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Anyone who’s made a point of turning off their weekly screen time notifications, will be familiar with the sinking feeling of spending hours in a vortex of social content without becoming any more connected than before.
The more time we spend online isn’t necessarily enhancing our daily lives or allowing us to foster real connections. According to BrandWatch, the average worldwide social media user spends upwards of 142 minutes browsing a selection of over seven networks daily. New network Heard is doing things a little differently, allowing users to spend that time more consciously, to connect with people and discover new things happening around them.
We sat down with founder Paul Austin to find out more about the company challenging the social media status quo for the collective benefit of the 3.7 billion active social media users around the world.
How is Heard disrupting the market?
We’re changing the way people interact – most social media is designed to connect you with people you already know. Heard is about meeting new people, and being able to speak to people in ways you’re not able to currently.
How has social media changed over the years and how is Heard bringing something new to the space?
Social media is changing massively, and it’s doing so quickly. When social media became mainstream the inherent goal for users was to gain as many followers as possible, and share everything they possibly could online.
We’re now realising the implications of these actions, and people are making a conscious effort to change the way they use social media. Privacy and security issues are an increasing concern, but more importantly, social media has been shown to have a negative effect on the mental health of its users. There are harmful repercussions of using social media to replace real life relationships rather than enhance them and many people, especially younger people, are feeling more isolated as a result.
Heard is addressing these implications by building a network that’s designed for the modern, mindful consumer who wants to use the benefits of the digital age to create social experiences rather than simulate them.
How is Heard’s team bringing experience and expertise to the mission?
Our team has decades of design and development experience, working on some of the biggest digital projects in the UK. Between us, we’ve created and designed award-winning apps and websites for multinational clients including the BBC, Manchester United, United Airlines and JD Sports. This venture is a natural transition for all of us and we’re looking forward to the growth to come.
How does Heard stack up against competitors?
We don’t necessarily have the infrastructure of larger competitors, but by using open-source technologies like React and cloud technology from Google Cloud and other advanced resources we are able to grow without any downtime or major hardware costs. This gives us a unique competitive advantage in the market.
What current features does the platform offer users and can we expect more to come in the future?
When we launched Heard, we deliberately designed the platform to be as simple as possible. We wanted people to be comfortable with the app from the get go, without needing to become accustomed to a whole new concept. The idea was, and still is, to get people talking rather than playing with filters or altering their reality to meet the expectations of others.
As we expand, we plan to release more new features, and we’re already testing some of them as we speak.
What have you learned from your users so far that you’ve been able to use to better the product?
We’ve learned that there is a real need for a product like Heard – users want to connect with other people, and not just chase followers. Despite how much we all use social media there still wasn’t an easy way to go somewhere such as a festival and talk to those people before Heard. People need people – real connections, not just random followers.
What has growth looked like to date?
Our growth has been steady and really encouraging. We have worked with events like North by Northwich, through which people can get an immediate sense of how Heard works, and how useful it can be in enhancing their daily lives. Our own event, Mercury Climbing, was created to expand on this. We ran this event through the app and gave people real-time updates and exclusive content throughout.
What are the primary revenue streams for the business?
There are two revenue streams for Heard – one of which is also tied to our usp of privacy. We will show ads in the app, but they will be based on what people are talking about in the timeline. For example if you put a post up asking for a recommendation for a local Chinese restaurant that is open late, we can show an ad related to that question. This way, we don’t have to collect or sell any of your information to show you a useful ad, putting your data protection and privacy at the heart of everything we do.
The second revenue stream comes from selling enhanced Moments to events. These allow event organisers to offer an experience that is similar to having their own app, but at a fraction of the cost and time to set up.
What will be the greatest challenge going forward?
Our greatest challenge will be growing our user base in additional countries without succumbing to the challenges faced by other apps when they scale. Not only do we want to provide our offering to people living in other countries, we want people to use Heard when they travel to create a more authentic tourist experience that fosters global connections.
How will this crowdfunding round power your growth going forward?
With the app built, and development handled in-house, the money we raise on Seedrs will be spent on marketing and promotions, allowing us to reach even more people. We will be working with a respected social media agency, and we have several creative campaigns ready to go that will raise our profile and take Heard to the next level.
What digital product, social media or otherwise, has been your biggest inspiration so far?
Even though Heard lets you talk to lots of different people at once, similar to the way Twitter works, we wanted it to feel personal, so we looked at messaging apps such as Whatsapp and iMessage to see how people communicate when they talk one on one.
What’s your favourite way to connect with someone?
My favourite way will always be face to face, people need people and so much of our communication is non verbal nowadays.
What are you doing when you’re not working?
I’ve got two young daughters, and we love being outdoors and getting messy. I love cycling, and playing poker when I get the chance.
To find out more about Heard, visit the pitch now.