Startup of the Week – Cobook could be the address book tool we’ve been waiting for

Rolodex
Rolodex

Anyone who’s ever had to manage an ever-growing list of contact details will have some point wondered: Shouldn’t there be an app for this? That’s the problem Latvia-based startup Cobook wants to solve, with some seed funding from HackFwd to get them started.

And something must be going right: Apple named Cobook’s free contact management app one of the top apps for 2012. 

Rolodex

We caught up with cofounder, Kaspars Dancis, to find out how Cobook will stand out from the competition – and why startups need to stop solving invented problems…

Hi Kaspers, who are you and what are you doing?

width="200"Hi, I’m Kaspars, one of the cofounders of Cobook. It is a unified address book application for iPhone and Mac that syncs with users’ existing address books. It’s been available on Mac for a year now and the iPhone version was released last year. The main advantage it has compared to other apps is that it integrates with users’ social networks – so they have phone numbers and then Cobook automatically adds information about these contacts from social media, including their latest tweets and Facebook profile.

Users also get unique productivity features, like quick dialing and local time display. And it makes content management easier to do – like adding contacts to groups and editing contact information and so on.

How did you come across your idea?

The idea came up because of my own frustration with existing address book applications and services. I was trying to organise my own contacts and I hadn’t paid attention to it for some time, so my address book was a mess. I tried to figure out how to make it easier to get it organised. None of the available software was helping me. At that point I had left my previous job and was thinking about something new to do. This seemed like the perfect opportunity – it was a problem that needed to be fixed. So I started working on the app in April 2011, almost two years ago now.

Who are the founders and how did you find each other?

I began working on Cobook alone in 2011. My cofounder is my brother, Janis Dancis – we worked on another startup called Conseros together before this, I was the CTO. It is an enterprise software startup that helps create intelligent work distribution. It was acquired by Alcatel Lucent in 2009. We are both engineers.

What makes you different from everyone else?

There are definitely competitors, though none are dominating the market. Our main difference is we aren’t trying to completely reinvent something – we are keeping it simple by trying to look at what contact management and what address books are on phones and computers and make it all the same, but much better.

So competitors, there is a company in the US called Plaxo and their approach is basically to completely automate your contact information and generate your address book automatically from your emails, which might work for some people, but we don’t think it is a universal solution. Then there are others, like Brewster, which try to pull everything together within their own service, and tell you, for example, who you’ve lost contact with, but they are so different from anything existing. People are not ready for this, or they are trying to do too many things, so people aren’t picking it up

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What is your business model?

Currently it’s free, but we plan to release features that will cost money. We are working on this at the moment.

width="200"And how big is the market potential?

It’s too early to tell. We’ve had a couple of directions we’re considering, either focused more on consumer – that’s what we’re working on now and we’re polishing this. But we are thinking about longer term strategies. We do believe the potential is very big. Contact management is huge – every person and company has contacts and we believe both in the consumer and business realm there is room for improvement in these areas.

Who is financing you?

We have received investment from HackFwd, a German pre-seed investment company based in Hamburg and we will be looking for additional funding soon. Before that we were bootstrapping.

Is there something that you missing?

We have a strong team right now. Now we just have a lot of work to do.

Any advice you’d give fellow startups?

The simple advice is to avoid solving invented problems, I believe that’s one of the top reasons startups fail.

Where will you be in a years time?

We’ll have a couple of million happy users, that’s our most important goal.

If you could have lunch with anyone in the world who would it be?

It’d be Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and the co-founder of Tesla Motors and PayPal. We’d talk about entrepreneurship in general and the future of technology.

Image credit:
Rolodex: flickr user renaissancechambara 

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