For the past year, Stevens alumnus Brian Donohue ’11 has spent 80+ hours per week building his company, worked out of a tiny basement, and moved office spaces five times, but he is hoping it all pays off very soon. Today, this budding entrepreneur launched what he thinks could be this year’s breakout interactive technology – Echo, a mobile social networking app that connects users with their location through simple 140 character messages.
Echo, which was loosely inspired by Twitter and Foursquare, has a slogan which sums up the experience it provides: “What’s happening in the World?” When users open the app, it automatically detects which city they're in and provides them with the most recent updates from Echo users in that city, enabling them to instantly get local news, discover events and interact with the people around them. Users can also share their own updates in 140 character messages.
“Echo provides a location-based messaging protocol,” said Donohue. “Whether users are in their hometown, in a new city, or at a concert we think there should be an easy way to engage in a conversation with people at the same location.”
Echo is a product of Echolocation, the entrepreneurial venture Donohue founded in 2011 with Rocky Chiu, a digital designer and recent graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University. Donohue is the lead developer. Chiu is the creative director. They both contribute to countless other aspects of launching a successful business – from marketing to public relations to advertising to fundraising to business planning and much more.
Donohue, who earned his B.S. in Computer Science from Stevens, first envisioned Echo in his Stevens’ courses, when he was challenged to think at a high level about social networks, technology and society, privacy in a networked world, and the mobile experience. For his senior design project, he designed an iPhone application, and combined with the coding skills he has developed since the age of 12, he was ready to start building Echo.
“Stevens really taught me how to learn and keep on learning – a vital skill for any entrepreneur,” Donohue said.
The first version of Echo was launched in April 2012, but didn’t have the impact Donohue had hoped.
“The first version connected people by specific location – like a single business,” Donohue said. “For example, 500 people at MetLife Stadium could connect with other people enjoying a Giants game along with them.”
However, the places function had limits. Cities did not.
“To achieve the scale and interaction we wanted, we eventually realized that the key was to move out of just places and into cities, where there are many more people to interact with and much more going on at one time,” Donohue said.
Since then, Donohue and Chiu have rethought the basic idea behind Echo, and spend countless hours tweaking and improving it. The new version of the Echo still allows users to drop down into a specific place, but they can also see activity at many cross sections of their location – i.e. Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, Hudson County, New Jersey, the United States, North America, etc.
Donohue was assisted in his venture by technology incubators, investors and venture capitalists which provided office space, resources, mentoring, networking opportunities, legal and accounting guidance, and perhaps most important, approximately $120,000 in seed capital.
One of the most prominent supporters is TechLaunch, New Jersey’s technology accelerator, which counts Stevens faculty members and administrators as part of its official mentoring team. Echolocation was chosen to participate in TechLaunch’s competitive, 12-week LaunchPad program.
“TechLaunch was really big for us,” said Donohue. “It helped us achieve a proper product/market fit.”
Donohue said he has very high hopes for Echo.
“Our ambition is to provide a communication channel for locations all over the World,” he said.
Echo is now available for download at the iTunes App Store.