Move over Invisible Girlfriend. Make way for Invisible Industries.
Invisible Girlfriend, the St. Louis startup that generated worldwide attention in both social and traditional media circles after its formation at a St. Louis startup competition in November, 2013, is evolving, say its co-founders. And that means a new name.
The service was conceived by St. Louis entrepreneur Matt Homann, based on his own personal experience from several years ago. Newly divorced and weary of answering questions about his dating life, Homann envisioned a service aimed at ending all of the prying questions from friends and family.
His proposal was a company that created a faux girlfriend or boyfriend – one who could interact with a customer through text messages and other communication — all to convince others that the user was involved in a real relationship.
After pitching the idea on the first day of the 2013 St. Louis Startup Weekend, a team of developers (who’d never met each other before the event) fine-tuned the idea, and two days later, judges chose Invisible Girlfriend (and its twin service Invisible Boyfriend) as the winning entry. Almost immediately the concept was the talk of the Internet, then, mainstream media.
But much of the initial buzz tended to be dismissive. One writer called Invisible Boyfriend/Girlfriend, “the world’s saddest service.” Others called it, “creepy” and “weird.” Conan O’Brien created and broadcast a video parody of the service on his late night talk show.
Still, the idea caught on. Not quite two years after its birth, the service’s website boasts of a half million visitors from 193 different countries in the last year. Its founders say thousands of users have taken advantage of the service, paying $25 per month to receive 100 texts, 10 voicemails and a handwritten note from a faux partner who interacts with them in real time.
As Invisible Girlfriend/Boyfriend approaches its second anniversary, co-founder Kyle Tabor says the service is evolving and looking at new opportunities. Hence its new name: Invisible Industries.
“We decided to change the name because frankly, a lot of people laughed at the original name,” says Tabor. “And we view it as much more serious.”
“When we built our product and we put it out there for the world to test,” says Tabor, “we got tons of attention and thousands of users. But people started complaining, ‘my boyfriend doesn’t text me enough, or he doesn’t remember something.’” (The people who text with Invisible Industries customers actually are freelancers affiliated with CrowdSource, a workforce-management company based in Swansea, Illinois).
“We started to realize that this wasn’t just about getting somebody off their back, this was actually a friendship that had developed. This is someone they liked talking to, telling secrets to,” says Tabor.
So, says Tabor, the next addition to the company’s portfolio likely will be something called, “Invisible Friend.”
“Just like Invisible Girlfriend and Boyfriend,” says Tabor, “you’d get to create the persona of the person you’re connecting with, their interests etc. But the flirting aspect, the boyfriend or girlfriend part, would be taken out,” he says.
“Suppose you have a friend you like to talk to. But they may be at work, they may be asleep, you can’t get a response all the time. Not only that, your friends don’t always listen and give you 100 percent of their attention. So, the idea is that you can create this companion that you can actually talk to, vent to, get uplifting messages from, anytime, whenever you need it.”
Tabor says the company’s also considering an expansion into the “life coaching” business – linking the business to professionals who provide personal and career counseling. “A lot of people are using these services now,” he says.
“A life coach is someone who will help keep you working toward your goals and get you to the next level in life. But one of the issues of having a private coach is they may not be available all the time. We give an instantaneous connection whenever you need it. We’re reaching out to life coaches right now, asking them how can we best leverage the idea of a life coach and scale it — how can we have one person help many different people. The idea would be helping life coaches engage more clients,” says Tabor.
Tabor says as the enterprise he co-founded evolves, it’s becoming less and less about boyfriend/girlfriend and much more about the way communication is used to connect people.
And the world’s love affair with Invisible Industries’ bread and butter – the text message – is going to play a huge role for the company moving forward.
“Over 90 percent of the world has text capabilities on their phone. And over 90 percent of text messages are read within three minutes. It’s a communication medium that’s very easy to use. And barely any businesses are using it. So we feel text could actually be a very interesting way to engage customers in new ways,” he says.
“We are excited,” says Tabor. “We see a lot of potential in this.”