September 11, 2013
Q&A with Twyxt co-founders Bianca W. Loew and Roman Weishäupl
Twyxt, an app that launched on Valentine’s Day 2013, focuses on preserving memories for couples “while they share, have fun and get things done.” Several other private social networks have sprung up recently, including Couple (previously Pair) and Avocado, a manifestation of Going Private in Public, one of our 10 Trends for 2013. But brother-and-sister team Roman Weishäupl and Bianca Loew consider messaging services like WhatsApp to be Twyxt’s prime competition due to their widespread popularity. Loew (Twyxt’s CEO) brings a background in interactive marketing and PR, while Weishäupl (the chief innovation officer) previously worked with German research company TrendONE. Among other things, they discussed factors driving the rise of couple-focused apps, the issue of preserving memories in the digital age and the flourishing startup scene in Mexico City, Loew’s hometown.
Several couple apps have come out in the last year or so. What’s your take on this boom of relationship-focused tools?
BIANCA: When we started our research and planning for Twyxt, there were actually no couple apps on the market. Our research and planning showed a big opportunity. Intimate relationships were being treated exactly the same as others on Facebook and LinkedIn and WhatsApp, etc. All the communication channels or social networks that we’re using, relationships are not getting that priority. Roman, maybe you’d like to tell the story?
ROMAN: I had the idea a long time ago when a former girlfriend would copy some of my text messages into her journal. I asked, “Why would you do that?” She said it was because she liked to keep them. And I started thinking, Where are the love letters of our time? Now we are sending them over digital media. It’s not just a generational matter, it’s impacting all ages. There’s no space for love letters, they get lost. The minute you switch your phone, they’re basically gone. The minute you decide, “This app is not my messenger anymore,” everything is gone.
I had the initial idea in 2004, and then Facebook came up and all the other social networks. I was working for this innovation company, and all these cool new companies emerging began creating niche social networks, like organizing a social network for pet lovers. Nobody ever came up with a nice service for the most important relationship in their lives.
How does Twyxt differ from the current competition?
We’re not creating only a messenger for two with fun features. We always wanted a residual value to it, meaning that using this messenger gives you an extra benefit in different times, and so it basically creates the tapestry of your relationship automatically. We did a lot of research about how couples communicate. We found that 90 percent of the communication is plain and basic, but 10 percent are the prime. The prime is where the exchange of emotions and feelings are made, such as when they make the partner smile or sharing a photo that you really want to keep somewhere.
In a way, you’re creating something tangible from intangible feelings, which is the 10 percent that you’re talking about, these unique and subtle moments. Now digital communication allows us to track them.
ROMAN: I have a message I really love that I like to read maybe only once a month, right, or maybe only once every half a year I like to reminisce a little, but I do want to be able to do it. With all the other messengers that are out there right now, I have this endless scrolling. Just scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, and eventually you give up because you’re like, “This is so overwhelming.”
BIANCA: Also, we’re finding out that so many couples take screen shots of their favorite messages. Now they’re trying to solve that problem.
We’re heading into a very visual culture, as if we’re beginning to communicate with emotional hieroglyphics. For example, Instagram feeds can include screenshots of meaningful text message exchanges. It seems as if that’s the basis for Twyxt?
ROMAN: Yes, And even though all the other couple apps are emerging, we feel that they’re not solving the biggest problem. For example, our biggest competition is the instant messenger WhatsApp. If we want a couple to do the switch, we have to offer them something of tremendous value. When we researched more about relationships, we found that content here is really king. With friends, content is more along the lines of sharing where you’re going to go, what you did last night, etc., but it’s not really about keeping memorabilia of what you’re doing.
With emoticons and emojis, people are trying to communicate less with their words and more with these icons, but is that really creating a further connection?
ROMAN: Exactly. If you look at the emojis coming out, they’re all very basic. There’s a heart and a kiss.
Do you think we’ll be seeing more apps where you’re amplifying these small moments?
ROMAN: Yes. I think there is this intimacy that’s becoming more and more important. I’m also noticing fewer private photos on Facebook than I used to see.
There’s the argument that when couples are physically together, they’re not really together anymore because they’re always stuck on their phones. It seems as though Twyxt is trying to bring couples closer together?
BIANCA: It’s absolutely not our goal to have couples that are out together physically to grab their phones and communicate through Twyxt. It’s really for when couples are apart and making them emotionally more connected through more than just text messages, where they can share their mood or they can share their day or their calendar. Our kiss function is when they are apart. When they’re together, they should really kiss each other.
