What's the future of Bump? The popular iPhone and Android app, which enables users to share media simply by "bumping" smartphones together, recently hit 63 million downloads. It's likely one of the few social networks that's actually social, requiring physical interaction to work in most cases, with users sharing everything from contacts to apps to music to pictures (close to 2 million photos are bumped over the network per day).
But even with such reach, Bump has yet to monetize. Says cofounder and CEO David Lieb, "We have the luxury of having lots of money and patient investors." But that doesn't mean Lieb and his 30 employees aren't laser-focused on the next phase of Bump: turning the company from a hot startup into a revenue-generating business. According to Lieb, Bump has already nailed down consumer-to-consumer interaction. Now it's time to see what other types of interactions the service can inspire. "Can we build something that is between a consumer and a merchant?" he wonders. "Can we let you Bump with places or things that aren't other human beings?"
The potential here, Lieb promises, is great. He gives me a sense of the various areas the Bump team is exploring. "Imagine [businesses] having a little device that they can put on their counter," Lieb says. "When customers Bump it, it would give them contact information, or maps or directions, or maybe lets them set up an appointment for next time." He ticks off a list of other ideas: maybe it could pull up a menu in a restaurant, or assist with payments in an increasingly NFC world.
"From day one, weeks after we launched Bump two years ago, we had merchants saying, 'Can you build us a Bump terminal or Bump kiosk?'" Lieb adds. "We knew we could do this all along, but it didn't make sense to do it right then because no one had Bump yet. Now that everyone has Bump, it makes sense—we have the team and the brand to do it now."
While Lieb said he couldn't talk about the idea too much (even specifying that "it's not to say we're building these [terminals] or not"), it's clear we should expect a Bump-like terminal in the future. Even Bump's website contains a hint of a "Bump Cube" device, which Lieb acknowledged during our interview. "We can build these little hardware devices that are super cheap, real easy to put out, that could be Bump terminals," he says. "Yes, we're absolutely [looking into it]."
Before I could jump to any conclusions, Lieb made clear he's not interested in going after Square, Google Wallet, or another new-age payment system. Sure, that could be part of the system going forward; however, "we don't want to go and just build a payment replacement," Lieb says. "We don't want to do what Google Wallet is doing. It works well for Google because of their scale. For us, we need to build deeper interactions than just replacing a credit card swipe."
In other words, you might soon be Bumping to check into Foursquare at a local merchant, rather than pulling up the app itself and manually punching the buttons. "I think we're the only company in the world that is able to create friend connections on Facebook. You and I can Bump, and we can actually become friends without ever touching Facebook," Lieb says. Imagine, then, if you could simply Bump your phone at a merchant's kiosk to "Like" it on Facebook or follow it on Twitter?
That, he believes, is something merchants would pay for. And they might even pay Bump.