UpOut Adds Spontaneity to Planning a Night Out with Friends

October 25, 2012

9:00 am

UpOut co-founders, Martin Shen and William King, are taking an old idea – helping people find things to do and places to go – and updating it for a new generation that is busy and connected.

Since young college students and professionals rarely plan an evening’s events before they actually leave the house, San Francisco-based UpOut helps them find cool things to do, in real-time. UpOut literally gets them up and out the door, in a moment’s notice.

But, UpOut users don’t have to settle for the same old neighborhood bar scene. UpOut includes an eclectic mix of comedy shows, concerts, walking tours, and community-driven local events.

So, how did Shen and King re-energize the local events space? The co-founders answer some of Tech Cocktail’s questions below.

Tech Cocktail:  What inspired you to start UpOut?

UpOut:  The main inspiration for us was really just answering the simple question of “What’s going on right now?” How many times has this happened: you’re out to dinner with friends, then afterwards, everyone sits there and asks, “What should we go do now?”

Inevitably, the answer usually ends up being, “Well, I guess we should just find a nearby bar to go to.”

Tech Cocktail:  Launching a company that helps people have fun actually sounds like a lot of fun itself, but what about the business side of things?

UpOut:  We have a lot of fun at the startup. I also think we really believe that the tools – like cloud computing, etc. – available today will enable us to move from Aggregate Ranking systems to Personalized Recommendations. It’s a combination of Moore’s Law, driving the cost of computing and storage down as well as the availability of rich data sets, like the Social Graph and Interest Graph.

Tech Cocktail:  Why should people turn to UpOut instead of more traditional local events listings?

UpOut:  We’re really kind of entering new territory. The main competitors are probably the standard newspaper sites (like SFGate.com) that have community-driven event listings.

While this works ok, there are a number of problems with this methodology:

1. It’s spammy – since it’s community-driven, there are many duplicate events.
2. It’s ordered chronologically – it doesn’t just tell you what’s cool because it’s limited to chronological sorting.
3. There’s no personalization – results are the same for everyone, with very little ranking methodology.

Tech Cocktail: There’s so much going on in San Francisco; it must be a great city to launch a company like this. 

UpOut:  San Francisco makes an ideal city for launch. It’s known for its diversity, and it also has a lot of early adopters.

However, the biggest disadvantage would be that there are many things unique to SF that may not translate to other cities (particularly smaller cities). We may, for example, be very neighborhood-centric, but that may not be true outside of SF. For example, in LA, people are willing to drive much further distances to go somewhere.

Tech Cocktail:  What challenges have you faced, as you’ve developed UpOut?

UpOut:  One challenging moment was having to decide whether or not to have an “invite-only” gated site, where you have to have an account to use the site, vs. being open to anyone.

We all had very different perspectives on this, but ultimately we let the data decide. The data was overwhelmingly in favor of having a gated site, with user conversion rate more than doubling.

We might change this in the long term, but since getting users is our number one priority, we decided to stick with a gated site. Ultimately, we let the data decide for us, and in this case, it was overwhelmingly in favor of a particular direction.

UpOut was a featured startup at Tech Cocktail’s San Francisco Mixer and Startup Showcase.

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Meg Rayford is a communications consultant based in Northern Virginia. She previously spent two years as the Director of Public Relations for a nonprofit startup, where she learned a lot about providing clean water for impoverished countries, even within the confines of a bootstrapped startup. She is the editor of Tech Cocktail, and she develops media strategies for companies in Washington, DC and Virginia. You can read her most recent work in the marketing chapter of the upcoming book, "Social Innovation and Impact in Nonprofit Leadership," which will be published in Spring 2014 by Springer Publishing. Follow her @megkrayford.

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