Saylo’s iPhone app connects Web chatters. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business)
The entrepreneur

People living in the Washington-region can soon say “hello” to Saylo, a location-based chat Web site and mobile app created to connect users with others close by. The company was started by Sean Sun and is currently in its test stage.

“Saylo merges the benefits of the digital world into our everyday lives,” Sun explained. “It lets you ask questions of the people in the room around you, and it breaks down the social barriers that make it uncomfortable to strike up a conversation or make announcements to a group of people you do not know. It makes the idea that you must first meet someone to have a conversation obsolete.”

The pitch


“Saylo allows users in a given location to chat online without knowing one another. For example, if you are at a football game you can log onto Saylo and chat with other people in the stadium.

“Users log in and are given a name at random that changes each and every time they use the app to maintain their anonymity. Then, they are able to see virtual chat rooms that other users have created in the immediate vicinity. A ‘room’ can span 150 yards. Once they are in a room, users can chat with others, knowing that they are in the same location.

“Unlike Twitter, this conversation will only be relevant to those in the immediate 150-yard area.”

The challenge


“A challenge we have is getting traction. We need a dense population of early-adaptors — we’re starting with college campuses because they fit this profile with big lectures, sporting events, dorms, etc. We’ve recruited student representatives to make Facebook pages and utilize other social media to spread the word about the company, but we are trying to figure out other ways to do this. We are also looking for ways to get funding to assist in our marketing needs.”

The advice

Harry Geller, entrepreneur-in-residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“I really enjoyed looking at your beta site — I find it to be very aesthetically pleasing. I think your instant-use feature and the fact that you can just load the app, get assigned a username and go is a great feature. I am concerned about the anonymity aspect, however. People can easily hide behind a user name that reveals nothing about them and that changes each time, and that could easily lead to your rooms being filled with hateful speech that will turn users off from using your app and Web site. You could wait a little bit and see how things go in your chat rooms, but you definitely need to have a backstop if this becomes a problem. In addition, because a user doesn’t have to use a Saylo-generated name and can choose any name, it would be easy for someone to misrepresent themselves and use someone else’s name, so that is something to think about when figuring out your solutions to the possible anonymity problems that could arise.

“Regarding marketing to get traction, focus on being the ‘thought leader’ in this space, meaning creating a great product and communicating why you are doing something and why it’s important.

“I think you should target large classrooms. You should try to involve the professors and their teaching assistants. If a whole class is on Saylo at the same time, the teaching assistant could point out the best parts of the lecture or link to other useful sources of information for students. It could become a very useful teaching and discussion tool for classes across campus.

“It is unclear right now how your ownership and management structure works. I strongly suggest nailing that down. Until then, I suggest taking the friends and family route of funding. Once Saylo has been fully tested and you guys are ready, then you will need to put together a funding plan..”

The reaction


“The anonymity and how people are using or abusing that feature is something we will have to be extremely mindful of as we go. We have features in the works that will allow people to collectively red-flag and filter out offensive users and comments, blocking them in a way we only wish we could in real life.”