Sometimes in the world of tech you will meet people that you know are head and shoulders above the rest. Before you even see their product, you know you’ll use it (or fund it or write about it) simply because the things that they do can’t help but be great.
Jana Trantow is one of those people, and MetroGnome is what she has built. What is it? In short, it’s a way to discover the events that are around you. But it’s far more than that, because it also uses your everyday life to suggest events that you are nearly certain to love.
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The space is crowded, and Trantow knows this. But she also knows that the space is full of applications that don’t really answer the questions that are being asked, and in some cases even complicate matters. So when I had the chance to talk to Trantow about MetroGnome, I had a lot of questions for her.
What Is it?
In short it’s an application for the iPhone that makes it easy to discover events that you love. An event, by the MetroGnome definition, is a pretty liquid thing. “Anything with a location, start time and end time is an event. So a happy hour is an event, just as much as going to see the latest Harry Potter movie.” It’s this fluid definition that is the starting point for what sets MetroGnome apart from the crowd.
Event data is pulled in from a few different sources, including 37,000 from EventSource (the power behind AOL’s Moviefone and others) as well as 35,000 verified happy hour listings from GoTime. There’s also selective data from Eventful and TicketFly, plus integration with Foursquare and Facebook. The future holds plans to bring in data from Netflix, Fandango, Rdio, Last.fm and others to help further customize recommendations.
I asked Trantow about the dangers of building on a platform that pulled in data from other sources. To that she responded that MetroGnome will operate a bit differently with this information:
“When you sign up, you’ll give us access to that data. We’re pulling a dump of historical data to figure who you are. So if it is down for a day we will still know you, you just can’t check in with those services.”
Why Build It?
“Honestly? To have more fun. I quit my job to do just that – make a company that is fun. It’s also awesome that MetroGnome helps everyone else have fun too.”
Beyond that, Trantow said that she’s created MetroGnome to scratch her own itch. She says that from Eventful’s launch in 2005 to Plancast in 2009, nobody has really solved the issue of event data overload and that “fear of missing out” for consumers. “It’s just too hard to find out what events are happening and where.”
Understanding that event discovery can happen in many ways (friends, tailored results, listings and maps to name a few), MetroGnome is aiming to get rid of the overload that other apps can cause. Because it uses a recommendations engine that includes data from far more than just events you’ve attended or who you’re following, it helps eliminate not only that fear of missing out, but also the deluge of unsorted information.
How Is MetroGnome Better?
By turning an events system into a recommendations engine that is based on data other than what you’ve attended before, MetroGnome holds a lot more power than what we’ve seen in the market thus far. And for those of you who are dead set on checking in via Foursquare or Facebook Places for events, you still can, you’ll just do it within MetroGnome.
There’s a simple genius to the understanding that things unrelated to events (the music you listen to, the movies you’ve gone to see, etc.) are all clues as to the types of events that you’d like to attend. MetroGnome’s mastery of this system, plus existing integration with established resources, places it onto another level entirely
As I mentioned before the fluid nature of the term “events” helps MetroGnome to be agile in its use. Trantow tells me that there won’t be any crowdsourcing for events, at least not in the beginning:
“Unlike venue information that is crowd sourced like foursquare, event data is very difficult to validate and de-duplicate. We want all of the event data we surface to our users to be pristine and accurate.”
Trantow plans on having a number of “super users” who will be able to enter event data, though it’s a position that is earned and not given. That’s where the power of the RSVP comes into play.
Actions on MetroGnome are broken down to 2 choices – bookmarks and RSVPs. Maybe an event is interesting to you. In most of the options that we have today, you’d likely RSVP to it. In MetroGnome, that RSVP is incentivized. If you’re not sure you’ll make an event, just bookmark it for easier finding later.
RSVPing to an event will give you points. Higher points are awarded for being the first in your network to RSVP. If friends in your network RSVP after you, you get even more points. But in order to keep value on the event rather than the RSVP, you’re awarded the highest amount when you actually check-in to an event.
So Trantow has an immediate way to see the most active users, where they’re going and what they’re doing. These users can then get to Super User status, allowing them to input events on their own all leading to increased engagement from the users. In time, Trantow hopes to incentivize users by offering rewards from small and medium-sized business that understand the value of measured influence.
So What’s Next?
First thing’s first, the initial public demo of MetroGnome is happening tonight in Boulder, Colorado at Boulder Beta. The event is a startup mixer where interested parties (primarily investors and those looking for the next big thing) can come, mingle and see demos of products in their various stages.
After that, Trantow tells me that there’s still a hefty amount of work to do. With a launch date of “very soon”, she’s presently looking to hire more staff, including a full-time designer and a “big data brain”. Why big data? Because according to Trantow, “if you think about it, we’re solving a big data problem. There are two silos of data that aren’t talking to each other. All of this event data and your social graph. It’s your social graph, shouldn’t they talk?”
There are plans to roll out the app on the Windows Phone platform as well, but talk of Android gets met with a “nope, not yet” response.
Financing is the next big concern. At present, MetroGnome is bootstrapped with credit cards and the selling of worldly possessions. Tonight’s demo will be the first time that the public has seen the app, and Trantow is hoping to get the right eyes onto the product and idea so that more hiring and development can happen at a faster pace.
Money from MetroGnome will be earned in three ways. The app itself is free, though there will be opportunities for national brands to have location-based advertising. Local merchant opportunities will also open and then national brands can promote events such as movie openings or sports.
Trantow says that the next 12 to 18 months of MetroGnome have already been mapped out, and she’s no doubt called upon the amazing mentorship in Boulder’s startup community. With the team of 2 so far (Trantow works with NY-based developer Oleg Terenchuk) the app is already more polished than most full releases we see. MetroGnome is a testament to just how much can be accomplished when a driven entrepreneur is hungry to shake up a space that simply hasn’t been done justice.