Our James Sun covered in the Wall Street Journal about his new viral App

By Lora Kolodny for WSJ

A Seattle startup called Anomo Inc. raised $800,000 in new seed funding in a round led by Maveron and Orca Bay Capital, according to co-founders James Sun and Ben Liu.

Anomo072314_D_20140722204044Anomo’s mobile-only, social networking app was designed to help people forge new friendships, rather than score dates, gossip, or keep up with old friends, family or colleagues, Mr. Sun said.

While apps and sites like Tinder, OKCupid, Whisper, Secret, Facebook and LinkedIn already do a fine job at all of those things, the co-founders felt there was a gap in the social networking space.

“It’s a strange thing to accept a friend request on Facebook, or another big social network, then show your new connection almost everything you’d be willing to share with people in your existing, trusted network,” Mr. Sun said.

So they built Anomo with the idea of helping users “reveal things one layer at a time” from the start, without forcing them to constantly fiddle with cumbersome privacy controls.

Because Anomo users start out with a pseudonym and an avatar, but don’t have a public profile that uses their real identity or that shows their faces, the app has been frequently compared to so-called anonymous messaging apps like Whisper, Secret or YikYak, which have recently grown in popularity and attracted venture funding.

The co-founders take exception to that comparison.

AnomoScreen072314_DV_20140722204703Instead of acting as a public gossip board, Anomo asks users “icebreaker” questions, devised by psychology Ph.Ds who now work as pollsters and consultants to the startup. Users’ answers, over time, help the app to categorize people, and recommend that they chat with others they’re likely to find interesting, based on those categorizations.

“It’s not about dating compatibility, it’s about engagement, or who you will want to converse with over time,” Mr. Sun explained.

The average daily user spends 37 minutes on the app and the company boasts more than 300,000 monthly active users, it says. Typically, paired users chat back and forth about 20 times before one of them requests to learn some personal details about the other.

More than half the time, the user requesting personal information is a woman, and more than half the time she requests a photograph of her new potential friend, Mr. Sun said. Other “reveal” requests are for users’ names, professional affiliations and more.

Sixty-eight percent of Anomo’s users are women.

In the future, the company hopes to monetize the app through use of brand-specific “icebreakers” that serve as polls of willing users. And it hopes to organize “meetups” that drive foot traffic to retailers, restaurants or other venues, among users who are all at least somewhat acquainted, and favorably interacting, through Anomo – regardless of whether or not they have yet shared personally identifying details about themselves.

The company plans to use its seed funding on hiring, adding to its eight-employee staff over the next year, and to test different revenue models with early, select partners in media, entertainment and retail.