When we last checked in with Deepa Salem about a year ago, the Naperville woman was just getting new mobile app Wotnow off the ground.
The app, which Salem saw as a solution to organizing her busy life as a working mom, aggregates events and information from numerous sources and organizes it into a single, customizable calendar format. It launched in 2016 and quickly gained popularity among the users and support from the schools, community groups and businesses in Naperville.
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But Salem saw bigger things for Wotnow ... and what a difference a year makes.
With the help of more than $250,000 in seed funding from local investors, Wotnow has become a broader and more powerful app with a user base of more than 16,000.
In addition, Wotnow was one of the 64 companies nominated to ChicagoInno's Tech Madness competition, which recognizes the top startup companies in the region.
Salem, the company's CEO, said the funding, primarily through Chicago-based Warhark Entrepreneural Funds, helped them modify and expand the app. The modifications were the result of the feedback from the businesses and users that were a part of the beta version.
"They thought there was a need for an app that really focuses on what's going on around town," she said.
From its core of aggregating calenders from various sources and targeting information to specific users, the app has expanded to include social interactions as well. Users can now tap into Wotnow to find out what friends are doing in the area and set up and invite friends to specific events.
"WotNow allows you to see what's happening at a hyperlocal level," Salem said. "But it also lets you see what are your friends doing and if you can do something with them."
It has also expanded to include local businesses, as well as schools, parks, churches and other community groups. Businesses can provide events and promotions of Wotnow, and can use new features such as geofencing to target specific messages to a specific group or local area.
The app itself was also redesigned to have the appearance of a social media tool, something that Salem said gives it a more familiar feel among users that are used to a mobile tools like Snapchat or Instagram. As a result, Wotnow has enjoyed excellent engagement from its users, Salem said, mainly because it allows them to custom tailor their interests based on location, events, organizations and other users' data.
"One quarter of our users use the app every day," Salem said. "Even large companies struggle with that kind of a metric."
Organizations that are part of the app pay a monthly fee, which Salem notes is considerably cheaper than creating their own app -- and more convenient for users since they do not have to fill up smartphone space with numerous apps.
"What we're advocating is rather than every organization in the community having their own app hogging up phone space, we just put it all in our app and we send it to the right people," she said. "That's making a lot of sense to these people."
Salem gives credits to the people and organizations in Naperville for the app's success, noting their support and feedback has been critical in the growth of the product. Wotnow has since expanded into other communities, including Lockport, New Lenox and Oswego.
And plans for growth continues. Salem said the company plans a twofold approach of growing Wotnow -- through in-house expansion to other communities, as well as franchising the platform to interested investors nationally.
"We already have inquiries on (franchising)," she said. "We would handle all the tech stuff, but they will need to get the people in the community on board."
She remains confident that as Wotnow gets bigger, it'll be because it is laser-focused on local.
"It's highly focused on where you live, and it's highly focused on local people and their recommendations."