According to Brandon Stephens, the founder of the £25.3 million Tortilla restaurant chain, there’s an app for everything – except for events.
“When you think of photos, you think of Instagram. When you think of venue reviews, you think of TripAdvisor. When you think of video, you think of YouTube. All of those are super-successful open platform content aggregation [sites],” Stephens told Business Insider.
However, he said that while “tonnes of people” have tried to do the same thing in the event space, in 2017, still nobody has cracked it.
Enter REVL, the UK’s biggest events discovery app which disclosed £2.4 million in Seed funding earlier this year.
It officially launched in January, with version 2.0 released earlier this month, bringing users personalised updates on over 53,000 events, 46,000 venues, and 38,000 performers from over 500 brand partners including Universal Music and the Royal Albert Hall.
They’ve also partnered up with the UK’s top music festivals to provide lineups and maps, as well as video previews of events.
Signing up on the app – using email or a social media login – allows users to select their interests, and add their favourite pubs, musicians, art galleries, and comedians to “playlists.” They’ll then receive notifications based on relevant events close to them.
They can also “favourite” events, venues, and performers they like, with the idea that the app will eventually be able to make recommendations to them. “Ultimately, what users want is to pick up the app and have it tell them what they should do today, tomorrow or on a given date,” Stephens said. “This is the next phase for REVL.”
Users can search by keyword, category, location, and time frame, or be inspired by the app’s recommendations to build a constantly updating news feed and calendar of events.
76% of its users are outside of London, so it applies to events across the country.
“The idea is to get hyper-personalised using the idea of a playlist, where you can put in all of your [favourite] venues, comedians, musicians,” Stephens said. “You can even scan your music so we can see what you like on Spotify and give you a list of musicians and render all of the events going on with them.”
Users can also follow other REVLrs – including brands, artists, and bloggers – to see who they’re following and check out their playlists.
REVL is targeting FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.
Stephens, who grew up in Silicon Valley and moved to London to attend the London Business School in 2003, said that in 2010, he was sitting in front of his TV watching a festival. A year later, he saw the same festival again, and said, ‘How did I not know about this?'”
He immediately subscribed to Time Out and started downloading apps, but said there was no single place to tell him everything that was going on.
“There’s currently no go-to place that has organised all of the events that are going on in the UK, much less in the US, Canada, or anywhere around the globe,” he said.
Stephens said despite the success of Time Out, their site “filters things based on curation.”
“They’re not going to have your local pub’s trivia night because it’s not interesting to most of their consumers,” he said.
“I literally wanted to be able to put in all my local pubs, my three local cinemas, the galleries, comedians, and musicians I like and just know about every single event that’s going on.” He said was looking for something that appealed to the “Fear of Missing Out,” or FOMO, concept.
He managed to persuade Jennifer – who has previously worked for the likes of Nectar, Orange, and French Connection – to join him in the project, as well as co-founder Aryn Hurst-Clark, the founder of tech recruitment firm Bearing Partnership.
It was then that he stepped aside from his day-to-day role at Tortilla, where he is still a board member.
“When I left Silicon Valley I thought, ‘I can’t wait to get out of technology,'” he said. “When I left Tortilla I couldn’t wait to get back into technology.”
It took them 18 months to develop the platform. They worked with digital agency Soon on the design, and hired software developers to build the app as well as a business development team to go out and talk to partners.
“One is from the CAA and has connections in the music world, one is from galleries, one is from media, Jen is from fashion. I have my friends in hospitality.”
He said that in pubs alone they’ve managed to sign up J.D. Wetherspoon, Fullers, Youngs, Hippo Inns, and Draft House, just to name a few.
“We’ve got a good level of critical mass and now need to grow it,” he said.
So how is the app making money?
The app is free, and there’s no charge for its partners to upload content.
However, Stephens said the app links out to ticketing providers and gets a commission on the sale from them.
He added that while working with partners is a great way to spread the word about REVL, the platform is also a way for partners such as the UK film board or the National Gallery to promote their events instead of through their own marketing efforts.
“The most popular application on the app is dating,” Stephens said. “Match.com and Happn are partners. We take in all of their content, and they’re promoting it on their side as well.”
“We’re taking the middle road, like Spotify,” he added. “It’s a marketing tool for the event promoter to get things out.”
One of the app’s upcoming campaigns will be a promotion with “hundreds of pubs” for free drinks.
“Our ability to be brand-associated with these amazing institutions throughout the UK [is amazing],” he added. “These partners are only going to be associated with a product that’s of a certain level of quality.”
Building the ‘ultimate events app’
Stephens declined to share the number of users the app has so far, but said: “We’re ahead of our competition.”
“We can say that it looks like users will have quadrupled over the month of July,” he added.
REVL is looking to launch in the US next, and is also talking to a “major institution in Germany.” It’s open to opportunities around the globe, however.
“If I go to Paris, I can go on a TripAdvisor or FourSquare or Yelp, but it’s all static information,” Stephens said. “We’re not your city guide that says ‘This is a really cool bar.’ Once you know that bar, we’ll tell you what’s going on there.”
He added: “How often would you go to TripAdvisor to check out a venue review vs. how often would you want to just know what’s going on at your local pub?”
“We’ve got a way to go but we know what we need to do to get there.
“We’re building something more comprehensive than anyone else…We’re getting closer and closer to building what we believe is the ‘ultimate events app.'”