their technology in two directions. 

First, Bump - the Product - could reinvent how we network and manage our contacts. As people start using Bump in the social context, the technology could tip into mainstream business. Bump might accelerate business adoption by marketing directly towards their ex-business school colleagues and other young, trendy, and upwardly mobile types. Along this vein, Bump could let users design themed digital business cards (similar to what Moo.com prints today), to represent a profile in the mobile and web contact lists of your friends and colleagues. Bump might even catalog every time you and your colleague attended the same gathering or shared data, perhaps even linking into your email inbox to associate all email communications with your Bump contacts.

The other avenue for Bump, and what they seem to be smartly focusing on first, is their platform. The Bump API offers a few features to developers, one of which is using Bump to initiate an application install. To demonstrate this use-case, the startup built example app BumpFour (a ConnectFour-like game). The example game unintentionally became a runaway success, proving that Bump has the potential to be a solid distribution channel.

Many uses of the Bump API have already become commonplace. Today you can exchange money via Bump on Paypal and find common friends with Facebook. One could imagine other interesting partnerships like Bumping to check in to the same location as a friend on Foursquare.

As Bump races to build out their platform and acquire partners, they may be vulnerable to copycat competitors. To avoid this, Bump should provide value to the user outside of the 3rd-party apps built on its technology. This means - yep - building out the Product in addition to the Platform. If logging into bu.mp offered useful features, like statistics across friends and bump-enabled apps, or suggested additional apps to use with contacts, developers will choose Bump over competing APIs. 

So what should Bump do first? The Product or the Platform? The Platform. Bump needs lots of apps using the Bump API first to make the Product an interesting place for users to spend time.

A bit more about Bump: 
Bump is backed with approximately $4 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, Ram Shriram, Ron Conway and Y Combinator. They are looking for mobile developers and an awesome engineering manager to join their team. 

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