Stellar Start-Ups: Saving the universe, one alien at a time

"We see SaveAnAlien as a golden opportunity to encourage more volunteerism and giving among users."

By DAVID SHAMAH
April 5, 2009 08:51
4 minute read.
Stellar Start-Ups: Saving the universe, one alien at a time

alien 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Maybe it's the recession, but for some reason, care and compassion seem to be back in vogue. Just a short time ago, Donald Trump was considered a top role model - a businessman who had clawed his way to success, tough as nails, whose favorite line during his stint as a TV star was "you're fired." Nowadays, it's not nice to be not nice, and millions who sucked at the font of hyper-materialism have returned to core values of community and caring. Unfortunately, though, they're a little out of practice, having forgotten what it takes to give a damn. That could be one way to explain why tens of thousands have joined SaveAnAlien (http://www.saveanalien.com); it gives them the opportunity to do something good for someone else - even if that someone else isn't human. Or, it could just be that those tens of thousands joined SaveAnAlien because it's fun! Either way, it's pretty clear that the inventors of SaveAnAlien - Raz Friedman and Roy Man - have stumbled onto something big. SaveAnAlien is a barely a year or so old, and already over a quarter of a million users have signed up (mostly via a Facebook application) to ensure a brighter future for the alien they adopt. "It's sort of like a virtual pet, except there is a much stronger emotional bond with an alien," says Friedman, CEO of SaveAnAlien. "Our beta application on Facebook closed out with the maximum number of users subscribing - 250,000. Now users can participate directly from the site, feeding, caring for and playing with the alien they adopt." In the SaveAnAlien universe, a planet "somewhere out there" has been hit by a meteor, and 10 million residents of that planet (each one unique) are floating around the galaxy, homeless and hungry. Users who sign up for the site are presented with an alien to adopt, who they need to feed and care for. The more you interact with your alien, the healthier it becomes and the more you become a part of the "alien community" on the Earth. There are plenty of sites where users can adopt a virtual pet, says Friedman, adding: "But this isn't like adopting a dog. The user experience here is richer, and even though the objects of their care are aliens, the emotional connection with an alien is greater." That makes sense - virtual aliens are definitely a higher form of virtual life than virtual pets, and the idea of taking in a homeless and hungry sentient being has universal appeal. "This is definitely not a kids-only thing," says Friedman. "We have users from all age groups and from all over the world. The desire to care for a fellow creature in need is universal." But Friedman and Man have another innovation up their sleeve as well. Besides connecting with users on an emotional level, SaveAnAlien enables users to earn credits to advance the progress of their aliens, using the usual social-networking methods (getting friends to sign up, etc.) - or letting users buy credits via SMS. While users can proceed through all levels of SaveAnAlien without spending a dime, users who spend money on their creatures will see them grow and thrive much more quickly. For example, users who spend credits are able to buy better, more-nutritious food for their aliens. If you don't want to go through the effort of signing up friends in order to earn credits, you can spend a dollar or two - billed via SMS - to allow your alien to have a healthier diet. The combination of strong emotional attachment, along with an easy and simple micro-payment model, has been a winning business model for SaveAnAlien, Friedman says. "Unlike other sites or games that support themselves with advertising, and who have to draw huge crowds to justify the amount of money they are charging advertisers, we can grow as quickly or as slowly as we need to," he says. "We have been earning money since out first day, and a model like ours can earn money for the company even with a small group of core users." If SaveAnAlien users care about aliens, chances are they care about people, too - and heaven knows there are plenty of real humans who need the love and care users lavish on their aliens. Friedman and Man realize this, and they have plans to include programs that will let users earn credits by helping the world's underprivileged. "We're a relatively new site, so we're holding off on partnering with organizations right off the bat," Friedman says. "But both Roy and I are active in the volunteer community, and we see SaveAnAlien as a golden opportunity to encourage more volunteerism and giving among users." With a winning business model and an appealing idea, Friedman says investors' doors have opened for the company, despite the recession - abroad, that is. "While Israel is rightly considered a hi-tech powerhouse, the investors - especially the funds - based here just don't understand what we're doing," he says. "In general, games are off the radar for many of the Israeli funds; they're much more comfortable with 'traditional' hi-tech, like chip or application development. I've spoken to more than one Israeli leisure-application maker or game inventor, and their experience is similar. Most of us end up raising money in the US." Perhaps, though, SaveAnAlien will be the breakthrough application that changes Israeli investors' attitudes. With a winning combination of emotional attachment and an innovative sales system, SaveAnAlien is definitely setting an important new trend - one that users and investors are definitely going to take notice of. startup@newzgeek.com

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