Business and professional matchmaking
with an SMS
Six degrees of separation' "law"
of networking reduced to 1 degree of proximity
An interview with
the CEO and founder of Proxpro, a start-up of Boston,
by Jorge Nascimento
Rodrigues, editor of Gurusonline.tv, August 2005
Imagine finding in a crowd of busy and noisy people
a professional, a peer or a businessperson that met
your interests, someone you do not even know it exists.
A proprietary algorithm developed by a British serial
entrepreneur can do this mobile executive search for
you, via your cell-phone. The algorithm identifies reciprocity
of networking needs and profiles and determines non-zero
sum interactions, in your vicinity. Boston was just
choose as a "magical place" to develop this
new innovative fast location-based service, laid out
by Julian Bourne, 38, the British business innovator.
Julian got the idea during a serendipitous conversation
in an airport lounge, talking with a guy he never met
before, which by chance was an industry analyst, a leading
expert in a market he was deeply interested. This coincidence,
this accident, gave Julian the tech-idea: to develop
a solution that enables mobile professionals and businessmen
to search potential contacts in tradeshows, conferences,
in the gala dinner, even in the airport lounge or the
hotel lobby. "I went away thinking this sort of
serendipitous meeting shouldn't happen by chance",
Julian was at the time working for The Morgan Crucible
Company, a job that required him to spend two-thirds
of his life traveling and visiting events related to
the business of this old British manufacturer of products
made from carbon, ceramic and magnetic materials. He
felt that he misses a lot of people in those conferences
and exhibitions. Doing some market research he found
that 65 percent of business travelers in general and
80 percent of exhibition attendees felt exactly the
same frustration. So, Julian step out from Morgan Crucible,
after 11 years, and create Proxpro in December 2003.
The proximity economy
The "killer app" he sorts out was Proxpro,
a "proximity networking solution", a social
tool for what he calls the "proximity economy".
Julian begins targeting events. Proxpro prototype test
bed was in UK from November 2004 and then in US from
January this year. His first partners were Macworld
Conference & Expo, Reed Travel Exhibitions and Clarion
Events. The SMS-based matchmaking service was christened
in London at World Travel Market, Mortgage Business
Expo and Schroders London Boat Show, last year. The
US debut happened at San Francisco Macworld Expo in
The idea below the service is to empower professionals
and businessmen attending these events with a tool to
find and meet other high profile people. The solution
is scalable from small to huge tradeshows. "These
trials enabled us to validate our technology for events
attended by 250,000 business people", says Julian.
Proxpro works with 55% of US mobile networks in the
US and with 95% in the UK, but only with local cell-phones
- if you are on international roaming it will not work.
Julian refers that the "best performance was signing
up 18% of attendees, a result we were delighted with".
And he guaranties that the re-sign rate is 100%. Proxpro
is preparing the next version "with a few surprises".
"It will be out soon", says Julian.
You can search trough a simple SMS via your mobile
phone to the database of Proxpro, that will find in
the place where you stay other attendees or exhibitors
with profiles that matches your business and professional
interests and goals - for the moment only in the US
and UK, as mentioned before. You just have to register
a change in your location with a text message for Proxpro
- say, "I am in San Francisco Nanorobots Convention"
- and the algorithm will "discover" nearby
in the audience a few people that match your prespecified
interests. Both parties are notified, and can use SMS
to arrange a business meeting in situ. If both agree,
within minutes can be face-to-face. "Be careful
anyway. You must take a few steps, common sense precautions",
advises Proxpro. Julian guaranties that your identity,
your network and your contact details are never revealed
by the service. Privacy sensitivity is very high. It
is a non-invasive tool. You are also free of spammers:
"For two users to connect there must be a symmetry
of networking objective. A spammer will not be able
to predict what your networking needs are and therefore
will not be able to contact you", guaranties Proxpro.
Basically, in technical terms, you announce your location
to increase the chances of meeting useful high-yield
business contacts. It is a location-based service that
calculates the user's location from the SMS signal.
The Americans call these new emergent location tools
as "social services" based on a new buzzword
- "social capital knowledge management". In
a simple explanation: managing networks of professional
and business profiles. The only thing you have to do
is to register (is free) in the Proxpro website, create
your profiles, receive a code and activate the service.
Sure you have to pay the contacts and the messages.
