It’s Friday night: do you know where the party is? Three Columbia entrepreneurs want to make sure you do, and they’ve launched an app designed to put nightlife information at your fingertips, letting you know which bars and clubs are crowded at any given moment and even providing looks inside.
The idea for the Woozle app was born when Chris Leventis, Will Muzika and Paul Nitto were Furman University undergraduates and roommates. “We would have no idea where our friends were, what bars we should go to,” Leventis explained. “A bar could be going crazy on Wednesday and Thursday it might be closed.” The three talked about coming up with an app to solve the problem, but did not act on the idea until last year. By then, they were living in Columbia, and Leventis was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina.
The three have different backgrounds in terms of professional training and experience, which mesh well for their new company, which launched in January. “I had a knack for art and graphic design,” Muzika said. Nitto developed an interest in the technical side of apps and, as he explained, “I went into the Iron Yard and learned how to program for six months.”
Leventis, the Woozle CEO, focuses on the business side of the operation, but teamwork is important to all three. “Any time we have an issue we work together and solve it,” Leventis said. “[Paul]’s a tech guy, [Will]’s a graphic design guy, I’m an accounting guy, so we’re all very, very different in what we’re good at, but at the end of the day we all have to come together and work to solve this stuff.”
“I think the different backgrounds helps too, because we have different mindsets,” Nitto said. Leventis said problem solving is the most important aspect of their business. “What a startup is for us is you’re constantly having problems. The group that can solve the problems the fastest and the best way is going to succeed.”
Woozle launched as a very simple app, offering only activity levels for bars and clubs in Columbia. Leventis said the bare-bones start was by design. “That’s the Silicon Valley model now,” he said.
“It’s build a minimum viable product, get it to market fast, and get feedback and build out. That’s what we’re trying to do… Essentially you let your user base and your customers build the product for you.”
The name, as Muzika explained, “could have been one of our biggest obstacles.” After casting aside other ideas, Muzika came across a reference to the “Woozle effect,” in which false information builds on itself to become urban legend. Since the app is designed to eliminate such confusion, the name, which originated in Winnie-the-Pooh, was a perfect fit.
The first addition to the app, at the request of users, came in April. Woozle users can now anonymously add photos and videos, giving those deciding where to go a firsthand look at the scene inside a bar or club.The next step will likely be a page for each bar, and the creators have ambitious plans for the future.
“We want it to be a full scale social nightlife app so people can get a view into the bar, see the specials and events, and occasionally be able to connect with one another through nightlife,” Leventis explained. “You see all these dating apps and people are connecting through crazy ways.”
They also hope to expand beyond Columbia. “We want to be the social nightlife app that people use everywhere.” The team acquired office space through the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator program for startups, and one of Leventis’ former teachers at USC serves as an adviser and on the company’s board.
The app is free, and with no ads, profits are a dream for the future for the creators. “The toughest part is just getting the word out there cheaply,” Leventis said. “We’ve bootstrapped this… We’re working here and at night we’re going out and pushing this app.”
The trip hops to sell ads eventually, and perhaps make the app subscription based in the long run, but Leventis said the first step is proving the value of the product to users and potential advertisers. “We want it to spread organically… What we want to happen with this is people start to talk about it,” he said. He pointed out that successful sites and apps such as Facebook and Snapchat also started as free products and free of ads, and he and his partners hope to follow the same path.
He summed up the plan in one sentence: “Get the users, make them love this app, and then figure out how to make money.”
The Woozle app is available for download here.
Pictured: (L-R) Muzika, Nitto and Leventis pose in front of the Woozle logo in their office (photo by Allen Wallace)