Finnish start-up Futurefly, backed by early investors in Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, as well as Arielle Zuckerberg, recently launched its first product, Rawr, an “avatar-powered messenger app” for iOS.
The app claims to reinvent the role of emojis and animation in communication, and one of its selling points is the “Globetrotter” feature, which pairs users from around the world at random, “a millennial equivalent to pen pals”.
The app racked up more 1 million “Globetrotter conversations” in less than a week after launch.
Oskari ‘Ozz’ Hakkinen (pictured), founder and chief product officer at Futurefly, spoke to Mobile World Live about what sets the product apart and the company’s future plans.
How competitive do you think the messaging app market is?
Extremely, a few major players have a big head start. Having said that, messaging will add another 1.1 billion users by 2018 and we also see a couple of trends that work in the favour of newcomers like ourselves.
Firstly, users are not using just one messaging app, and in fact most millennials are using at least five messaging apps simultaneously, for different purposes with different groups of people within their network.
Secondly, millennials are very quick to adopt new technology and are on the lookout for innovation. We’ve seen small teams with unique executions succeed.
And finally, whilst discoverability is the biggest challenge, digital app marketplaces have created an open playing field with direct access to deliver content to the user.
What sets your app apart?
Most of the top messaging apps can merit their success to delivering something new that hadn’t been executed before, like wallet, cross platform messaging, group, doodle or disappearing messages for instance.
In Rawr, texts and emoji explode into life through the users’ 3D avatar reacting to text with animation.
We are innovating the chat experience, tearing down the walls of self-expression. We have seen steps in this direction with the introduction of emoji, animated emoji, and stickers, however we feel that with Rawr we are taking a giant leap.
Users, through their avatars, can express emotions like affection through a #hug or #kiss, or anger with #angry or #annoyed, for instance.
Hashtags are just one way to command your avatar, we’ve also built in NLP (natural language processing) technology where avatars will react to text without the use of hashtags. In addition, we’ve tagged all emoji, which is a familiar messaging tool.
Rawr is pretty unique. It’s visually a game and technically a messenger, which creates opportunities and threats alike. We’re filling a void, but are competing for users’ gaming and messaging time.
How do you ensure the Globetrotter feature is safe?
In Globetrotter, users are anonymous and do not share personal information other than their avatar’s appearance and we’ve put a simple start/stop button in the centre of the user interface to make it easy to jump in and out of conversations, and it is highly unlikely that two people will be matched again.
In addition, because Rawr already has a rich and interactive environment, we’ve removed photo sharing, shifting the focus to text and dialogue.
Finally, users can also report other users if conversation is inappropriate.
How do you plan to monetise the app?
Most of the content in Rawr is free. However, we do have stores with premium content where users can purchase cool items with virtual currency.
As with all good free-to-play games, Rawr is free and there are no paywalls that will stop or slow a user down, and virtual currency is continually accumulated while being active in the app.
Any plans of an Android version?
We are currently working on the Android version and will be releasing it in the next few weeks.
What else does Futurefly have planned?
We have a lot of features on the roadmap, like group chat, mini-games, more accessories for the avatar and the chat environment, as well as further content in the form of clothing items and animations.