Social Startups: Topi Connects Everyone at Any Event
"I really liked it when people used to meet at cafés, salons, waiting rooms ... Nowadays, most people just chat with their friends on their mobile phones, oblivious to the strangers around them. At events, this is true as well," says David Aubespin, co-founder and CEO of Topi, the only solution that connects everyone at events. "Even though attendees spend a lot of time and energy to go to conferences and meet new people, most of it is left up to chance. We're simply trying to give serendipity a hand by facilitating networking opportunities."
As an engineering manager at Google, Aubespin attends a lot of events. Before launching Topi in December 2011 with co-founder and CTO Eric Sellin, (who he met pre-Internet via forums on the Minitel) Aubespin noticed that he only met the same circle of friends every time.
"We'd email each other about the upcoming events and make plans to meet up," he says. "As a result, I don't think I met as many interesting people as I could have, because I would not get out of my comfort zone. And let's be honest, trying to read badges to network is not the most efficient way to do it."
Several prestigious events have switched to Topi recently, including BizBash, Mashable, and DLD. Aubespin says the most recent Under 20 Summit was interesting in terms of demographics. As the name implies, attendees were all under 20 years old, and they embraced Topi's features and immersed themselves into the app as you would only expect millennials to do.
"Our adoption rate was 97 percent a week before the event," Aubespin says. "Questions had to be asked (and voted on) via Topi. Eighty-six percent of the attendees connected with at least one person on LinkedIn via Topi. This was a great test bed for us to get a taste of the future attendee."
In November 2013, Topi unveiled "Instant Translations," which enables users to chat with one another, writing and receiving messages, in more than 60 languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Hindi, Greek, and Russian.
"InfluencerCon really made us realize that the event of tomorrow will be universal," says Aubespin. "We broke the distance barrier using our unique geo-fencing feature. We now break the language one with in-app instant translations. It was great to see people from many cities around the world chat with each other. I definitely think there's something about imagining a person on the other side of the planet chatting with you, even though you don't even speak the same language. This is only the beginning."
It only takes about an hour for event planners to set up a major event-from professional conferences to concerts. Topi also builds on what people already know and use. From Facebook to Whatsapp, it extracts the best social networking capabilities and adapts them to the unique event environment where people don't know each other yet.
"The world would be different had Steve Jobs not met Steve Wozniak," says Aubespin. "We work hard to make sure this doesn't happen. The app was built with networking in mind. Even the main page is based on the ongoing conversations at the event, both public and private. Psychologists have taught us that, within a group of people who don't know each other yet, group interactions are the key to bonding. Our goal with Topi is simply to optimize what happens at random in real life."
Topi charges organizers who plan for-profit events. There is a per-event and subscription-based pricing plan. "It's absolutely 'all you can eat,'-we don't slice and dice," Aubespin says about the Made in NY social startup. "Every feature we add to Topi makes the whole solution better, and we want people to get the best experience out of it."
The plan was for Topi to be used on all five continents by the end of 2014, and this was achieved in February. Now Topi is aiming for the 97 percent rate from the Under 20 Summit to become the norm.
"More and more, we're being approached by partners with very cool use-cases," says Aubespin. "Meeting new people is a universal need, and Topi is so generic that even we can't predict where it could lead us. So I anticipate Topi will pop up in some very unexpected places in the next few months."
The most-asked question Aubespin says they get is, "Why the name Topi?" A Topi is an African antelope that is extremely social and thrives in groups. They felt the cute animal was a great symbol for their mission to connect everyone at any event.
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