When choosing a place to live in Boston with his newly-minted fiancee, Tony Longo made the biggest mistake of his life: while incredibly pleasant during the day, the neighborhood turned into a "nightmare" after the sun set. It was not a safe neighborhood, and he had brought his family into the middle of it all.
And thus the seed was planted that eventually gave life to Block Avenue, which went live late last month.
Longo describes Block Avenue as "a platform to help people traveling or moving to new areas better understand the location by leveraging existing geo-data and social networks to create trust."
The Block Avenue website asks, "Curious what's around the corner?" And answers:
"We’re here to help. Whether you're looking to visit a friend across town or relocate across the country, BlockAvenue can dig up all of the secrets you're searching for. From coffee shops and pubs to crime trends and the best transit options, get the hard cold truth from the people who know it best."
Block Avenue is a granular tool that allows users to see the world, block-by-block.
By compiling various statistics across 50 million data points, such as crime, transit options, demographic information, local amenities, school data and social activity, Block Avenue is able to provide an objective overview of the world, block-by-block.
While some of the data is outdated, it is complemented with user feedback and will only get better over time. "The feedback has been tremendous," Longo said, referring to the thousands of comments they have received via UserVoice's platform.
As co-founder of online real-estate broker CondoDomain, Longo's past experience in the real estate market has given him a clear picture of Block Avenue's utility for the real estate vertical. With more than 40 million people moving every year, Block Ave certainly has the potential to be of use to people as they choose new places to move.
Block Ave also has great potential in the travel vertical, as travelers seek to get a more vivid and accurate picture of the blocks that they will be visiting.
Longo also hints at potential growth focused on travelers - imagine being able to find the best route from A to B according to various statistics: safest route, most transit-accessible route, most interesting route.
Similar to what new apps like Google's FieldTrip promise, Block Ave would be able to take actual information from the world (both statistical and user generated) and theoretically deliver a top-level view on every block in the world.
Revenue models in the travel space are also intriguing: a B2B SaaS product that integrates into existing booking maps software, allowing users booking hotels or other trips to more fully understand the immediate environs; B2C travel websites could license this data for users to explore a destination; travel planning startups could bring this data into their systems to provide the most accurate and useful data to pre-trip travelers; mobile travel apps could integrate Block Ave's ratings, allowing travelers to inform their actual real-world movements.
There are many exciting possibilities here, and Tnooz will keep an eye on Block Avenue as it unfolds.
Block Avenue has rasied $300k in angel funding, and currently employs 4 full-timers working alongside several consultants. Block Avenue is headquartered in Cambridge, MA and operates out of Dogpatch Labs. Dogpatch Labs was created by Polaris Venture Partners to connect entrepreneurs and help founders conceive, launch and grow startups.
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
Location affects almost everything on this planet, and on the surface sometimes you may think you know what is going on – but in reality you can be very, very wrong. What is special with how we are solving this problem is that we are going deep (very deep) all the way down to the address level and we are layering social content on top of “factual” data points.
Yes its great to live on a block that is quiet, has a park, a subway stop, great grocery store….you know all the amenities….but what if those amenities in reality are all bad (under the surface)? What if the subway station smells, or what if the park is beautiful during the day but dangerous at night? That social layer from real people who know it best is where we are going and how we are solving the problem.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
On top of BlockAvenue being fun and a great tool to learn things about your own neighbourhood that you never knew, you can literally go test drive areas you may want to visit or live in the future and see what people are saying (all the way down to the block level). Also, we are grading every block A-F - who wants to live on a D or F block? Not me!
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Inbound & Social. Our goal internally is to develop a product that everyone wants to use and if we do a really good job at that – the marketing (ie. the social sharing) will take care of itself.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Something I have learned in the past that has really stuck with me is that you can never move fast enough and get the product to market.
Time is the most expensive element when developing a product and to keep it in house adding just “one more feature” is endless process that you have to expect. We follow Lean Startup procedures, pushing products into the market as fast as possible, measuring and reacting to feedback and analytics and releasing updates often.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
With travel, nobody has focused on location. In an example where Hotel or Resort X has a great reputation, the property is gorgeous, amenities, staff, etc….but what happens when you walk out of the front door of the hotel? We are focused on the external component of that particular location.
Also, what happens when you go to rent that great looking apartment on Airbnb? The apartment looks great, the host has great reviews – but the area? Is it safe? Easy access to transit? What are the amenities when you walk out of the front door? It's all about location!
Block Avenue shows great promise, especially given the shifting block-by-block nature of most cities. Although extremely useful, the true killer feature isn't the accumulation of statistics, but the ability to gather actual feedback from real people about each block. The combination of the social and statistical layers is essential, as it gives users the ability to fully analyze a block according to their individual needs, priorities and perspectives.
Block Avenue is also fronted by a successful founding team, and will likely close a Series A before the end of the year. Success will come from scaling the user base by developing an honest, truthful and accurate reputation - if they can succeed at this, Block Avenue will insert a new piece of information into the decision-making and planning processes across several verticals.
Two questions: 1) Will they be able to make one-time visitors (using the site for an impending move) into loyal visitors, and 2) How will they use local block pride to get people to provide the critical block-by-block social feedback?