About three years ago, Jeffrey MacDuff and Dave McLauchlan designed an iPhone application called Buddy which allowed users to locate running, study or drinking buddies who were nearby. The free app never really took off, especially as services like Foursquare gained momentum.
But the Microsoft managers — who worked on the app in their spare time — realized that they were on to something when other iPhone app developers routinely contacted them asking for advice on how they built features for photo storage or users accounts.
“We built this huge, rich back-end for ourselves because we had to,” said MacDuff. “We didn’t want to build it. And, in fact, if our service was out there from somebody else, we would have used it.”
Sensing an opportunity, the entrepreneurs dumped the consumer app, quit their jobs at Microsoft and created a new company called Buddy Platform to take advantage of the back-end system they haphazardly stumbled upon. Launching today, the new company is designed to help mobile developers build apps “cheaper, faster and easier” across multiple platforms.
“You build the back-end of your app on Buddy, and then you can build a front end on any platform you like with a common back-end,” explains McLauchlan, who spent 11 years at Microsoft, most recently as the senior business development manager for Zune.
“What we are finding is, typically, mobile app developers are just that, they build mobile apps and don’t necessarily have the experience or the desire to build out and manage Web services as well,” McLauchlan tells GeekWire.
In a way, Buddy is a bit like Todd Hooper’s Zipline Games, which is trying to make it super easy for developers to roll out games across various mobile platforms. Both companies essentially provide the plumbing to make mobile apps work.
Buddy’s closest rivals are StackMob, a San Francisco startup that landed $7.5 million in funding earlier this year, and Parse, a San Francisco startup backed by Y Combinator, Google Ventures, Menlo Ventures and others.
MacDuff, who is serving as chief technology officer at Buddy, said those services don’t solve the real problems facing mobile developers since they still require some heavy lifting on the back-end. With Buddy, he said that they’ve developed “some really cool tools” to write the APIs.
“When you look at developer forums, a lot of developers don’t want to write the ledger, they want to write a great app,” he said. “Writing a Web service is a totally different skill than writing a great app.”
Some of the competing services provide pieces of what Buddy offers, but he said no one provides a full service that “is ready to go” and where you “don’t have to think about it.”
“There is a trust you need to build in the community because, just like any other cloud service, we are asking developers to bet their app on us,” said MacDuff. “And that just takes time.”
Pricing for the service starts at $4.99 per month and goes to as high as $500 per month depending upon the level of functionality and usage. To showcase the platform, Buddy is rolling out a new Windows Phone app called Skirmish which McLauchlan says is the intersection of FourSquare and the board game Risk. Built in a week, the mobile game encourages people “take over” real world locations.
“All of these startups like Color and Zaarly … are getting a bunch of money, and they are all going off and investing in their back-ends,” said McLauchlan. “(We asked) can we go build a competitor to one of these really quickly and demonstrate what we have that we can apply to any of these big startups in the Valley?”
At this point, Buddy is bankrolled by McLauchlan and MacDuff. But the entrepreneurs are just starting to investigate outside financing, with interest both in Seattle and San Francisco.
“We are really hoping that once we launch, and get the product out there and get the awareness out there, we can close the funding fairly quickly,” said McLauchlan.
While the company is now known as Buddy Platform, it does have the Buddy.com domain name. Curious about how a new startup secured such a valuable domain, McLauchlan relayed the funny story on how they secured the name.
Back in 1994, McLauchlan’s uncle just happened to register the name and used it for the family Web site.
“We’ve managed to keep the name in the family, so it worked out really well,” said McLauchlan.