October 8, 2014

Johnson Profs Develop Multi-Million Dollar Social Media Platform

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HangIt — a social media platform with a development team including two Cornell professors — is set to launch in December with $6.2 million in seed funding.

One of the co-founders of the platform is Prof. Jason Hogg MBA ’02, management, while the current chief executive officer is Prof. Steven Gal ’88, management.

The cloud-based service seeks to provide location-based messaging and marketing for any mobile app, based on the idea of “hanging” notifications for users to view automatically, according to Gal.

“The [mobile] market grew very, very quickly because demand has continued to go through the roof,” Gal said. “This issue of location … is one that really hasn’t been addressed. We’re developing a platform to allow developers to really use location.”

According to Gal, the platform’s focus on “hanging” is similar to the idea of using billboards to inform consumers of opportunities in the immediate location and promote competition among businesses in the area.

App developers who have integrated HangIt choose where and when to hang notifications and anybody who has that app on their mobile device will receive the location-specific notification, which they can then swipe to view links or more information.

“The consumer doesn’t have to do anything. If they have one of the apps on their phone that’s in our network … then even without that app open they will get the notifications,” Gal said. “Whether it’s a social message, an informational message from one of the many app developers that will use it or an advertisement, it will always be displayed the same way.”

According to Gal, HangIt will be free and simple for businesses to integrate into their apps: One only has to visit HangIt’s website and implement its software development kit. Clients are only charged when a customer is redirected to their business from a notification, Gal said.

“The whole advertising market online and mobile has been focused on ads and impressions,” he said. “Our whole focus is on bringing [businesses] customers. They only pay us when we bring them a customer or move a customer from one place to another that comes to their location instead of another, and we measure that.”

Gal added that several companies are already on board to use HangIt upon launch. The first year of operations will be sustained by the $6.2 million seed fund from Vesta, a company that contributed a team of engineers to develop the prototype for the service.

Gal said he plans for HangIt — which is headquartered in New York City — to become a “global platform.”

“HangIt is built from the ground up to work anywhere in the world, in the U.S. to start with,” he said. “We’ve basically taken the whole world and divided it up into very small, tight tiles and created an ability for a marketer, an advertiser or a messenger to pick where they want to hang things in that world … schedule when they appear, to whom they want to target them.”

Gal said he currently does not know what geographic location will use the app most frequently.

“My guess is that the suburban areas in the United States will be the best areas for HangIt, where there’s a lot there and you’re driving anyway,” he said. “But what I see in places like San Francisco and New York is this incredible adoption curve. If people fall in love with it in one of those cities, it could grow fastest there.”

Gal, a member of the executive team for the University’s eLab program, said that Cornell had a large effect on the platform’s creation. According to Gal, he met Hogg because they were both professors.

Gal said that the idea of starting a new business was not encouraged when he was an undergraduate.

“When I went to school at Cornell entrepreneurship was almost a bad word; there were not many people who said they wanted to be entrepreneurs,” Gal said. “Today what we see are classes and eLab where we teach [entrepreneurship]. What we’re seeing is with very limited resources students are building businesses.”

Gal — who has been involved with five startups — said he hopes HangIt will be especially useful for student entrepreneurs who are trying to leverage businesses with little capital and in short amounts of time.

“We want to put this in the hand of any student anywhere and say, ‘You can do something amazing in this location,’ and maybe it takes you a couple of days,” Gal said. “We provide the full service, all you do is link to our SDK and you can do these amazing, delightful things.”

Gal added he is “excited” to see how various app developers will use the HangIt platform.

“Our goal is to be the biggest location-based network in the world,” Gal said. “I can’t predict it, but that’s what you do when you put something in the hands of a large number of developers, is they build really amazing things.”