Get to know a Toronto startup: Relay
One of Canada's most recognizable tech giants blazed the trail in mobile group chat when it first introduced BlackBerry Messenger to global consumers. Mobile chat apps have continued to be a hot commodity in the mobile market ever since. From apps like Snapchat to WhatsApp to Poke, Facebook's newest offspring, smartphone users now have an array of apps that make mobile chat easy.
Toronto startup Relay saw a gap in this busy marketplace that it has set out to fill by focusing on our love of visual, viral content. Launched in the App Store in February, Relay is a free group chat app that allows iPhone users to exchange animated GIFs and videos quickly and privately through group messages. As an article in last month's New York Times pointed out, these old school animated GIFs (punchy snippets of video on loop) have made a huge, retro resurgence in internet communication in the same way vinyl has in music culture.
Relay took notice that people love to post, share and talk about viral GIFs and videos. And investors have taken notice too: Relay recently raised $700,000 from investors to help scale its business.
Co-founder Joe Rideout (a former Software Engineer and Product Manager at Google) shared with me some insight into where Relay came from and where it's headed.
What's the inspiration behind Relay?
You know those moments when you tell your friends "Have you seen that crazy video/picture?" and then you crowd around a computer screen to watch it and share a few laughs? Relay was inspired from the desire to share those "woah" moments with our friends, even when they weren't with us right at the moment.
What we've learned since launch is that these videos, pictures and the favourite, animated GIFs, are themselves a form of communication that can express more emotion than text can convey. We think of them as "super emoticons."
What differentiates Relay from other chat apps?
While mobile chat and SMS is quite established, we are the first app that integrates a content search tool with a chat interface. This lets people find great things to share and have fun expressing themselves beyond words.
Feedback from our users has been great, with many saying that the app is very addictive and that they're getting a great kick out of chatting with friends on Relay compared to old-school texting.
What is it about viral videos and photos that people love so much?
The short answer is that they are hilarious and lots of fun.
But here's the slightly longer answer: The Internet is a consumption vehicle for people to devour entertainment, knowledge and interesting information. Viral content is generally "snackable," meaning that you only need minutes or seconds to experience it, and it concisely and effectively delivers a message in that short timeframe.
When we're consuming information on the internet, we're bombarded by so many different things. These very short but strong messages cut through the noise and provide a quick moment that we can remember. Animated GIFs are a great example of snackable content. They have greater information density than still pictures, but they can be consumed in 5 to 15 seconds.
How does Relay make money with a free app?
Relay is venture backed by some of the best funds and angel investors from Canada and the US. Right now we're focused on building the best possible experience and getting people used to the idea of communication beyond just text. Our goal is to bring smiles to people's faces when they're chatting with their friends. We have a few different business models in mind, but Relay will always remain a free app for consumers.