Ever get home from the mall or the ballpark only to find that a friend or relative that you hadn’t seen in awhile was there at the same time, but you didn’t know it?
It’s happened to just about everyone, but it doesn’t have to happen again. Umair Aziz, a native of Pakistan and a 2000 College of Wooster graduate has created an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone to notify you when a friend is in the area (500-700) meters. Google and others have similar apps, but Aziz’s model has one very important additional feature — privacy.
“It’s a different paradigm,” says Aziz. “Rather than identifying the individual, the app simply notifies the user that a friend is in the area. It does not indicate where they are. The person then has the option whether or not to follow up or ignore the notification.”
The app, known as “face2face,” has received rave reviews from a variety of media outlets, including The New York Times, which said, “The service acts as an aggregate for the different social networks. As it works now, face2face links users’ Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn accounts to let them know if their friends on any of these networks happen to be somewhere in their physical proximity.”
Aziz hopes that face2face can provide revenue streams by enabling businesses and other interested parties to make immediate contact with others. “We are developing systems that allow strategic product placement and transaction opportunities based on proximity that will supplant all existing location-based services,” says Aziz, noting that their core architecture and intellectual property is protected through patents, copyright, and trademark.
The company that produced the app is Proximate Global, Inc. (PGI), a U.S. corporation based in New York City, which Aziz formed in 2009. It is one of several ventures for the self-described entrepreneur. “I always wanted to do something on my own,” he says. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”
That spirit was nurtured during Aziz’s four years at Wooster where he majored in computer science, but also benefited from the range of courses he took as an undergraduate. “I think it all started with First-Year Seminar,” he says. “At first I didn’t care about assigned books that I didn’t want to read, but after awhile I saw the benefits. The experience opened me up to a lot of different ideas and helped me to develop stronger writing skills.”
I.S. provided the natural next step. “I.S. helped me to develop the discipline to put organized thoughts on paper and to make successful oral presentations,” he explains. “I received honors on my project because I could effectively articulate my argument.”
That set the tone for a promising career, but Aziz is quick to point out that other aspects of his Wooster education also played a role as well. “I took three or four communication courses with Professor [Denise] Bostdorff that really helped me to make effective presentations,” he says. “I became very interested in rhetoric and how to develop a persuasive argument.”
After graduation, Aziz accepted a position as a software engineer at Xchange Inc. in Boston. Nineteen months later, he moved back to his hometown of Karachi and set up his own company, which he could not do in the United States because of inadequate funding. He also became the Chief Operating Officer of his father's small travel business, KAM Travel & Tours. While growing the business exponentially, he also set up three new travel companies — Atlas Holidays, MARS Hotel Management & Services, and Atlas Travels (which he successfully sold in 2008).
In 2004, Aziz purchased 50 percent of the shares in a local software company known as Creative Chaos and became its Chief Technology Officer. Creative Chaos provides offshore software development and technology-related services, and in the six years that Aziz has been part of the organization, the company has grown from 20 employees to more than 125. Last summer, he co-founded Proximate Global Inc. with an old friend, and they launched their face2face platform along with the first version of face2face for the iPhone, Blackberry, and J2ME compatible devices. They plan to release face2face for the Android shortly.
Aziz’s next move is anyone’s guess, but whatever he decides to do, it is certain to have ties to his alma mater. “Wooster provided all the fundamental skills I needed,” recalls Aziz. “It helped to shape me into the person I am today.”
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