ROMAN: There’s some research that also shows that many people can write their emotions better than actually say them, and we obviously hope we enable the couple to share their emotions on a different level so that they can benefit when they are again together. Some things people prefer writing, and then once it’s spoken and shared, you can take it to real life.
Some of the most successful apps are the ones that are amplifying reality and embracing the physical world as much as the digital world. The Twyxt app amplifies both worlds, I think?
BIANCA: I think that’s exactly what we’re going for. We’ve also noticed these apps helping men communicate better, because as we know, men sometimes have problems with communicating their emotions. So with Twyxt, you have the moods, and with one click you can express what emotional state you’re in: when you’re feeling happy if you think of the other person, if you miss the other person. You don’t really have to write that message, it’s just one click that will produce a smile on the face of your partner.
It seems like you’re tapping into an emerging idea of mood sharing and mood graphics with the rise of visual communication?
ROMAN: When you look at Facebook, where we only have the “Like” button, it’s limiting. People really want to share what they want to express, and that’s part of it. There’s more than just “like.”
What happens when your relationship ends? Is there a privacy concern at that point?
ROMAN: We haven’t implemented the perfect solution yet, but the first important thing is that if you want your data to be deleted, we will and we can do that, unlike, let’s say, Facebook, where everything can remain on their servers and they just hide it. We really delete, so the user remains the owner of all the content.
BIANCA: But I think there are lots of people who want to keep their old memories, and even though they’re not together anymore, they still want to have those souvenirs.
How do you see your app developing in the next five years?
BIANCA: What we’re hoping for is to be a one-stop shop for the couple, where everything that has to do with their relationship is going to be in one app.
ROMAN: We want to become a service provider for couples. I think that’s like, as you mentioned before, transmitting a little bit from the digital to the real world. That’s going to be an important part, but we’re going to work very closely together with the user to see what they want next.
To shift gears, what trends are you seeing outside your category that you think have real potential for growth in the coming years?
ROMAN: I think wearable technology is going to become increasingly important. The next thing is going to be that the technology is actually hiding, it’s going away, and that’s going to be important. I don’t think in 10 years people will walk around with a cell phone in their hand. I don’t really know what the technology will look like, but we won’t be able to really see it.
It will surround us like a digital aura, and it will help us in all walks of life. It will be a personal assistant, it will be ubiquitous. Like with Google Glass, we have a couple of thousand people walking around with it, and all they can do is basically take a picture and a video and share that. But it doesn’t take a lot to anticipate how the functionality will take off. When we think about the first cell phone, how it looked, all you could do was call, and it was huge and big. Already our first wearable device for glasses, it’s nice, slim and well-designed.
It doesn’t mean that we now have to build for Google Glass, but you have to think about, What if everyone walks around with glasses or with an iWatch? Will your business model still be up to date? The biggest threat digital media is giving us is that it breaks your business model.
More and more people are looking for solutions to problems that corporations cannot provide. And if I were a corporation, I would definitely have a department that would work on how to kill my business.
BIANCA: All the new Silicon Valleys are like little subsidiaries of Silicon Valley, happening everywhere. For example in Mexico, when we had the idea about Twyxt, there was no ecosystem for startups. And today it’s just impressive what’s happening and how people are developing technology, and this is something we can really see happening around the world.
How has the startup scene evolved in Mexico City, and how does it compare with other startup scenes?
BIANCA: Two years ago there was absolutely nothing; today we have a real ecosystem emerging. In the last couple of months there have emerged several venture funds. At least twice a week somebody is telling me they are organizing a fund or working on developing technology in different stages, so that’s something new: that there’s actually money here in Mexico for startups. On the other hand, organizations like AngelHack are starting to get organized here. Google has become very supportive of startups here in Mexico and getting very involved with the scene. A lot of people who a year ago still wanted to work, like developers who wanted to work for a bank, today they want to do their own startup. So it’s really exciting that a new community is emerging.
There’s still a big opportunity, because there are not that many startup companies yet, to get attention from media, from investors, etc. Also, the country is just next to the U.S., so that of course makes it a very, very interesting market. I’m expecting a lot of things to happen here in Mexico, and I think there will be very strong ties with Silicon Valley. It’s one of the reasons we’re here in Mexico, because Mexico will be a very important market for us.
Are you seeing any transplants coming from the U.S. into Mexico City in order to get their apps up and running?
BIANCA: Yes, many of the bigger startup companies. For example, Uber, the taxi app, launched a couple of weeks ago in Mexico. The more advanced apps that are successful in the U.S. are coming to the emerging markets, and their first stop is usually in Mexico. In our case, for example, a lot of our investors are from Mexico.
Image credit: Tywxt