The invisible field
With the widespread new infrastructure of broadband
and Wi-Fi hot spots in airports, hotels, trains, libraries,
Starbuck cafés, offices, conventions and conferences,
a new type of services can be offered to nomad customers
carrying all kind of wireless gadgets. Beyond the events
segment, Proxpro targets also hotel loyalty programs,
enabling customers with this plus service, and content
providers with affiliated members. The powerful data
this system gets, it is, also, very interesting for
The business model for Proxpro is based in contacts
and messages fees, and the company splits the profit
with the tradeshow owner. For telco carriers is good
Wade Roush, an editor in the West Coast of the MIT
Technology Review (TR), named recently this new environment
as a "state of continuous computing", a society
of "constant connectivity", and an "information
invisible field" around us. His article at the
August edition of TR talks of a "fifth wave of
computing", with "social machines" (the
title of the article) everywhere.
For sure, in the future, this type of networking on-demand
can be customized to other purposes. But that's not
Why and when you decided to create this start-up?
As I read the business idea was based in your personal
experience and needs. Can you tell the "story"
of the "Eureka!" moment?
My "eureka" moment was during a particularly
grueling business trip in the US in 1998. My mind was
on a pressing business problem and the solution was
dependent on a deep understanding of a future market.
By chance, in an airport lounge, I sat next an industry
analyst, a leading expert in this market. We got talking
and by the end of our conversation he had helped me
significantly - and offered to send me some industry
reports that otherwise would have cost thousands. I
went away thinking this sort of serendipitous meeting
shouldn't happen by chance. Towards the end of 2003
the technology to build the Proxpro platform was emerging
and I laid out plans for this new solution.
Can you detail the killer market segments for this
The US business executive wireless market is the killer
market. It's interesting -- recently youth market applications,
such as ring tones and gaming, have received much of
the publicity, but detailed market analysis data shows
that it's the non-voice communication that dominates
the mobile data market in the US today and will continue
to dominate. Analysts, Strategy Analytics (SA), predict
that the communication portion of the wireless data
market will grow from $2.5 billion to $15.5 billion
by 2009. Furthermore SA predicts that non-voice wireless
communication will grow faster and exceed total users
for IM (instant messaging), gaming, and ring tones.
It is forecast that 60 million US subscribers will be
using mobile email applications by 2009. By inference
there will be 60 million devices with user interfaces
that make messaging applications easy.
Do you think loyalty programs can be redefined taking
in to account your tool? Have you already case studies
in clients in this sense?
Proxpro is working with a variety of "content"
partners who want to leverage Proxpro to enable their
affiliated members to connect, and who can bring many
millions of potential customers to our service. We will
soon be in a position to give more information about
our partner strategy.
Where were the first "test beds"?
Proxpro's prototype was trialed in UK from November
2004 and the US from January 2005 in the tradeshow industry.
We were delighted to sign exclusive contracts with 5
tradeshow organizers including Reed Exhibitions, the
world's leader, and MacWorld, a very high profile US
event. These trials enabled us to validate our technology
for events attended by 250,000 business people.
Why you decided to locate your company in Boston,
despite your birth and professional relationship with
UK? It seems that Boston is transforming itself in a
"cluster" of start-ups in the location based
Yes, I'm British. Proxpro is a leader in proximity
networking solutions. Our technology blends the wireless
industry, where the UK is very strong, and, web-based
industry where the US has unassailable lead. Boston
is a magical place, and a natural choice for growing
Proxpro. It all comes down to a new field called Proximity
Economics where start-up businesses are supported by
a flow of leading edge ideas; access to early stage
funding and a energetic quality people produced by the
world's leading universities.
How you see the development of this nomad/mobile
Wade Roush, West Coast editor at MIT Technology Review,
eloquently described the arrival of continuous computing
where people spend their entire day in an invisible,
portable "information field". Combining wireless
networks, with powerful devices and Proxpro's collaboration
tools mean that 6 degrees of separation are reduced
to 1 degree of proximity.
How it works your algorithms to explore the window
of opportunity in the vicinity of the user?
Proxpro's patent pending technology is focused on the
intersection of three ingredients: intellectual proximity
(the mutual objectives, affinity and ranking of users),
physical proximity (distance/location) and time.
How many users you have till the moment?
Proxpro's prototype has been promoted and trialed at
tradeshows. Our best performance was signing up 18%
of attendees, a result we were delighted with. The next
version, a ubiquitous product, with a few surprises,
will be out soon.
Do you expect to go public?
At the moment we are focused on making our new product
a wonderful, compelling and fun experience for our customers.
Proxpro site: http://www.proxpro.com/uk/