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New App: Invite Right with Hobnob
Email is a mess. Friends don't let friends use Evite. (See also: email.) And Facebook event invitations are only slightly less spammy than Facebook game requests. We really should be spending time together in person, so what's a party planner to do?
A new app called Hobnob has a simple answer: invitations via text message.
Hobnob was created by a Hawaii-based startup led by Tiffany and Mark Quezada (formerly of gifting app Minded) and Tina Fitch (who previously founded travel tech firm Switchfly and served as an advisor at Skai Ventures). While the app has been available for a little while, today became an unofficial launch day for Hobnob when it got featured on Product Hunt.
"We wanted to build a service that made it really easy to get friends together without being annoyed by group texts or ignored through an email invite," says Tiffany. "We have seen a 300% better RSVP rate than other platforms."
I tried Hobnob this morning and was immediately won over, for a number of reasons.
1. It's all about texting.
The key differentiator for Hobnob is the fact that it's based on SMS, which is increasingly the main way people communicate with each other. Already there are people I know that simply don't do e-mail, and more and more people are opting out of Facebook. Hobnob is making a smart bet that the kind of people you would invite to lunch or a party are people you exchange text messages with already.
Getting started is easy. You confirm your phone number when you sign up, and you can quickly set up an event. And while everything happens via text message, the app provides a nice dashboard to help you track RSVPs and comments.
2. Hobnob invites are beautiful.
By avoiding the constraints of rendering HTML in various email clients or web browsers, the app builds and sends elegant, colorful images. It's a photo-centric design approach that immediately stands out.
You can also use your own photos as the backdrop to Hobnob's various designs, or if you're especially handy with photo apps, you can design the entire invite image and send that instead.
3. Invitees can RSVP simply by texting back 'Y' or 'N.'
This makes RSVPs as easy as it gets, but by working both ways via SMS, I'm more impressed by what Hobnob doesn't do.
"Guests don’t need to download the app or create an account to RSVP, add to their calendar, or get directions," Tiffany explains.
"Not requiring invitees to sign up or download an app was a core principle for us," Mark added. "We knew that if hosts couldn't get RSVPs easily, they wouldn't use it."
I think this is admirable, but it does give up a critical opportunity to gain more users, which is often the main priority of a new app or service.
"We put the host's experience above the almighty download," Mark explains. "And happy guests become happy hosts at some point."
If guests want more information before sending a one-letter reply, invitations do include a special link, unique to each invitee, that takes them to a mobile-optimized event detail page.
4. Hobnob is for small gatherings, but can go bigger.
If you're looking to sell tickets or handle registration for a large conference, you'll have to look elsewhere. Hobnob isn't trying to become the next Eventbrite (or Eventzilla or Ticketbud).
"Right now it’s for private, invite-only types of events for both personal and business use," Tiffany says. "We’ve seen it used for a wide range of events from kids' birthdays to concerts...free start-up events definitely."
"We just launched, but have already seen Hobnob used for housewarmings, dinner parties, and more," Fitch adds. "We wanted Hobnob to get people excited about your event, and keep things fast and fun."
But what if you just have a lot of friends?
"We’ve actually been surprised by the number of guests we’ve been seeing on invites created," Tiffany says. "We thought the average would be 10-15 guests, and we’ve seen a lot of events with over 40 guests."
5. Hobnob plays nice.
For Hobnob to do its magic, invitations come from its SMS gateway, rather than directly from the host's phone. And not everyone likes getting text messages from a service instead of a person. Fortunately, Hobnob understands.
"You can opt out at any time and never receive another thing from us by using STOP... [and] we show an error on the invite saying that that person can't receive texts," Mark says. "We've worked really hard to make the service useful and relevant so we hope that doesn't happen."
Of course, you still have to provide Hobnob the phone numbers of your friends to invite them in the first place, which some people may be hesitant to do.
"We guard phone numbers very carefully and they're never used publicly or shared with anyone, not even other guests," Mark says.
6. Hobnob wants your love.
People have been beta testing the app locally and on the mainland for months now," Tiffany says. "We are really excited about the feedback we’ve gotten so far."
But with Hobnob climbing the charts at Product Hunt on the first day of SXSW in Austin (an event which triggers the hatching of dozens of new apps), things are only just starting to get interesting.
"We have a lot more work to do, we'd love to hear your feedback on what we have so far," Tina says.
You can download Hobnob for iOS from the iTunes App Store (with an Android version planned). If you want to help Hobnob reach more users, you can upvote the app and join the discussion at Product Hunt (134 votes so far) and at Hacker News. And you can keep up with the company on Twitter, on Facebook, and even on Instagram.