By Joshua Kalenga
Of the world’s population, 5.1 billion people own a cell phone, according to Mobile Marketing Association Asia. Thus, the popularity of social media applications such as Facebook and Snapchat is no surprise. These applications tend to keep their users constantly engaged, providing them with endless waves of information. As recent studies show, however, this isn’t always a good thing.
In response to the stressful and addictive nature of mainstream social media, Colorado College grads Harrison Rosenfeld ’16 and Ben Rosenfeld ’11 decided to develop a scheduled messaging platform called PonyPal. They believe their app will encourage people to spend less time on their phones, while also improving the quality of their conversations.
Rosenfeld had not been expecting to start a company. He majored in political science at CC and was working in education when the idea came to him.
“It was six months after I graduated from CC,” Rosenfeld said. “I was talking to a few buddies and we were sending each other texts back and forth. I thought it would be a good idea if we could send each other longer messages in a more creative space.”
In practice, the PonyPal platform will allow users to write messages to be delivered at a date and time they choose. He believes the app will relieve the pressures associated with instant messaging. Moreover, he feels it will improve the quality of conversations between people trying to stay in touch, since they will write longer and more thoughtful messages to one another.
In order to make PonyPal a creative space, Rosenfeld said that the app will allow users to choose from different creative templates. The message they write will then be sent within the design of the template they chose. In a sense, they are attempting to revive the age-old art of letter writing, albeit in a digital space. In a world dominated by instant messaging, PonyPal can be seen as a sort of revolutionary idea. As written on their website, “PonyPal throws back to a time before instant communication overdose.”
Competing with the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp, however, will be no easy feat. There are over 2 billion users on Facebook alone, and the company’s brand name has become so popular that it is now commonly used as both a noun and a verb.
However, PonyPal may find its success in the niche market to which it will likely appeal.
“We are targeting people in the health, wellness, and mindfulness communities,” Rosenfeld said. “These are people who want to bring a more balanced lifestyle to their digital life, as well as be more present in their real life.”
Perhaps more ambitiously, he hopes that the app will also appeal to recent high school and college graduates. PonyPal could help these graduates stay in touch with their former classmates in a meaningful and healthy way. This will likely be a difficult demographic to win over, however, because they are mostly millennials, the generation that contains the most active users of mainstream instant messaging apps such as Snapchat.
Starting a business is always a risky game to play. PonyPal’s developers, however, have several cards in their hands. They will differentiate their platform from other messaging apps not only through its scheduled messaging features but also in their policies regarding how they handle users’ data.
“We will not sell users’ data to advertisers,” Rosenfeld said.
Given the growing worldwide concerns about what companies like Facebook are doing with users’ data, PonyPal’s data policy may turn out to be a crucial unique selling point. Still, the team will have to focus first on making PonyPal known. Rosenfeld said he hopes to do so through word of mouth, events (including a launch party in Denver set to happen soon) and, ironically, using other digital platforms like Facebook.
In entrepreneurship, the people behind a product are often as important as the product itself. In order for PonyPal to find success in a competitive market, Rosenfeld and the team will need the grit and determination so often associated with successful entrepreneurs. Rosenfeld acknowledged that even the process of getting close to the app’s release has been a “roller coaster.” He also noted the role that his time at CC played in helping him develop an entrepreneurial spirit.
“The Block Plan helped me prepare for that adventure of diving in and going for it,” Rosenfeld said.
PonyPal just launched, and while the fate of the app is still unknown, Rosenfeld and his team are hopeful. Perhaps the app will even help people spend, as advertised on the PonyPal website, “less time on your phone, [and] more time living.”