The family social networking app Life360, which relies on location-sharing to help users stay connected, is built, in part, to give parents peace of mind. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the company sees an uptick in registrations and usage around this time of year with back-to-school season — and all of the anxiety that comes with it — in full swing.
The company reported a roughly 30% registration jump in the weeks of August 15 and August 22 last year and another 30% increase in returning monthly active users who’d had the app for 30 days or more.
Life360 co-founder and CEO Chris Hulls deferred his spot at Harvard Business School to launch the company back in 2008, initially inspired during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when so many people weren’t able to find their family members.
“It was right when Facebook was getting big with the social network, [and] LinkedIn was getting big with the professional network, and everyone was trying to figure out how to bring families online. And we realized [that safety could be] the way of serving digitally native families,” Hulls tells Entrepreneur.
When Hulls approached venture capitalists about Life360, he faced criticism on two fronts: They didn’t think teenagers would ever have smartphones and believed location-sharing was “creepy.” But Hulls didn’t give up. Life360 eventually got funding and became the giant is today, surpassing 50 million monthly active users earlier this year.
Even now, the company is “overlooked” relative to its size, Hulls says.
But just a few years ago, back in 2019, a very specific subset was looking at Life360 — and at Hulls himself. Teenagers on TikTok weren’t fans of the granular access Life360 gave their parents to their lives, and they had a bone to pick with its founder.
Hulls recounts the “funny story” that actually led to the development of a new Life360 feature.
“His kid said, ‘He’s a TikTok guy.’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t even have TikTok.'”
“The first time I heard about anything going on I was at a friend’s house,” Hulls recalls. “He was older than me, had teenagers, and his kid said, ‘He’s a TikTok guy.’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t even have TikTok. What are you talking about?'”
That’s when Hulls learned he was the subject of a meme making the rounds. Teenagers wanted to know who started Life360, and once they discovered it was Hulls, they made his headshot the background of their videos while they performed skits that vilified him set to different sounds and music.
Although Life360’s president Alex Haro is also the company’s co-founder, he wasn’t caught up in the TikTok storm.
At first, Hulls didn’t think much of the videos, though he hoped no one would take it too far. It all just seemed like a joke. Then the teens’ tactics shifted. They started leaving Life360 one-star reviews in Apple’s app store, mistakenly believing their efforts could get it removed altogether.
A “tidal wave” followed. It wasn’t just teens having fun anymore — “There was a bandwagon about how evil Life360 is, and it was actually spreading to parent influencers, and we were like, ‘Okay, we need to do something here.'”
“We said, ‘Well, how can we demonstrate that we’re here for you?'”
Hulls wanted to make it clear that Life360 wasn’t about “tracking,” though he also understood that could come off as “corporate speak.”
“Seriously, we’re not a tracking app,” Hulls says. “Yes, it’s literally maps, but when used properly, we’re giving you independence, and it should actually be a way that your parents [can] give [you as a teen] more freedom.”
Hulls took to TikTok Live to set the record straight and shatter the “really straight-laced” image people had of him. He shared stories from his past, like the time he was expelled from Catholic school, describing himself as “the ultimate free-range kid.” He’d never thought that over-controlling parents would turn what he’d built into something so negative.
“Then, as part of that just humanizing me and the company, we said, ‘Well, how can we demonstrate that we’re here for you?'” Hulls recalls.
After crowdsourcing among the teens, Hulls came up with the “Bubbles” feature. It’s an optional way to customize location sharing for your “Circle,” or group of users. With the “Bubble” in place (set for an up-to-25-mile range), only an approximate location is viewable. But the “Bubble” will “burst” in the case of a car crash or other emergency, and any group member can toggle it off if there’s a safety concern.
“Your parents can see you’re still within a given region, but not fine grain,” Hulls explains. “[And we were] surprised at how well it worked. We were able to completely change the narrative and actually had teens advocating for us where it’s like, ‘Hey, don’t blame Life360, blame the parents who are going overboard.'”
“This is a way of graduating to the next stage of life.”
Not only was the dialogue inspired by TikTok able to “shift sentiment” toward Life360 in a positive way, but it also served as the company’s stepping stone “into the mainstream,” Hulls says.
In fact, Hulls considers the chain of events that led to the new feature “the biggest turnaround” Life360’s ever had. Usership’s been ramping up since then, and the app is on 13% of all iPhones in the country now, Hulls says, adding that “there aren’t many apps bigger than us.” And TikTok now “drives significant positive traffic” for the company.
What’s more, a new report from Life360, which surveyed 1,200 adults across the U.S., found that 89% of Americans say their life benefits from location-sharing — and 94% of Gen Z respondents agreed. “Safe” is the first word that comes to mind for 66% of Gen Z when thinking about location-sharing, per the research.
Life360 “weirdly” ended up exactly where Hulls always envisioned it might — “but bigger.” Of course, it was more of a daily “slog” and less of an overnight success (“and it’s still a slog every day,” Hulls quips). But the co-founder’s always been fascinated by how things can move “slowly then all of a sudden,” as was the case with Life360’s trajectory.
Today, as a parent with two daughters of his own, Hulls understands firsthand how back-to-school season is a “new era” full of change, one that includes additional responsibilities and privileges. Hulls is excited to see Life360 continue to play an important role in increasing independence.
“We are becoming part of that rite of passage,” Hulls says, “where [kids are going to] get this new set of freedoms, this fancy new phone. And this is a way of graduating to the next stage of life. [Life360 is] front and center in that.”