Alex Hofmann was once the president of Musical.ly, overseeing the North and South American markets for the TikTok predecessor, and left shortly after the app went to Chinese tech giant ByteDance in 2017. For his next act, the startup exec returned to the consumer social space with the launch of 9count – creator of popular friend finder Wink, mobile dating app Summer (formerly Spark), and others.
While it’s typically difficult for new consumer social apps to gain widespread adoption, 9count’s apps have already seen some early traction — and investors have noticed.
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 round is an extension of 9count’s previous $21.5 million Series A and includes only existing investors. To date, the company has raised $27.5 million.
9count backers, in particular, were impressed with the stats coming out of Summer, which launched in May as Spark but later rebranded. The dating app is aimed at a younger audience of 18 years and older. But unlike traditional swipe-based dating apps, Summer’s differentiator is the grid that displays many users at once — an experience meant to better mimic what it feels like to walk into a crowded space in real life. , such as a bar or a party, for example.
“[Summer is retaining users] better than the top apps, especially in our strongest markets,” Hofmann told TechCrunch. “That just tells us that we are on the right track with this product.
The co-founder of 9count says Summer reached the number 1 position on the App Store in two markets immediately after launch and now, just a few months later, has more than 300,000 monthly active users. Looking only at growth stats, Hofmann claims it is the fastest growing dating app to hit the market since Bumble arrived in 2014. When he showed these numbers to current investors, they wanted to double the app’s growth.
The company plans to use much of the new investment to boost marketing efforts for Summer after it launches on Android next month. This includes some in-person events in the startup’s hometown, LA. 9count will also use the money to expand the 35-strong team, although Hofmann says they have not yet determined the exact number of employees.
But more than just betting on Summer’s success, investors seem interested in the model that 9count is embracing.
Founded in January 2019 by both Hofmann and an experienced product manager, Joe Viola, 9count is not just focused on developing and perfecting one app. Instead, it co-develops multiple consumer products at once, iterates using data and customer feedback, and then cross-promotes the apps within its portfolio. In addition to Wink and Summer, the startup has also developed Juju social arcade app, Everland motivational app, creator-fan connection app Popstream, and more.
This multi-product approach is something Hofmann is familiar with, 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 were not as well known to the public. This model, Hofmann notes, is popular in Asia, where tech companies often operate multiple products, including TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, as well as Tencent, Alibaba and others.
To take advantage of this method, 9count tests and iterates its products using a combination of A/B testing, data analysis, and user feedback. It also hosts hackathons for employees and runs a “labs” department where it can try out new ideas to see if anything sticks.
“The lessons we’ve learned from rolling out new products are just huge,” notes Hofmann. “We can make them a standalone product or incorporate them into existing products.”
This model led the company to develop Summer in the first place, explains the co-founder.
He says some Wink users asked for a way to use the social app for dating purposes. But Wink is also suitable for minors aged 13 to 17 (who are not allowed to interact with adult users, please). This focus shifts the app to a younger audience, which wouldn’t be suitable for online dating, even if that’s what some older users wanted. That prompted the team to split the feature request into a new product of its own — the app that has since become Summer.
Today, 9count claims that its new dating app has already attracted over 500,000 downloads, over a million registered users, and over 300,000 monthly actives. This makes it the sixth most popular dating app in the US and the fourth in Canada, Hofmann said. (App intelligence firm Sensor Tower confirmed this with TechCrunch, saying Hofmann’s statement is correct based on App Store and Google Play downloads for July 2022.)
In addition, the video chat app Wink reportedly has 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, the company says. Sensor Tower data pointed to an even higher figure of over 16 million downloads for all of their products launched to date. Wink was the biggest part of this with over 15 million lifetime downloads.
“Alex and Joe are building a next-generation social applications business at 9count, consolidating several products under one banner, with one team to find what works for the next generation,” said Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital, a board member of 9count. and early investor in Musical.ly. “The 9count team is poised to experience rapid growth among their user base and we are excited to work with them to realize their vision,” he added.
The new investment is also another signal that there is an increased willingness from VCs to once again support the often difficult consumer social app market.
Historically, taking Facebook and Meta’s other products off the top of the App Store has been nearly impossible. But TikTok has proven that Facebook’s grip on the market could be waning. Meta’s social network is no longer popular with Gen Z users, who are also getting frustrated with Instagram’s clutter and its constant attempt to force video on them through Reels.
Hungry for new experiences, today’s younger users are sampling a range of social apps, such as the hit chart BeReal, the widget provider Locket on the home screen, and the video chat app Yubo – a Wink rival. Not surprisingly, these apps have also landed VC backing. For example, BeReal was valued at $600 million after its Series B last spring. Locket announced this month that it has closed $12.5 million in two seed phase rounds. And Yubo made $47.5 million in its 2020 Series C. Even Pinterest’s brand new experimental app Shuffles has rocketed to the top of the App Store’s “Lifestyle” charts, despite having invite-only status. .
According to Hofmann, this trend is fueled by the demand from younger users for apps that offer them ‘niche’ experiences.
“[9count’s team] looked at the market and realized that in the last ten years there were really only two major consumer social products in our opinion. One is Musical.ly/TikTok, the other is Discord. We realized that to build products that connect people, it might not be a one-product approach, but a multi-product approach,” explains the co-founder. “We see this trend towards… niche needs and niche preferences. We realized that very few products can serve a wider 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 extension. With this information we have corrected the story.