Opening Up a Whole New World With Smeet

By David Knight |

Meet Smeet – a mix of social gaming and social interaction. With more than 11 million users, it’s already a big deal, and the trio of co-founders behind it have big plans. Silicon Allee went to check out the startup’s operations and speak with CEO Sebastian Funke.

Being a successful Berlin-based startup, Smeet has the inevitable funky office space, in a renovated former electrical substation in Kreuzberg right by the Landwehr Canal.  Breezy yet functional, it serves as a base for the majority of the company’s 110 employees, while a handful work out of Smeet’s New York office. The social networking slash gaming service is available in English, German and seven other languages in a total of nine countries. Investors include Hasso Plattner Ventures, Partech and KfW.

The key word surrounding Smeet seems to be synchronicity – social gaming, which is asynchronous (in other words, people who already know each other are not taking part at the same time) and social interaction, which is synchronous (where people are online simultaneously with others they already know). The vital element in Smeet’s success so far has been finding a balance between engagement and time. Anyone familiar with non-gaming virtual worlds such as Second Life will be familiar with one of the biggest problems they face – new users are enticed in to try a platform out, but quickly become bored and leave, never to return. On the other hand, gaming will keep users interested at first, but the longer they stay, the less interest they retain.

The solution, then, is a mix: Social gaming to keep new users interested as they play asynchronously with Facebook friends, while they meet and connect with new friends.

Mixing Gaming and Social Interaction

Smeet mixes elements of other platforms which are either social gaming or social interaction: It’s aimed at both teenagers and older users, there are multiple entry points including Facebook and its financial model is based on virtual goods in the form of boosters (like gaming) and self-portrayal (social).

For gaming, there are points and levels, tasks and resource management; for the social aspect, there is self-portrayal and hooking up with new people as well as existing Facebook friends.

You start out in-world by building up your own private home before beginning to build up the items you need to progress and move up levels. You can invite your friends on Facebook to help you. You can harvest and invest energy, and then move on to public areas to meet new people.

Facebook, then, is a vital part of Smeet – and Sebastian has a colourful way of describing the relationship: “Facebook is like a planet, with one billion people, and Smeet is like a spaceship orbiting it that you can beam to. On the planet, everyone lives in villages, made up of groups of Facebook friends. Facebook doesn’t like you to meet other people. So why don’t they come to our platform and meet other people and contact them on Facebook?”

‘It’s Not Just For Kids’

Sebastian also insists, meanwhile, that Smeet is years ahead of the competition, but who exactly uses the servuce? “Housewives who are sitting at home or are bored, they can play online or just chitchat. Or teenagers in the evenings when they’re not allowed to leave the house, or people in rural areas.” The target age is not so important. “It’s not just for kids; older people also like it.”

So what does the future hold for Smeet? “We want to have much more gameplay inside the environment. More social features, more presence of your friends on Facebook, and open it up to more features like matchmaking, as well as browsing and finding people.”

There aren’t any plans to go mobile, however. “We won’t bring Smeet to such a small screen. It doesn’t make sense for usability reasons as well as time usage.”

What will be a major focus for Sebastian and his team in the future is America. “Our focus is the US. We are already there but need to do more,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that Europeans are homogenous, there are definitely large differences between a Swedish and a Spanish person. However, how you market products to them is different from in the US. You have to be much more aggressive in the US; you have to make so much more noise to get them in and make then spend money. You see it everywhere in the US, with deals like buy one get one free. So we have set up an office there to help us understand the user.”

Like many startups in Berlin, 2012 looks set to be a huge year for Smeet.