In the endless march towards hyper-local perfection, there are many applications, websites and even, yes, print publications competing for eyeballs. Consumers looking to discover new businesses, businesses looking to draw in new customers, and visitors seeking the most authentic local experiences all come together in one giant cauldron of local knowledge secret potion.
Sooligan is the latest app looking to solve the hyperlocal conundrum - how can mobile users find the best businesses for them wherever they are in the world, and how can businesses bring those people through their doors?
Sooligan aims to make it much easier to find and share information in a city by "digitizing word-of-mouth" in urban centers.
The co-founders, Nikka Umil and Natasia Malaihollo, did not originally set out to build a company. But after being selected as one of the 15 concepts for the ARK Challenge startup accelerator in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the team decided to delay further education to pursue their concept.
The team has received funding from The ARK Challenge Accelerator Program through a collaboration between Winrock International, Gravity Ventures, Fund for Arkansas’ Future , Arkansas Development Finance Authority, grants from Economic Development Administration, Small Business Administration, Employment and Training Administration. They’ve also raised a Series AA from 5 independent angel investors.
Sooligan has wisely chosen to launch this week as part of the Super Bowl activities in New Orleans, Louisiana. With over 150,000 visitors, there are ample opportunities to engage an eager audience looking to discover the best of their location.
Of course, starting with no users is an often-insurmountable challenge for any startup that hinges on creating and sharing local knowledge. The team explains more about their concept in the TLabs Q&A.
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
Sooligan makes it fun, fast and easy to find and share local information within any city. Really, the app is for anyone- locals who want to help visitors get acquainted with their town, or travellers who want to enhance their experience in any location with the help of those who know it the best- the locals. Sooligan offers instant information that is up-to-date and personalized to the user. Other outlets that offer reviews and such are outdated, irrelevant, cumbersome to go through, and convoluted.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
It’s an easy, free way to enhance your experience in any city, and have the power of word-of-mouth even if you don’t have any friends or family there! National and local brands/businesses can also establish their local presence through Sooligan.
Sooligan can be used by the typical social media user. However, there is an immediate need for a tool like Sooligan amongst college students, travelers, vacationers, and those moving to a new city for the first time thus they make up our target early customers and adopters. There were 45 million movers in the US last year.
This past September, 21.6 million students began American colleges and universities. As for the vacationers and travelers, 90 million American adults use the internet to plan travel during the past year. 3 out of 4 domestic trips are taken for leisure purposes.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We are launching over Super Bowl weekend by providing the thousands of newcomers access instant information from locals. We are also taking our recruiting efforts to the largest and highly-social colleges and universities to try and get the younger crowds using Sooligan. We’ve already been doing a lot of outreach at LSU while here in New Orleans, as well as in UC Berkeley and University of Arkansas.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
The idea actually came from a vision we had for a purposeful social media channel that did more to connect people and allow them to share opinions about local places instantly. Our original vision has stayed consistent and gradually improved through several product tests/iterations and with the help of customer validation. We are confident this business model will be successful.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
User adoption is our biggest challenge. In three years, we hope to have overcome that hurdle and have thousands of Sooligans across the U.S.! A sound and viable marketing strategy, and strong unique brand will help us do just that.
Sooligan has two revenue streams: fee-based personalized moments-based advertisements housed in a part of the app called “My City Life” and a subscription-based Business Pages, which allows companies to create two-sided dialogue with customers. Used as a form of customer service, companies with Business Pages can post questions to their customers in real-time, access any rants and respond to any raves about their business providing more accountability.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The industry is thriving! So many people are travelling and sharing stories with friends and family about the places they go to. What is missing is the ability for everyone, complete strangers even, to benefit from these experiences of others in certain cities. Things are constantly changing and Sooligan offers the very latest information and recommendations on cities, restaurants, culture, events, venues and more!
Our vision is to allow anyone to travel to any city in the world, and without knowing a single person there, find everything you need to know about that city instantly.
The Sooligan team has quite a bit of work to do to make this a primetime ready app - there are certain design tweaks and UX considerations the team should approach to ensure that users get what they need when they need it - and that they want to keep using the app over time. The app need to look and feel good upfront.
The main issue is the prototypical chicken/egg conundrum: without enough local information, the app will not gain users (and thus not appeal to businesses that want to pay them), and without enough users, there will not be enough local info. With no content, the app is not interesting, and right now the app lacks that sort of critical mass of interest and usefulness.
It's good to see the Sooligan team thinking of different monetization strategies upfront, as there are two true audiences here: the businesses and the user seeking information. Connecting the two is definitely a way to make money, and also potentially provide enough value to both groups for Sooligan (or one of their competitors) to gain traction.
We see plenty of these location-based information delivery apps, and there has yet to be one truly breakout viral hit. Perhaps it's a solution in need of a problem, or perhaps there just hasn't been that silver bullet for local knowledge. Niche apps, such as Yelp for example, still reign supreme, with each app providing a different type of knowledge.
Companies like Sooligan, in addition to other companies like Local Uncle, are solving different pieces of the same puzzle - and yet, there's still no clear image emerging as this puzzle is moved around. The value of finding local information that is valuable, timely and useful is still potentially large. The question is whether or not someone will figure it out.