Chasing the Feels with Sneeky
In the fall of 2012, Garrett Peek and Philip Golbraikh met for the first time in New York City. Both had mutual friends visiting from Helena, Arkansas for the weekend, and Golbraikh invited the group to his Union Square loft for evening cocktails. Everyone was casual and comfortable - the perfect environment for Golbraikh to bring up his business idea of building a social sports app to Peek. The conversation became an anchoring point between the two. “Garrett and I clicked right after that” Golbraikh recounts. Indeed it was a great connection to make, since the last app Peek designed sold for $180 million. At the time, Golbraikh had been working at an investment bank that made deals focused on digital media, ad tech, social, and mobile. It was then, that Golbraikh got the idea for Currant and started collaborating with Peek.
It was a pivotal time in his career. Golbraikh wanted to become more involved with everything that was happening in the tech industry.
“Everyday I read about startups that were changing the world with how people communicate - and I wanted to be part of it,” Golbraikh recalls.
Shortly after, Golbraikh left his job to pursue Currant full time.
Peek wasn't born with the ability to design multi-million dollar apps. His journey into design began in 2005 when he started working for an agency in St. Louis, Missouri. “[The agency] was a small creative shop that embraced input from all levels of the company. It really turned me on to working in small teams that have free reign creatively, focusing on getting the best ideas out there,” says Peek.
After a few years doing art direction, Peek hit the glass ceiling and became disillusioned by the advertising world, so he began looking for a new challenge. Peek joined OMGPOP in 2010 as their first design hire.
“I started working on interface design for their first mobile game called PuppyWorld. It totally sucked, but when we got a million downloads, we knew we were on to something,” says Peek. Peek’s next game design was for Draw Something, which had an even greater success. Shortly after, Zynga bought OMGPOP for $180 million.
Things changed drastically after the acquisition of OMGPOP, which was just around the time Peek met Golbraikh. The well timed union, however, was still missing a key piece - a developer who could turn Currant into a functional app. That’s when Peek and Golbraikh met David Alson.
Alson’s interest in technology started at an early age, and eventually found his passion for iOS development in college.
“When mobile had started, there weren’t many resources on it, so I had to teach myself. I also didn’t have a Mac, so I built a ‘hackintosh' on a netbook. The screen was so small and I couldn’t see half the iPhone simulator. At that time you couldn’t change the size of the simulator, so I had to code everything at the top of the screen. It was tough, but I really liked it and I knew mobile was going to change everything." recounts Alson.
Alson met Peek and Golbraikh at an AOL-hosted mobile meetup. Alson was looking for a change of pace from his full-time role at a mid-sized company to work in a smaller startup environment. Two things really got Alson’s attention - Peek’s impressive designs and Golbraikh’s business model. “Most engineers aren’t focused on the business, but it was the partnerships and business strategy that really interested me,” recalls Alson. Alson joined the team shortly after as their tech lead, and Currant began taking shape.
Currant was put on pause in late December 2013 for a new idea: Sneeky. The idea behind Sneeky had spawned during a breakfast Golbraikh attended with a group of friends. Peek, Golbraikh, and Alson were all looking at the anonymous mobile space and saw huge potential in Sneeky, making it surprisingly easy for everyone to buy into the idea. Sneeky connects people to their already existing contacts via SMS, and allows them to send a photo message to anyone in their contacts, while remaining anonymous. All the recipient knows, is that the photo message came from someone they already know in their contacts. Golbraikh, Peek, and Alson loved the idea so much, they started development on it the next day.
It wasn’t until the development of Sneeky, that Alson, Golbraikh, and Peek began to thrive as a team. “[Golbraikh] is always up to speed with what’s happening in the space, and is constantly looking at what competitors are doing. That allows me and [Alson] to stay heads down in the product.” says Peek. Everyone knew their roles, but that wasn’t the only factor - Golbraikh, Peek, and Alson clicked socially - one of the main factors that drew them together. “You don't always want to find people that think the same as you, but you should be able to work well with them. [Golbraikh], [Alson], and I think differently, and we all see things from different angles,” says Peek.
How do you empower your teammates?
The team’s process for Sneeky was fine-tuned from working together on Currant, and the team discovered additional value in constantly analyzing Sneeky retrospectively. “Instead of having a post-mortem for our process, we reflect on the moments we had with the product that really made us smile and we try to incorporate that in the next version of the product,” says Peek. One of these “smile” moments happened when Peek was invited to demo Sneeky at MIT. “[The team] had gotten back to our apartment, and there was a garbage truck making a lot of noise outside. Dave had just preloaded a bunch of meme images into the app so that we didn’t always have to take a photo as a response. We had an entire conversation about it with memes via Sneeky that left us in tears of laughter,” Peek recalls. Another takeaway the team shared from that moment, was the tangible connection they were able to make sharing photos. “It’s just as fun sitting next to the person you’re sharing with as it is with someone a thousand miles away… it almost amplifies the connection,” claims Peek.
Peek, Golbraikh, and Alson use Sneeky every day, which is the primary tool that keeps them in touch socially - and they do a lot to make sure Sneeky's culture is a reflection of that. Aside from spending the majority of their time together working on Sneeky, the team’s downtime is balanced between video games, and daily gym routines. It wasn’t until after launching Sneeky, did the team see some really unexpected results.
What got you most excited about building Sneeky?
The team learned a lot from Sneeky’s launch, resulting in some unexpected findings. “Initially, we had tested with only a few people internationally, and we realized local carriers were the problem.” Alson recalls when testing the app before submission to the Apple. Because of this unique situation, the Sneeky launched without full international support from other carriers. However, the coverage from Fast Company, Business Insider, and TechCrunch had echoed internationally and evidence surfaced that Sneeky was resonating with different cultures outside the US. “We had people in Saudi Arabia, who ran into this issue and they were creating work-arounds just so that they could use Sneeky,” recounts Peek, “It was really awesome to see that people we had no relation to were bending over backwards just to use Sneeky.” The team quickly came out with an update that included language localization and international phone number support.
Golbraikh, Peek, and Alson are very focused on their future plans, which include improving the product with new features, supporting various international communities, and reaching more people with an Android app.
You can download Sneeky on iOS here.