Alex Hofmann once served as president of Musical.ly, overseeing the North and South American markets for the precursor to TikTok, then left shortly after the app was released for Chinese tech giant ByteDance in 2017. For his Next act, the startup executive returned to the social consumer space with the launch of 9count – the creator of popular friend finder Wink, mobile dating app Summer (formerly Spark) and others .
While it’s usually difficult for new mainstream social apps to gain widespread adoption, 9count’s apps have already seen some success – and investors have taken notice.
As a result, the company is today announcing additional funding from GGV Capital Redpoint, Signia, Greycroft, Progression, Crosscut Grishin Robotics, I2BF and Waverley Capital, among others. The $6 million seed round is an extension of 9count’s previous $21.5 million Series A and includes only its existing investors. To date, the company has raised $27.5 million.
In particular, 9count backers were impressed with Summer’s metrics, which launched as Spark in May but later rebranded. The dating app targets a younger audience, ages 18+. But unlike traditional swipe-based dating apps, Summer’s differentiator is her grid, which displays many users at once — an experience meant to more closely mimic the feeling of walking through a crowded space in real life, like a bar or a party, for example.
“[Summer is retaining users] better than the best apps, especially in our strongest markets,” Hofmann told TechCrunch. “It just tells us that we are on the right track with this product.
The 9count co-founder said Summer hit No. 1 on the App Store in two markets immediately after launch and now had over 300,000 monthly active users just a few months later. Looking at growth metrics alone, Hofmann says it’s the fastest-growing dating app on the market since Bumble arrived in 2014. When he showed those numbers to current investors, they wanted to double the app’s growth.
The company plans to use much of the new investment to fuel marketing efforts for the summer after it launches on Android next month. This will include in-person events in the LA startup’s hometown, LA 9count will also use the funds to expand its team of 35 people, although Hofmann says they have yet to determine the exact headcount they plan to bring. ‘to add.
Picture credits: 9count, Alex Hofmann and Joe Viola
But more than betting on Summer’s success alone, investors seem interested in the model that 9count is espousing.
Founded in January 2019 by Hofmann and a veteran product manager, Joe Viola, 9count isn’t just focused on developing a single app and perfecting it. Instead, it co-develops multiple consumer products at once, iterates using customer data and feedback, and then cross-promotes apps within its portfolio. In addition to Wink and Summer, the startup has also developed social arcade app Juju, motivational app Everland, creator-fan connection app Popstream, and more.
This multi-product approach is familiar to Hofmann, thanks to his time at Musical.ly.
There, the team ran four different products: Musical.ly, its live-streaming counterpart known as Live.ly, and two others that weren’t as well-known to the public. This model, Hofmann notes, is popular in Asia, where tech companies often leverage multiple products, including TikTok’s parent ByteDance, as well as Tencent, Alibaba and others.
To benefit from this method, 9count tests and iterates its products using a combination of A/B testing, data analysis and user feedback. He also organizes employee hackathons and runs a “labs” division where he can try out new ideas to see if anything sticks.
“The learnings we get from rolling out new products are just great,” notes Hofmann. “We can either make them a standalone product or integrate them into existing products.”
Picture credits: 9 accounts
In fact, it was this model that led the company to develop Summer in the first place, explains the co-founder.
He says some Wink users were asking for a way to use the social app for dating purposes. But Wink is also aimed at minors between the ages of 13 and 17 (who are not allowed to interact with adult users, it should be noted). This focus skews the app towards a younger audience, which wouldn’t be appropriate for online dating, although that’s what some older users wanted. This prompted the team to split the feature request into its own new product, the app that has since become Summer.
Today, 9count claims its new dating app has already attracted over 500,000 downloads, over 1 million registered users and over 300,000 monthly actives. That makes it the sixth most popular dating app in the United States and fourth in Canada, Hofmann said. (App intelligence firm Sensor Tower confirmed this with TechCrunch, saying Hofmann’s statement is correct based on July 2022 App Store and Google Play downloads.)
Additionally, video chat app Wink is said to have over 2 million monthly active users, remaining 9count’s largest app to date.
In total, 9count’s app portfolio now reaches more than 10 million users, according to the company. Data from Sensor Tower pointed to an even higher figure of over 16 million downloads for all of their products launched to date. Wink was the biggest chunk of it with over 15 million lifetime downloads.
Picture credits: 9count team photo
“Alex and Joe are building a next-gen social apps company at 9count, bringing together disparate products under one banner, with a team to find what works for the next generation,” said Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital. , board member of 9count. and first investor in Musical.ly. “The 9count team is poised for rapid growth among their user base and we are thrilled to partner with them to realize their vision,” he added.
The new investment is also another signal of the increased willingness of VCs to once again support the often difficult consumer social app market.
Historically, it’s been nearly impossible to knock Facebook and Meta’s other products off the top of the App Store. But TikTok has proven that Facebook’s grip on the market could run out of steam. The Meta-owned social network is no longer popular with Gen Z users, who are also growing frustrated with Instagram’s clutter and its continued attempt to force video on them via Reels.
Hungry for new experiences, today’s young users are testing out a range of social apps, like BeReal, home screen widget provider Locket, and video chat app Yubo, a Wink rival. Unsurprisingly, these apps have also integrated VC support. BeReal was valued at $600 million after its Series B round last spring, for example. Locket announced this month that it closed on $12.5 million over two seed stage rounds. And Yubo took in $47.5 million in its 2020 Series C. Even Pinterest’s newest experimental app, Shuffles, topped the App Store’s “Lifestyle” charts, despite being only by invitation.
According to Hofmann, this trend is fueled by demand from young users for apps that offer them “niche” experiences.
“[9count’s team] looked at the market and realized that over the last ten years there were really – in our view – only two great consumer social products. One is Musical.ly/TikTok, the other is Discord. We realized that to create products that connect people, it might not be a single-product approach, but a multi-product approach,” explains the co-founder. “We see this trend towards…niche desires and niche preferences. We realized that very few products can serve a larger audience and bring them joy and happiness,” says Hofmann.
Correction, 8/23/22, 12:503 PM ET: Total raise to date was $27.5 million and Series A was $21.5 million with an additional $6 million increase. We have corrected the story with this information.