Howbout, an app that focuses on helping real-life friends connect, reflecting a growing user interest in connections rather than gathering likes, followers, or impressions has closed over £1 million seed round. Led by Supernode Global and co-led by Boost Capital, the round was joined by Angel Invest, Claire Valoti (Snapchat), Graham Paterson (Connect Ventures) and Desigan Chinniah (formerly of PayPal and Skype) also invested.
The investment comes after a £500,000 pre-seed round that included over 700 crowd investors, reflecting the excitement and organic growth Howbout has seen among users. Howbout’s co-founder and CEO, Neil Tanna, spoke to TFN about how their real-life social app took off despite a pandemic and their plans for Howbout’s growth.
An app years in the making
Since its launch in late 2020, Howbout has helped organise over two million get-togethers, from simple coffees to a band’s rehearsal and touring schedule, in more than 100 countries, largely through organic growth. But the idea was born five years earlier.
“I had the idea back in 2015,” says Tanna. He and his co-founders, Jake Jenner and Duncan Cowan, had met at university and were all pursuing their careers, so the concepts behind Howbout were unfulfilled. It was not until the death of Tanna’s mother in 2019 that he began to reassess his purpose. “It was the wake-up call I needed to say, ‘life’s too short’. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, why was I sitting on it?” Realising that he only enjoyed, rather than loved, being a lawyer, he teamed up with Jenner and Cowan, now CFO and CTO, and began working on Howbout.
The London-based startup was soft-launched in December 2019, quickly gathering 3,000 users and securing a £100,000 angel round in February 2020. But just as their first steps were proving the demand for a social app that connected people in person, the pandemic hit. Surprisingly, it only helped to grow the demand for Howbout.
“The app is all about making it easier to get friends together,” Tanna explained. “We quickly pivoted into virtual planning during the pandemic, and integrated with services like House Party, Skype, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. It’s just as hard finding a time and getting ten friends together for a virtual pub quiz as it is in real life.” After they had organised over 120,000 virtual plans during the UK’s lockdowns, they formally launched the app.
A further round in March 2021 raised £500,000 with investment from Atomic Angel. Howbout also used crowdfunding to not just raise capital, but also to create ambassadors. The experience has left them in a strong position to realise Howbout’s original purpose as the world emerges from the pandemic.
A unique app for the social world
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Howbout exists in a category of its own. Although there are plenty of enterprise solutions for scheduling meetings, nothing fills that niche in our private lives. The result is a mix of using calendar services combined with WhatsApp chats.
Filling that niche has been a large part of Howbout’s success. With 350,000 downloads, 75% of their growth has come organically. A testament to the demand for the app is that they have not, yet, formally attempted international expansion, but Howbout is helping people make plans in 125 countries.
The innate demand for the app was one of the things that attracted Supernode Global. Tanna explained they have been building a relationship with Phoebe Arkell at Supernode Global since the very beginning. “We reached out to her naively two years ago when we were just about launching,” Tanna says. “But the fantastic thing about Phoebe is she has maintained a relationship with us. We would have monthly catchups with her. And when she saw our data take off, she wanted to lead our seed round.”
Arkell highlights that Howbout has satisfied an unmet demand: “We’ve long been convinced of the opportunity for a new breed of social platforms that focus on activities in real life; Howbout was the first to deliver on the vision, the execution, and the data.”
Building on their success
The investment will be used to grow their team, currently only six strong. For Tanna this will be crucial, getting the right people is important. “We don’t want anyone to come in and think of themselves as an employee. We want people who come in to feel like a part-owner of it,” Tanna says.
They will also face the challenge of monetising the app in a way that maintains the user experience. “The best thing about our product is our users are incredibly engaged. We’re focused on building a sustained, engaged user base,” Tanna explains. “But as part of this round, we will be starting our monetisation strategy. So, a big focus ahead of our Series A is really understanding the best way to monetise without hindering the user experience.”
But given the natural growth of the app, Tanna’s plans for the investment are perhaps more about developing and guiding its growth. “We really want to become a household name in the consumer social space in the UK, and we’re already starting to get that because we can see how powerful our word of mouth is.”