SocialNightlife brings mobile tech to nightclubs, faces uphill climb for adoption

By Michael Carney , written on January 21, 2013

From The News Desk

Chances are that if you were one of the millions of Americans that went out to a club this past weekend, technology played little to no role in your evening. At best, you got a text message from a promoter telling you where to be and when. And then presumably you checked in and posted photos on some form of social media which had nothing to do with the venue itself. But in between, an oversized doorman checked for your name on a paper list, and once you got inside nobody on staff knew your name, even though you spent a month’s rent on that table and bottle service.

SocialNightlife is a startup launching out of Los Angeles today, that aims to fix this, for both the consumer and for the nightlife operators. The mobile platform which is already being used by Las Vegas mega-clubs Marquee and XS, and soon to be others in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami, is a hybrid consumer-facing social media and nightlife exploration tool, and a SaaS-based business management system.

Nightlife professionals using the app have the ability to digitally check-in guest-list and VIP customers, and to track activity by team member, venue, event, and client. Loyal guests will be rewarded with promotions for free tickets, drinks, and VIP services, tied to social features like check-ins and photos shared. The system can also manage event promotions, delivering targeted invites to upcoming events featuring popular DJ and celebrity appearances based on customer preferences.

Like on Foursquare, regulars are rewarded with fancy titles, except on SocialNightlife they’re called “Ambassadors” and there can be more than one per location. Check-ins are renamed as well, instead called the more TMZ-worthy “Appearances.” Each venue will have live reviews of its crowd, music, and ambiance, with the opinion of these “in the know” patrons, persumably carrying the most weight.

Despite my belief that a solution like SocialNightlife is needed, I can’t get over the feeling that it’s got a tough road ahead. This mostly stems from the fact that success relies on introducing yet another app, network, and action into the routine of already oversaturated consumers. I’m not saying that this can’t be done – although it’s a long shot – but to do so, the app which aims to combine the best of Eventbrite, Foursquare, and Instagram will need to convey a serious value exchange.

In addition to the check-in, venue loyalty, photo sharing, and discovery functions – which duplicate services already available – SocialNightlife offers a few unique benefits to consumers. One of the more novel is the ability to view how many people are waiting in line and what the crowd and music are like inside a club, from the comfort of your home – or another club down the street.

Clubs, on the other hand, are bound to love this. Through SocialNightlife, venue owners and promoters will get more control over their customer data than has ever been available through third party services such as the above-mentioned Eventbrite and Foursquare. If the company can make it easy enough that this likely tech-illiterate crowd can extract meaningful insights, expect the venues to help drive consumer adoption.

SocialNightlife co-founder and CEO Artin Nazarian isn’t worried about duplicating various functions of largest existing social networks. “The future of social media will be niche networks that have more B2B tools that help you run your business,” he says. In addition to the big boys, the LA-based startup faces competition from some existing niche players such as NightLifeApp, Where’s The Party At, and AfterDark, each of of which focus on various aspects of discovery and booking.

So assuming Nazarian is correct in his hunch – though I have my doubts – how does this thing make money? The app will be free to consumers, and available via a “freemium” SaaS model to venues. Paid subscribers will gain access to premium venue management and CRM tools, without which the service offers little differentiation from existing competitors. On the consumer-facing side, SocialNightlife plans to incorporate traditional advertising and event sponsorships. Finally, there’s the obvious opportunity to claim a revenue share on sales of tickets and VIP services (aka, tables and bottles).

Both Nazarian and his co-founder come from filmmaking backgrounds, although each has connections to the nightclub scene. The two have hired a skeleton crew of designers, developers, and marketers in Los Angeles, augmented by an off-shore development team in India. Initial development was bootstrapped by the founders, with limited (and undisclosed) angel funding raised in the fourth quarter. The company is currently hoping to raise a $3 million Series A round to fund the marketing rollout required to make this thing a hit.

With two non-technical founders in a difficult sector, SocialNightlife is likely to have a tough time in this fundraising environment. On top of that, it faces an uphill climb to get its service into the daily routine of those regularly out after midnight. That said, the fact that it's starting with several of the hottest clubs in Las Vegas shouldn't hurt. If the young company can overcome these real challenges – and let’s be honest, that what building a startup is all about – it will have few direct competitors and have earned every opportunity to claim the space.