Before NYU, Socialbomb’s cofounders studied theatre, music and journalism, and worked in fields as diverse as gaming, marketing, and investment technology. When they returned to graduate school at the Interactive Telecommunications Program, they added the final, key ingredient to their skill mix: the ability to rapidly prototype an idea, whether by programming software or engineering the hardware.
Their joint final project for Professor Tom Igoe’s Networked Objects class served as the inspiration for Socialbomb. It was a wearable, wireless gaming device, built by hand: “There were pliers, soldering guns, wires,” says cofounder and CEO Scott Varland. A microcontroller with radio transceivers monitored and turned into a game friends’ activities when they came near each other. The experiment in proximity monitoring let the founders explore large-group interactivity.
Now, they’re bringing that know-how to clients in media, marketing and social networking, while holding fast to the presiding ethos at ITP, as Varland says: “If you can imagine it, you can pretty much make it.”
After the final project, they switched the single device notion into a series of social games to be played on mobile phones. They wrote up a business plan around it, which won the Stern New Venture Competition’s $50,000 grand prize in 2008. A month later, after the founders graduated, they secured important investments, from David S. Rose of the New York Angels and Josh Koppelman of First Round Capital.
ITP offered them space to work for the summer, and they moved to an incubator that fall.
The financial crisis slowed their momentum, and funding dried up for mobile gaming. But instead of giving up, they “redeployed the same technologies” and switched tactics again Varland says, moving toward a more ambitious, more fundamental goal: bridging different, incompatible, networks and platforms. The Washington Post called Socialbomb’s platform “a groundbreaking module.” And demand--from giant brands trying to migrate around the new digital universe--turned out to be fierce, despite the recession.
The platform knits together apps and devices, letting users bounce between them, having a seamless experience on Facebook, the Web, Twitter, smartphone mobile apps, tablets, video players, cable TV, even radio. Their first major client was Mattel’s Fisher-Price, for which they created a customized photo-sharing application for parents. More global brands followed: Viacom, Pepsico, Mars candy. An ITP mentor, Professor Clay Shirky, helped connect them to ad agency BBDO Worldwide, which put them to work for HBO. Socialbomb configured an interface for viewers of HBO’s popular vampire show, “True Blood,” that lets fans share scenes between, for example, mobile devices and Blu-ray.
Today Socialbomb’s staff of eight full-time employees plus contractors includes three NYU hires. Their new DUMBO office has room for them to grow, and as of 2010 the company turned a profit. “Integrating with content on television is a very exciting area for us, though our core work continues to be on Facebook, Twitter and mobile platforms,” Varland says. “The opportunity seems to be ripe.”