Snapchat’s newest feature Snap Map is based on its latest acquisition, social mapping startup Zenly. TechCrunch has learned that Snapchat has bought Zenly for between $250 million and $350 million in cash and stock, but will keep it running independently similar to how Facebook lets Instagram run independently.
Zenly’s app lets users see where their friends currently are on a map using constant GPS in the background. People can then message these friends in the app to make plans to hang out.
The Paris-based startup hit 2 million downloads last year, mostly from teens trying to keep up with their friends around town, at school, or at concerts and other events. Zenly had raised $35.1 million, including a $22.5M Series B in September 2016 led by prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark.
This morning, Snapchat launched its Snap Map location sharing and location-based content discovery feature. It works slightly differently, only pulling your location when you open the app, but otherwise looks so similar to Zenly that we suspected Snapchat had copied it. Sources told us Snap had expressed acquisition interest but Zenly had initially rejected them.
But now after more digging, we’ve learned from sources close to the deal that Snapchat did in fact acquire Zenly. But instead of shutting it down and folding it into Snapchat, Snap Inc will allow Zenly to run somewhat autonomously. We asked Snap but it declined to comment, and Zenly hasn’t returned our inquiries. Instead, here’s TechCrunch’s interview with Zenly CEO Antoine Martin at Disrupt London last year.
With both Snap Map and Zenly, Snap Inc is hedging its bets in the social content space. Since its Snapchat Stories feature is being aggressively copied by Instagram and Facebook’s other apps, Snapchat is wise to expand into the social utility space of helping people meet up offline. Now Snap could own two different apps on people’s home screens.
Making plans with friends involves a high degree of intent — about what people want to eat or do — there are plenty of advertising and partnership opportunities down the line. You could imagine restaurants, movie studios, and more hoping to hit Zenly or Snap Map users with ads as they plan to go out with friends.
While $250 million to $350 million may seem like a lot to pay for Zenly, Snapchat has seen many of its other expensive acquisitions turn out well. It bought Looksery for $150 million in cash and bonuses, which went on to power its iconic augmented reality face filters. It bought Bitstrips for $64.2 million, which has flourished as Snapchat’s Bitmoji personalized avatar stickers. Story Search, QR Snapcodes, and its Spectacles glasses were all based off its acquisitions of Vurb, Scan.me, and Vergence Labs.
Zenly doesn’t seem to fit with Snap’s mission to be a camera company. But buying an app for meeting up with friends could let Snapchat own the path to doing the things worth capturing on camera.