A company capitalizing on the growth of mobile messaging, and in particular the reach of Apple’s iMessage, Slash, has now raised $1.3 million for its development of a search engine that’s tucked inside of your keyboard. Launched just a couple of months ago, the Slash keyboard app lets you share rich media, including videos, GIFs, emoji, links, products, news articles, maps, music, and more without having to turn to a separate application.
The app has now been installed by over 100,000 users, the company claims, after having become a trending search on the iOS App Store and receiving a featured position on the top of the new product finder website, Product Hunt.
Investors in the round include Betaworks, SocialStarts, Galvanize, Angel.co, and individuals such as Giphy CEO Alex Chung, Wayne Chung, and Paul Sethi.
Based in New York and founded just around a year ago, the app was dreamed up by CEO Cem Kozinoglu, who previously worked on a variety of search projects at Microsoft, along with designer Bulent Shik, who has done client work for a number of high-profile companies over the past decade, including Yahoo, EA, Ford, Time Warner Cable, SanDisk, Pepsi, Doritos, Ruffles, Bridgestone, and others.
According to Kozinoglu, he has always been interested in the potential for search technology, having started building search engines at the age of 9, and later growing up to work on enterprise projects for Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Lexis Nexis and more.
Last year, he decided he wanted to build a better mobile search engine, as he personally doesn’t use the iPhone’s built-in features like Siri or Spotlight search all that often.
“I was thinking about the best way to bring search into all of our favorite apps and keyboards are the only piece of real estate in our mobile devices that co-exists with all of our favorite apps,” says Kozinoglu. “We all need a keyboard to write an email, as much as to text, message at Snapchat and better yet to search. ”
The co-founder ended up coding the entire backend to the Slash keyboard app as a result.
However, unlike a number of alternative keyboards for mobile devices, like SwiftKey, Swype, and others focused on offering easier ways to insert GIFs into chat, or speed up typing through predictive text input, Slash doesn’t see itself as “a keyboard company.”
Explains Kozinoglu, while the team is currently building a great keyboard app for iOS devices, the #startup’s larger goal is to create the best mobile search engine.
“Keyboard is just the first distribution channel,” the CEO says.
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The app, which recently rolled out an updated version (ver. 2.0), is one of the better alt keyboards I’ve used for iPhone. (I have a habit of trying then later disposing of most iOS keyboards due to some weird quirk or missing feature.)
Slash instead has an interface that’s very similar to the default, native experience which makes the transition less jarring, for starters. It then intelligently suggests items to add to your conversation. For example, when you type certain keywords in your conversation like “coffee” or “drinks,” Slash will offer you the ability to search for coffee shops or bars where you could meet up with friends.
A “slash” button on the iOS keyboard, meanwhile, lets you search for content to add across a variety of services, like GIFs from Giphy, products from Amazon, videos from YouTube, news articles from The NYT, stickers from imoji, songs from Spotify, Apple Music and more, maps from Google Maps, restaurants from Foursquare, and a number of other resources.
You can also create your own custom slashes, to help save you from having to type the same text over and over again.
However, the keyboard still has a few issues, which make it difficult for me to fully switch over.
For instance, once installed, it’s a little difficult to rotate between your other keyboards – you have to press and hold on the emoji button, then move your finger up to “Switch Keyboards.” As a personal preference, I’d rather have a button to tap to more quickly rotate keyboards.
I understand the design choice, here, however – and, in time, I could see Slash diminishing the need to move in and out of other keyboard apps.
But for now, I still find the need to swap over to my other GIF keyboard because Slash doesn’t feature a large enough collection of GIFs in its app – it only shows what’s trending on Giphy. That’s too limited.
The company is participating in Techstars and says it will look to raise additional funds come demo day. However, Slash is currently focused on growth, not monetization, for the time being.
The app is a free download on iTunes.