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Making connections – one app at a time

Ben Anderson

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The inspi­ra­tion behind Amino—a mobile-​​based social ser­vice aimed at con­necting users with spe­cial­ized interests—dates back to the teenage years of Ben Anderson, the tech savvy co-​​founder whose niche hobby of building robots engen­dered little enthu­siasm among his closest friends.

I would show them the cool robots I had built and they didn’t seem to care at all,” recalled Anderson, now a 25-​​year-​​old entre­pre­neur on the rise. “I knew there were people from Mis­sis­sippi to Japan who loved geeking out with robotics like I did, but I had no way of con­necting with them.”

Hence Amino.

Anderson, AMD’12, and his busi­ness partner Yin Wang, PhD’11, co-​​founded the Boston-​​based startup in 2011 and began building the brand in 2013. Its iPhone apps—ranging from the Dr. Who amino to the K-​​pop amino—have been down­loaded more than 500,000 times by users in more than 50 countries.

The Dr. Who amino is the world’s largest mobile social net­work for super fans of the pop­ular sci-​​fi pro­gram, giving users a chance to dis­cuss Daleks, Cybermen, and the TARDIS with their fellow Whovians.

Our vision is to own the interest market and become the best way for users to expe­ri­ence their inter­ests on their mobile devices,” Anderson explained. “I see a future in which we have an app for every pop­ular book, movie fran­chise, you name it.”

In July, Amino announced that it had raised $1.65 mil­lion in seed funding, led by Union Square Ven­tures, the New York city-​​based ven­ture cap­ital firm know for its invest­ments in Tumblr, Twitter, and Kick­starter. The majority of the cap­ital will be used to expand the team, Anderson said, with a focus on recruiting mar­keting experts and devel­opers for the iOS and Android oper­ating systems.

Anderson con­nected with Union Square through his par­tic­i­pa­tion in Tech­stars, a highly selec­tive mentorship-​​driven startup accel­er­ator for bud­ding com­pa­nies in cities like Boston and London. The 13-​​week program—which included a $100,000 con­vert­ible debt note, as well as legal advice, men­tor­ship, and office space—culminated in demo day in April at the House of Blues on Lands­downe Street in Boston, an event attended by some 800 movers and shakers in the startup sector.

Investors from all over the world look to the Tech­stars pro­gram for new oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Anderson said. “People want to talk with us because they know we have a higher prob­a­bility of success.”

Anderson’s ascent to the top of the startup moun­tain began at North­eastern in 2010, when he con­nected with IDEA, the university’s student-​​run ven­ture accel­er­ator. Since then, IDEA has awarded Anderson $20,000 in gap funding; hooked him up with an accoun­tant, whom he still uses today; and paved the way for his meeting with Amino’s first angel investor.

Applying for gap funding from IDEA taught the fledg­ling entre­pre­neur a thing or two about what it takes to suc­ceed in the startup ecosystem. “I had to create a busi­ness plan and think about every little detail of my com­pany, even though it was only in the con­cept stage,” Anderson explained. “Having IDEA’s high level-​​guidance and sup­port was cru­cial for a new entre­pre­neur like myself.”

Dan Gre­gory, IDEA’s fac­ulty adviser, has urged Anderson to trust his busi­ness instincts, to believe in his vision for Amino. Anderson has obliged, saying that “if you listen to everyone else’s advice, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

And yet he’s quick to take advan­tage of oppor­tu­ni­ties to enhance his busi­ness acumen or expand his startup net­work. As a case in point, Anderson probed the minds of—and forged strong con­tacts with—two chief exec­u­tives of his former co-​​op employer WHERE, a Boston-​​based startup which was acquired by PayPal during his 2011 expe­ri­en­tial learning opportunity.

WHERE’s former chief oper­ating officer is now an angel investor in Amino, Anderson said, “but the list could go on and on in terms of busi­ness con­nec­tions I have made during my co-​​ops.”

Small wonder this ambi­tious entre­pre­neur has big career goals, though one could argue that con­necting like-​​minded people in cities as far flung as Boston and Hong Kong through a mobile app is quite an achieve­ment in and of itself. “I want to create some­thing from nothing that has a pos­i­tive effect on the world,” Anderson said.

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