GroupMe Experiences partners with Zozi, Excursionist and Underground Eats for super unique group fun

By Erin Griffith , written on November 8, 2012

From The News Desk

The future of group chat is more than just chat. GroupMe, the messaging service owned by Microsoft, is forging a business model for itself in event ticketing. No surprise there -- the app was developed to help its founders to stay in touch with friends at music festivals and share photos and jokes afterwards. It blew up at SXSW, an event that's particularly conducive to communicating with a bunch of people at once.

The company took a step closer to its group activity dreams this summer when it launched GroupMe Experiences in private beta. The team spent the summer tweaking the product based on 100,000 pieces of feedback from beta users. Experiences sold offers to cool New York-based events sourced by the GroupMe team; plans for around 2000 events have been started on the platform.

Now, the service is open to the public with offers from three super hip activity startups: luxury travel site Excursionist ("travel your passions!"), culinary adventure site Underground Eats ("exclusive" and "alternative"), and adventure discovery site Zozi ("vibrant things to do!").

I initially raised an eyebrow at GroupMe Experiences because it sounded like the company was jumping into daily deals one year too late. That industry is struggling to turn itself into, well, anything but group coupons. Then I realized GroupMe was jumping on a slightly different, but equally as packed, bandwagon -- the Unique Special Exclusive Cool Thing To Do Industry(™).

There's a whole slew of startups out there trying to plan these things for you. They all make it clear that they're not just another LivingSocial -- they're offering one-of-a-kind activities at full price. GroupMe is no different -- Head of Business Development Steve Cheney tells me right away that this is not "hey, there's a taco stand near you that's $3 off."

"That's no longer a driving force and factor of fun and value for people," he says. "Where the real value comes and it's the long bet we've made and others are starting to make, is that you value an experience that doesn't have to be discounted, but it's unique and fun and you do it with people you know, not random people."

The problem is, the success of these apps relies on their ability to find the best one-of-a-kind, full price activities. This is where GroupMe has the right idea: Instead of painstakingly sourcing a bunch of cool stuff to do week after week, they're letting their hand-picked partners do it. (Fun Org, for example, does the same thing, via partnerships with adventure planner Sidetour, "culinary salon" group City Grit and Complex Magazine.) GroupMe Experiences is selling tickets to a Brooklyn Brewery beer tasting, hang gliding, and a New Orleans Jazz Fest tour organized by Excursionist, for example. The company won't list an event if the entire team doesn't think it sounds awesome, Cheney says.

GroupMe Experiences may have an advantage over other group planning and event services because of the built in stickiness of its group messaging app, which also includes payments. The problem is that GroupMe Experiences is limited to desktop and email right now, so that advantage is separate from any GroupMe messaging group you set up on your phone. In the not-too-distant future, Experiences will go mobile, co-founder Jared Hecht says. "We view it as complimentary to the GroupMe mobile platform and will see them merge over time," he says. The company will begin to  show people activities within the group messaging app.

I always find it strange that these things are always available only in the biggest cities with the most to offer. As I said in my review of a one such app,

Another app to help me find cool things to do. Yawn. I live in New York City — I am surrounded by cool things to do, which I discover via newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, local blogs, and friends. Never once have I thought, “Oh MAN, if only I had an APP to help me find something to do with all of this nonexistent free time!”
Meanwhile people in smaller cities like Dayton, Ohio, with fewer local blogs and less of a nightlife scene might want to know that, Hey! there's a Segway tour of the city's oldest cemetery this weekend (a real example I'm still bummed I missed).

That will change soon enough, too, Cheney says. After operating in just New York, the service will launch in more cities alongside its inventory partners. And beyond that, it will allow people in smaller cities to build their own group buying activities with friends. "We want to give people the tools to create their own experiences, so we won't be curating everything for everyone," he says. I believe that's how tech companies -- even ones relying on human curation -- get to scale.