Husband-and-wife team Jimmy and Alison Lee are looking to take a standard weekly activity of many Australians – the group email to organise a social event – and turn it into a business opportunity.
The duo have developed an app called Chillwith.me, which allows friends to suggest and plan venues for a night out in a smarter way, without the lengthy email chains.
Alison and Jimmy spoke to StartupSmart about how they hope the venture, which only hit the App Store in July, will be a boon for consumers and businesses alike.
What gave you the idea for this app?
Every week we’d organise social stuff with friends and we’d end up with long email chains that no-one could really keep up with. It was a real pain point.
We came up with the idea of an app that captures all that planning in one screen so people can easily catch up with what the plans are.
The other part of it is that businesses can really engage with groups of people. That became obvious when my sister suggested a restaurant on Twitter and the restaurant jumped into the conversation and said ‘we can sort that out and book it for you if you like.’
That showed that businesses are using social media more and more. This app filters out the noise – a group of people are going out on Friday and are considering your venue. What are you going to do to incentivise them?
When did you get started on it?
I started on it earlier this year and then quit my job to go full-time on it at the end of March. We went around the top chefs in Australia and asked how they engage with their users.
The response to the idea was very positive, so we decided to go for it. There are a lot of event apps out there, but we realise this is a group decision. It’s for a casual social meet up, rather than highly-planned event. It’s about which bar you want to go to on a Saturday night.
Had you always wanted to start-up?
Yes. Being a developer, I was always well attuned to the start-up scene. I wish I’d done it straight out of university, rather than go to work for someone else!
Alison is currently bringing home the bacon as we develop the app. We’ve launched a minimum viable product as it’s quite a hard user experience to solve straight away. We will then get the restaurants on board – we’ve formed networks and links to them but haven’t partnered with them as yet.
So, how does it work?
Currently, it’s in the Apple App Store. We’re building an Android version too. You can log in via Facebook and create a hangout.
You can send messages privately and suggest a new venue. The messaging is secondary so that you don’t have to read every one to know what’s going on – there’s one screen where you see the restaurant and can click ‘yes’ or ‘no’, depending on whether you like it or not.
You can see the faces of your friends to see what people have voted for, as well as the ability to send a message to the group. Basically, we are trying to make it easier than email.
Why will people want to do this rather than use Facebook for events?
Facebook is more geared towards large events. You go there to say ‘this is the place, here is the time – are you in or are you out?’
This app is more organic. It’s about a Friday night informal drink. Also, Facebook can be clunky on mobiles, so this is better geared to casual meet-ups when you’re out and about.
How are you pricing this?
The app will be free but there will be subscriptions for businesses to interact with the users. We are thinking about $30 to $50 a month.
Therefore, if a restaurant wants to get people to come to it, only those signed up to the app get to interact with the users. We will have functionality where if nearby restaurants are mentioned, a place that’s signed up can jump in with a counter offer, which people can accept or not.
We hope to launch this aspect next year, depending on the critical mass we get with users. We hope to raise some money for marketing, as well as spreading it organically.
What’s the attraction for businesses?
It changes customer service completely. Previously, the people who are paying for the service have to call up and ask for a booking and then call somewhere else if they are booked out – it’s all very messy.
We want to turn the tables – customer service should start when the night out is being planned, not just on the night itself.
We are looking to put this everywhere. I really think it has the chance to scale globally.
What’s been the hardest part?
Iterating a product and keeping it simple is hard. What we’ve done is a huge improvement on what’s been before, but there’s still a lot of friction to move.
Getting the app out there has been harder than I thought. There are so many apps out there it’s hard to get noticed and stand out. That’s been a real lesson to us.