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How Skout attracted millions with its flirty ways

Skout's CEO talks about what it takes to get a successful social networking app out in the market.

In the quickly evolving world of apps, Skout is a virtually an old standby at this point.


Having launched in 2007 and then re-tooled to its current iteration two years later, Skout is a mobile social network built on the premise that people would want to meet and flirt with people close to them. Skout uses the phone's ability to locate itself to determine nearby people (to ensure privacy, the service doesn't provide the exact location of a person, only getting as specific as half a mile away).

The app is free, but Skout generates revenue through the freemium model, offering a pay ad-free version and also charging for virtual currency, used to buy gifts, boost people's profile, and get more data on who's been checking them out.

While Skout has been around for a while, CEO Christian Wikilund said customer growth has really ramped up over the past 18 months. A year ago, the app was adding 100,000 users a month. Now, it's grown to 1 million a month. In total, the app has a base of tens of millions of users, Wikilund said, with New York and Hong Kong being its top two markets.

Part of the key to Skout's success has been the serendipitous nature of the service, Wikilund said. Skout doesn't rely on one-on-one communication like most dating websites. He compares it more to a music concert, where you randomly chatting up nearby strangers.

Skout is expected to continue seeing tenfold growth in customers, he said.

If Wikilund were to launch Skout all over again, here are some strategies he would follow:

Launch early. Don't spend a year building a product and mulling over every single aspect and feature of an app. It's better to get out there than to have a complete product. You can always add more services and features once the interest picks up.

"If you launch a product that's fun, then you have a good foundation to make something happen," Wikilund said.

He added he initially waited too long to launch his product, and said he regretting obsessing over every feature.

Focus on the product. The need to get a product out quickly, however, should be tempered with a strong focus on the product. You may not need every single feature for the app, but the core service should be simple, fun, and useful. It should be something people want to come back to.

For example, Wikilund said he has a "zero-tolerance policy on douchebaggery," and said he kicks out 40,000 people a month for unacceptable social behavior -- all in the bid to maintain a fun experience for everyone.

Analytics are key. Getting data on how consumers are using the app is key to improving and adding features. Don't worry about getting 100,000 users, just start with 1,000 and see how they use it, Wikilund said.

Each time Skout releases a new version, he sees a big jump in usage, he added.

Don't sweat the marketing. Keep your focus on the development of the app and the product, Wikilund said. While marketing is great, it's something that should be considered when the app is out, not during the development process. Down the line, you can always buy users, Wikilund said. But without a quality product, those users aren't going to stick around for long.