Tenthbit, the Y-Combinator-backed mobile app studio behind the couples app Pair, is doubling down (literally) on its business ambitions: the company today is announcing that it has bought Cupple, a UK-based rival mobile app for two people only, and, to mark the change, has rebranded itself as Couple.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The acquisition is one of the app only. The two co-founders behind it, Tim Allison and Mark Hill, as well as their Newcastle-based app studio, Darling Dash, will remain independent, but not totally separate from Oleg Kostour and his team: “Tenthbit is looking forward to interacting with the Cupple team and learning from their experiences,” the two note in a statement.
Cupple was “super bootstrapped,” Allison told TechCrunch in an interview today. Meanwhile, Tenthbit raised a seed round of $4.2 million in May 2012 from an illustrious list of investors including Yuri Milner, Dave Morin, SV Angel and CrunchFund. The two have been in discussions since last year.
Cupple will, for now, remain as a standalone app, but users will have the ability to migrate their data to Couple from Cupple if they choose.
Cupple first launched in November 2011, a few months ahead of Pair, and had slowly built up a user base that was, at last reveal, 70% in the U.S. It was helped along by Apple featuring it in the App Store around Valentine’s Day, as well as favorable comparisons against Pair. For its part, the YC company also launched around that time with some fanfare, and then of course its high-profile funding.
Neither company is disclosing current usage figures, downloads or geographical reach. But remember that there are other apps that are made for social networks of just two: Avocado from ex-Googlers; Duet; Korea’s Between (also venture-backed and seeing downloads in the millions). Some marriages consolidation among them may be inevitable longer-term, and this indicates that Tenthbit, and Couple, are laying out their claim to be the leader of the space.
At the same time, the merger of Pair and Cupple comes at a time when social networking apps focused on privacy are have had a little extra scrutiny, after Path — ironically, another mobile app designed to let people share among limited, private groups of friends — was yesterday fined $800,000 by the Federal Trade Commission over a glitch (quickly fixed) that meant user address books got uploaded in their entirety to Path’s servers.
It’s scenarios like these that will lead some away from using social networks altogether, but will also compel others to look for ever-more private and direct ways to communicate with the ones they want to speak to most when they are not physically together.
“Together, we’ve created a new space in the technology market for private sharing. 2012 was the year private sharing became a new category in the market and we know 2013 will see even more growth and innovation,” said Oleg Kostour, CEO of Tenthbit, in a statement. “People want privacy more than ever. The market is moving towards users having more control of the products they use and the data they wish to share.”
“We both had a vision,” said Allison of the two apps developing equally but independently. “We wanted private sharing to be an important part of the tech space.”
The Cupple acquisition is also a great news story for UK startups, for those who stick to ideas they think are good, even when those around them are more doubtful and for solid design.
Allison noted that he and his co-founder had tried to raise VC funds before launching the app, but no one would bite, with many skeptical of the concept of social networks for two. “I‘m very proud of what we ended up achieving on a bootstrapped budget,” he said. “We were one of the first private sharing apps to launch, and we thought a lot about the UI and design of the product. I think you can see how that has played out in the wider space with the rise of more apps doing what we do.”
Yet for all the appeal of Cupple’s UI and UX, and the basic concept itself, there could be another reason that influenced the acquisition: Cupple’s name and brand assets. Tenthbit last year found itself embroiled in a suit and countersuit against Pair Networks, with the hosting company accusing Tenthbit of infringing on its trademark — made slightly more complicated by the fact that Y Combinator used some of Pair Networks’ services, but also equally frustrating considering how different the business of consumer apps is from web frustrating.
Tenthbit promises more news coming soon — perhaps apps for non-iOS devices could be one product of the union. But for now, we hereby pronounce you a Couple.
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