From Foursquare to Zenly, there hasn’t exactly been a shortage of location-centric social networks outside the usual Big Tech ecosystems, but for one reason or another things have never really worked out. Snap acquired Zenly and eventually shut it down despite its enduring popularity, and Foursquare is still chugging along with its back-end location data business and consumer spin-off Swarm.
But “social” and “location” have always been natural brethren, which is why another startup is throwing its hat into the social-location ring, armed with $18 million in funding and an app that has gained a little steam through its beta period.
Founded out of Israel in 2019, Atly claims to be creating the “next social paradigm for mapping and discovering places to go.” It’s all about finding new restaurants, hiking trails, bike rental places, gluten-free eateries, record stores, rooftop bars, free public toilets, and all the rest.
Through the web or mobile app, users can create their own theme-specific community, after which they become the manager for that community, including setting rules for engagement and permissions around what other users can do in that community.
Yes, it’s very much like Reddit for real-world places.
“We love to refer to Atly as the lovechild of Reddit and Google Maps,” Atly co-founder and CEO Uriel Maslansky explained to TechCrunch. “The community managers grow their map by sharing it with friends, family, social media followers, and community members.”
Atly was previously known as Steps until a rebrand a few weeks ago, and from its very early incarnation in 2019, Maslansky said that the app has accumulated more than 120,000 members, who have created some 6,500 map-centric communities. However, most of these users are in the U.S., with New York in particular a hot-bed of activity, though it’s now looking to ramp up activity in other key locations. “We are currently growing the U.S. user base further on an individual city-by-city basis,” Maslansky said.
The company closed a $1.25 million seed round in 2019, followed by a hitherto undisclosed $16.75 million Seres A five months ago. The funding came from Target Global, Tal Ventures, and FKA Brands, and will be used to bolster its product as it officially launches after some three years in open beta.
Atly is also introducing a handful of new features, including pins with numbers to show how many recommendations they have received from the community, while it’s also gearing up to launch new community management and monetization tools this coming quarter, giving a first glimpse into how Atly is planning to commercialize.
On the surface, it’s fairly notable that a consumer company such as Atly has raised money in the current climate, with the lion’s share of its $18 million cash injection coming just five months ago. But the gargantuan elephant in the room here is how, exactly, does Atly plan to monetize?
According to Maslansky, Atly is not generating any revenue itself yet, but some of its users are already earning by “gating their community” to paid members. And this is where it sees some revenue potential, by charging the community managers themselves for tools to help monetize their maps.
So far, Maslansky said that some users have “feature-hacked” the platform by setting their maps to “unlisted,” and then offering private links to users who pay to join — this may be through PayPal or Patreon. And it’s this behavior that Atly is looking to capitalize on by introducing subscription-based communities.
“Creators will be able to charge for access to subscription-only maps, generating revenue for both Atly and the community manager,” Maslansky said. “We also plan to roll out more features focused on giving creators additional ways to monetize their maps in a seamless and native experience.”
The competitive landscape in which Atly is targeting is fairly expansive, and includes the big guns of the social sphere such as Instagram, Facebook and Reddit which can be used to find recommendations and places to go — however, such platforms were not designed primarily with location use-cases in mind.
“We were frustrated by the idea that user-generated content touched every core aspect of our lives, yet was missing from one of the most foundational aspects of living — mapping and finding the right places to go,” Maslansky said. “But because of that basic need, people ‘feature-hack’ their way to finding and sharing this information on platforms like Instagram, Reddit, Facebook — platforms that were never meant for sharing or consuming location-based information.”
Other notable incumbents include search-and-review platforms like Google Maps or Yelp, which Maslansky reckons lack “…the expansiveness, depth, and trustworthiness” of true social platforms. And then there are the countless niche-specific apps such as vegan dining guide HappyCow, a concept that Atly is hoping to expand on via an all-encompassing app with the flexibility to build communities around any place or theme.
“We are happy about this long-tail market, which shows how strong the need is [for something like Atly],” Maslansky said. “They also reinforce what we firmly believe — that existing solutions aren’t offering the experience users crave. We dropped the barrier-to-entry to zero. Many of the communities that have built maps on Atly have told us that they were originally planning to build their own app for mapping their community’s places, and were thrilled when they found out about Atly.”