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New Vancouver chat app aims to get people talking

Cheryl Chan

Matthew Segal is the brains behind a new anonymous messaging app called Lipsi, which is launching a publicity campaign at Vancouver universities and at Yale, Segal's alma mater. (Postmedia Network)

Matthew Segal is the brains behind a new anonymous messaging app called Lipsi, which is launching a publicity campaign at Vancouver universities and at Yale, Segal's alma mater. (Postmedia Network)

How do you approach someone you’re too shy to talk to? For some, it’s easy enough to go up to the person and say “hi.”

But in this app-loving and chat-obsessed age, many people might prefer to break the ice from the safety of their screen.

That's where Lipsi, a new location-based anonymous messaging app, might help.

Its goal, said founder Matthew Segal, is to facilitate unlikely interactions.

“Most apps that connect people are almost always a dating app, but we see this as only one of the many applications of Lipsi,” said Segal, the 23-year-old son of Vancouver businessman and philanthropist Lorne Segal and grandson of Vancouver icon Joe Segal.

When a user logs into Lipsi, the app can provide a list of other users who are within 100 metres. When a user sends a message to someone they’re interested in, it’ll show up as anonymous unless they unveil their identity.

“There are many apps that connect people. But the simple fact that Lipsi is anonymous separates it from competition in that field," said Segal.

The app also allows users to search for their friends by name; proximity isn’t necessary.

Lipsi — the name is a combination of the word “lips” and the phrase “let's see” — also gives users the ability to delete chat histories and restore anonymity.

The app is geared for people age 15 to 25 in high school or universities.

Segal and his team plan to launch a publicity campaign at the University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University this week through campus ambassadors, working with fraternities, and social media channels to build on its current 5,000 users in the Vancouver area.

The company isn’t focused on acquiring numbers so much as it wants to have critical mass in close quarters, said Segal. “More than numbers, we’re focused on building communities.”

The biggest launch will be held at Segal’s alma mater, Yale University in New Haven, CT, where Lipsi will hold an open bar for students who present the app on their phones.

Yale was where Lipsi was born.

Segal came up with the idea two years ago after he kept bumping into a girl on campus he wanted to talk to but was too shy to approach. “It’s not always the easiest thing to talk to a girl you like,” he said.

It should be easy, acknowledged Segal, when asked why someone shouldn't just approach a person they want to talk in person. But in practice, it's not easy for many people.

One person attending Lipsi's launch party last month described the app as an ice breaker. “If you get a positive interaction on it, you can approach them immediately rather than going home and going on Facebook to creep them and approach them that way,” he said.

Segal is aware that such an anonymous messaging app could be used for cyberbullying or predatory purposes, and his team has put safeguards in place, such as a block feature that lets users block a user from messaging them. The app’s developer can also ban abusive users from the platform after repeat offences.

The Vancouver-based company is a lean operation with five employees, including three developers, a designer, and head of marketing and growth. Segal is a self-professed jack-of-all trades. "I'll do everything, whatever needs to be done,” he said.

The grind of a tech startup wasn't in Segal’s original plans. After graduation, the economics major was prepared to go into investment banking. He had gone through gruelling interviews but once he had a job contract in front of him, “I realized my heart simply wasn't in it.”

He’s also given up competitive rowing to focus 100 per cent of his time and energy to Lipsi.

“I've been following my passion since I was very young,” said Segal. “That was one of the most important things my dad has taught me. I see this as the first of many risks I’ll be taking in my life.”

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan