Ever find yourself waiting for a friend who’s late? It stinks. As impatience mounts, you call his cellphone, but there’s no answer. You ping your friend on WhatsApp, but he just says he’s “on Such-And-Such Street” – and Such-And-Such Street is a HUGE street!
Greenhouse Apps, the Taipei-based team behind Jink, has been there before, and they hope their new app will alleviate your waiting-in-the-cafe woes. Jink’s premise is simple: register with your phone number, and it automatically detects your location. If you’re looking to meet a friend, retrieve their number from your phone’s contact list and (once they download the app, if they haven’t already) they’ll appear as an icon on a map. You and your friend can then message each other, and the icons will move in real-time as each person walks towards the destination.
Once two parties meet, the Jink conversation ends.
Founded by Andy Lin, Wayne Chuang, and Brett Memsic, the Jink team houses all of its employees from its office in Taipei. The three founders each cut their teeth professionally in California – Lin at HotelTonight and Expedia, Chuang at iPhone case maker Rug-Ed Products, and Memsic at outsourcing firm Vinfotech. But the rest of the team hails from Taiwan, where Chuang and Lin each have roots. Chuang says that the founders decided to build Jink from the island due to the low labor costs and good talent, remaining confident that their Silicon Valley culture would resonate with young engineers looking for a change.
“Basically we recognized there’s a lot of good talent in Taipei, and Andy, one of our co-founders was living in Taipei at the time. At a traditional Taiwanese company, employees might not have a lot of freedom to utilize their creativity. They also maybe don’t really have the opportunity to build something that’s global. We’re trying to offer something that we want them to take ownership of.”
Even though Lin and Chuang speak fluent Chinese, they’ve found that importing a California management style hasn’t been as easy as they expected.
“One challenge that’s interesting to me is that even though Andy and Wayne speak fluent Mandarin, from a motivational leadership perspective, it’s still difficult to speak the language in a way that really rallies the troops,” says Memsic.
Taiwan isn’t known for producing globally competitive social apps (though exceptions exist), but Jink hits the mark for style and usability. The design is beautiful, the interface is slick and intuitive, and it’s a thrill to see yourself approaching a friend in real time. The app hit the US iOS App Store’s “Best New Apps” category upon its release, and it’s easy to see why – it’s cute and clean, which is just what Apple likes.
In theory, Jink faces some monstrous competition. For one thing, global giants like Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Line all offer up some combination of location-sharing and messaging. Then there’s Swarm, the Foursquare offshoot that (when it was known as Foursquare) took mobile location sharing mainstream. Other startups that have their hats in the ring around around the “Here I am, where are you, what shall we do?” concept include Circle, Highlight, and Glympse, which is Jink’s closest analog.
But in practice, Jink isn’t really comparable to any of those services because of its laser focus on messaging. Right now, the app sits firmly in “minimal viable product” territory, with no bells and whistles like push-to-voice or automatic address extraction (“Where am I?” Pushes button 123 Nanjing East Road Taipei, Taiwan). Instead, it’s a moderately useful tool you’ll use occasionally, rather than a social app you’ll return to again and again. This clear use-case makes it easy for users to comprehend its value. But it also might prevent traction, especially when it’s only a marginal improvement over the WhatsApps and Vibers of the world.
Then again, if the WhatsApps and Vibers of the world added a Jink-esque feature tomorrow, its users would likely jump for joy (or quiver in fear, depending on where one sits vis-a-vis privacy issues). How cool would it be to schedule a meeting on Line, and then press a button to see your friend traveling towards you on a map? Maybe his icon could even be a Cony bunny rabbit.
As a result, like many social apps, Jink’s true potential unlocks only once consumers start using it en masse. Until then, it’s an app to watch among many other apps to watch.