Circle's People Discovery App Puts Emphasis On Design And Networks

First Look: I've wanted to write about Circle for months and now my chance has finally come. Circle is a location aware iPhone app that released a few weeks ago that helps you find people to meet in the networks that are most meaningful to you. When I sat down with CEO Evan Reas a few months ago, I was immediately struck by how beautiful this application is.  Hawthorn Labs, the parent company behind the app, has always had great design, but this app takes it to the next level.

The company broke onto the Silicon Valley startup scene in 2010, but really emerged last year raising $5MM from A16Z, and launching a web app that helped college students create serendipitous encounters by posting about people they saw and "liked a little."  For example here's a recent post on my almamater's page: "Dear attractive girl who turned in work application, why do you have to be a freshman?" While the concept had potential, the team soon released a mobile App called LAL People. It would show you what people like you were nearby similar to Ban.jo or even Loopt.

With Circle, the Palo Alto based team seems to have learned from these previous iterations and built something that potentially has massive appeal and reach. Circle sucks in your Facebook graph data and puts you into networks based on your likes, interests, schools, companies, and other data.

Don't confuse this with Google+ circles. The team has no intension of putting you to work while you figure out where everyone should be. Most of the work is done in the background after connecting Facebook. It automatically puts you into circles based on the things that make you unique. The app then suggests people nearby that I should meet based on our commonality.

As I've talked about, I believe this market opportunity is between a couple of key players like Highlight and Circle. One of the great advantages to Circle is the initial beta group. Over the past few weeks the app has been littered with many of the top minds in Silicon Valley including the founders of Dropbox and Pinterest, as well as Andreessen Horowitz partners, and many YC founders. These are part of the benefits of being in those 'Circles'. For instance another Circle is called "Rabois (as in Keith) founders." This allows these people to meet when close by based off of one commonality match. If you want to join a circle you can request access and whoever setup the group can approve you. No one has approved me for that group yet but there is still hope.

Another great application for this product is for our own community. Startup Grinders represent thousands of people in a dozen cities across the country. The Circle team has set up a special page for community members that want to use the app to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs that are nearby. This is a great use case for us especially with all the events we run and people constantly moving around the country. I hope they release an API so we can integrate this into our own app.

While the app doesn't show you exactly where someone is on the map (like Highlight), it will make you aware of how of close people that you share commonality with are. In some ways this is a lot better because it eliminates the risk of anyone ever showing up at your house or knowing exactly where you live. It's a much more casual way to do location based networking. This is no dating app, at least not yet. It is well suited for random encounters with university alumni, similar sports fans, and serendipitous opportunities.

While the product is used mostly by tech's early adaptor crowd, the team building it looked at other regions and demographics for inspiration. For instance they considered how people in the mid-western United States would react to the app and tried to design with different use cases like that in mind. It will be interesting to see where this evolves. So far it's a great first step. Circle is available on iTunes now.