Grubwithus becomes Superb, a platform for discovering new places and which friends to share them with

By Michael Carney , written on April 16, 2014

From The News Desk

Have you ever heard about a hot new restaurant far off the beaten path and wondered which of your friends would be willing to venture out and try it with you? How about a bar or upcoming concert that’s not quite mainstream but still piques your curiosity?

Half the battle in having these memorable experiences is discovering unique places and events to attend. Dozens upon dozens of Web and mobile platforms have been created to solve this problem – with only modest success. But few if any solve the second order problem of recruiting friends to share in the fun.

This is where Superb comes in. The new iOS app launching today takes the well-worn concept of a local discovery platform and layers on top of it the missing component of an intent-based social graph. More importantly, it does so in a fun and casual Tinder-esque way that invites users to swipe through full-screen, photo-centric cards of possible destinations – right for yes, left for no – to build a to-do list of sorts that will then be matched to friends with shared interests. Users can also tap a cart to indicate that they’ve already visited a particular place. When indicating interest in a particular location, users are presented with a list of other contacts who have also expressed interest. Opening a friend’s profile also displays a list of things in common.

Tinder certainly spawned the popular phrase of approval, “I’d swipe right for that,” but Superb is showing that the mobile-centric interaction style has more applications than inviting casual romantic relationships. Given this, it seems inevitable that the company will be described, in startup parlance, as “Tinder for Places.”

Superb has been in limited beta for several months, including a modest marketing push at SXSW, but the company is finally sharing its app with the broader public today. The release version, which quietly went live in the App Store on Saturday, added a key feature that was not available in the beta version: chat. While beta users were relegated to using the platform as a glorified to-do list, the option for both one-to-one and one-to-many chat should be a game-changer in terms of the platform’s appeal.

Superb is the work of the team behind GrubWithUs, the former social dining network which graduated from Y Combinator in 2011. After raising a total of $7.7 million in funding, the Venice Beach company grew to 100,000 registered users, but only a small minority were using the platform regularly. But despite not achieving the desired traction, the GrubWithUs team wasn’t ready to let go of its goal of using online services to connect people in the offline world, co-founder Eddy Lu says. So, with the remaining cash and a quick pivot, Superb was born.

The platform allows users to build a social graph from a combination of their mobile address book and Facebook Connect data. The company then licenses in a places database from Foursquare, while also allowing users to add in custom locations.

Users can use filters to further customize the types of places they see, such as, for example, prioritizing restaurants over bars. Each users’ feed will also be influenced by the places that others in their social graph have liked and visited, thereby increasing the likelihood of matches. The current algorithm is fairly basic, Lu admits, but his team continues to add sophistication to improve personalized discovery.

“Our mission is to connect people offline in the real world and help them share moments that can only be experienced in person,” Lu says. “The biggest use case for hanging out is with people you already know, those causal connections that you may not text with or run into frequently to make plans, but who share common interests that go otherwise undiscovered.”

Individual elements of what Superb offers have been available before in other platforms. Foursquare allows you to share places you’ve visited with friends, and track your own activity over time, but does not support future planning. Platforms like Weotta, Sosh, GonnaBe (deadpool), and others allow users to make and share future plans but lack the simple and fun user interface to support high levels of engagement. While Tinder offers this appealing UI, it’s not setup to discover activities and make non-romantic plans with existing contacts.

By combining the best of each of these existing products, Superb may actually be on to something novel and compelling.

The big problem facing the born-again-startup is that today's consumer generally suffers from social network fatigue. With all the noise in the category, it’s increasingly difficult to launch new platforms and foster new behavior patterns. But when companies do breakout, it’s because they solve a problem affecting a large audience and do so in a way that is simple, intuitive, and engaging. Think Instagram and filters or Snapchat and disappearing photos. For a version one product, Superb seems to check each of these key boxes. Whether users will follow in droves, however, remains to be seen.

Superb has a 10 person team today, down from the nearly 20 that Grubwithus had at its peak. The company had more than half of its venture stockpile still in the bank as of November, when it first hinted at its post-pivot plans. When and how much cash it will need to execute this new vision remains to be seen. The first priority, at this point, is proving that this is something that people actually want and will use consistently – this is anything but a sure bet.

Superb will be free to use – shocker – and will not monetize at launch – double shocker. You’d think the fact that the GrubWithUs successor is more than three years old and has already burned through several million dollars in venture cash would have leave its investors – Upfront Ventures, Andreessen-Horowitz*, First Round Capital*, and others – impatient for a more revenue-focused launch. That’s anything but the case, however, according to Lu, who says that everyone has bought into the potential of this new platform and has taken a long view toward its buildout.

With consumer intent being the monetization Holy Grail, if Superb can reach meaningful scale it has the potential to generate income in ways that Foursquare has only dreamed of. The opportunity to combine intent with rich data around consumer preferences, social graphs, and offline behavior means that the company can serve more highly-targeted advertising and promotions that not only appeal to a user’s interests, but which also reach them at precisely the right time. This is the reason why Google is a multi-billion dollar company, and Superb is aiming to take that effectiveness offline.

“It’s really all about intent,” Lu says. “There’s other service yet that really captures that fully and easily today.”

Until now, that is.

(* Andreessen Horowits partners Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan and Chris Dixon, and First Round Capital partner Josh Kopelman are individual investors in Pando.)

[Image via Aura Lounge]