The members of the founding team of Brazilian entertainment recommendations app Boosk have lived in four different continents, eight different countries and 15 different cities collectively. And during their travels, they have always come across the same problem – where to go and what to do.
On one trip, the group was discussing options for the evening and used Yelp to help them decide. “Rated as five stars, the bar we were led to was filled with a much older crowd, country music and over-priced cocktails. And no single girls. It was definitely not worth five stars, at least not for us,” recalled Fernando Saddi, Boosk Co-founder and CEO. “We thought that there must be a way for technology to learn from all the places we have been before in order to know what kinds of places match what we are looking for.”
And so they built Boosk.
Boosk identifies users’ preferences – the types of places they like, their interests, habits, spending patterns and favorite locations – to recommend entertainment options and outings that best match their personalities. Originally named Radii, the startup won first place at Startup Weekend Silicon Valley in July 2012, which motivated the team to start working on the company full-time.
Boosk’s founding team consists of Lucas Coelho (Lead Developer), Shaun Dowling (CTO) and Fernando Saddi (CEO). The company has also brought Sebastian Mitchell, designer and user experience specialist, on board. It is currently one of four startups being accelerated by Papaya Ventures in Brazil.
The first version of the Boosk application was just launched in the App Store and is now available for download free of charge. For users, it is a great way to find recommendations for bars, clubs, parties, events, shows, films, sporting events and more. For event organizers, ticket vendors and other partners, Boosk generates qualified leads and is also exploring other services, such as product placement, targeted ads and featured positioning.
Boosk isn’t without competition in Latin America. Kekanto, which just brought in a US$5.5 million investment from W7 Brazil Capital, is a strong player in the field, and newbie Citibuddies (a recent NXTP Labs pick) may also give Boosk a run for its money.
Saddi spoke with us recently about what may give Boosk a leg up on its competitors and other insights into the continuously-evolving startup.
Emily Stewart: Since starting the Papaya program, you’ve actually changed the name of the application. What other adjustments have you made? Why the change?
Fernando Saddi: Radii, our previous name, had been created for the US market, our initial focus.
When we were selected by Papaya Ventures, a leading accelerator in Brazil, and seeing the opportunity of the rapidly growing Brazilian market, we went to Rio de Janeiro in order to conquer the Latin America market. Unfortunately, many had a hard time pronouncing the name of the company, and even less people understood its meaning. Boosk, a play on the word “search” in Portuguese, is more aligned with the overall vision of the company: helping people to search, discover, and purchase the best places and activities for them.
We have also changed (or expanded) our scope, from focusing initially on bars and clubs to the entire entertainment industry. We didn’t want users to find the perfect places to go only on specific occasions and use other sources to find other recommendations. By focusing on the entire entertainment industry, we can better understand our users and offer a wide range of personalized recommendations whenever they want, wherever they are.
ES: You won Startup Weekend San Francisco. How has that victory influenced your startup?
FS: Winning Startup Weekend was the stepping-stone we needed to reassure us to follow our vision and our first sign that we were heading in the right direction. After that, many mentors became interested in helping us and were fundamental in some of our achievements. Also, Qualcomm, one of the biggest tech companies, became interested in our product and maintained a close relationship with us, allowing us to be one of the first companies to develop using their SDK technology for mobile apps – something that gives us great competitive advantage. Most importantly, it has continuously been an attention-grabber throughout Boosk’s history, giving us higher exposure to media, users and investors.
ES: There are many social recommendation platforms and applications on the market right now. What makes ours stand out?
FS: There are two main differences: our focus and, especially, our intelligent personalization.
Between Foursquare, Kekanto, Foodspotting, and now even Facebook, everyone is trying to give recommendations for the food and beverage industry, mostly restaurants. By studying and understanding the entertainment industry, we offer our users recommendations for different things (events, movies, parties and shows), which are less dependent on specific situations (overcooked meat, mean waiter) and more influenced by tastes and preferences (favorite artists, music genre, price range). We want to become an expert in that.
Most importantly, we personalize our recommendations to each user. We use an intelligent algorithm that utilizes machine learning to take into account your tastes, preferences, favorite locations, and what you and your friends enjoy in order to show you the best recommendations for you. Rather than offering generic suggestions of the “best” places to go with trivial stars and numbers, we use percentages to tell you the places that best match your taste. Think about Boosk as that friend that understands everything you enjoy, but also knows everything that is going on. Reliable and effective.
ES: What’s next for Boosk?
FS: Boosk wants to help people enjoy life. By understanding our users more and truly getting what they want, I see Boosk being a central source for entertainment. As Boosk becomes more and more intelligent and further develops partnerships, we can start recommending the perfect place for you to go at any time of the day. By expanding to other cities around the globe, we see opportunities for ties within the tourism industry and great advantages for our users. Imagine flying from New York to Rio de Janeiro for the first time and automatically getting personalized recommendations of where to go and what to do, based on what you are used to doing in Manhattan? Opportunities are limitless!
However, we want to continue listening and paying attention to our users in order to understand how and why they are most using our app, essentially letting them decide the future for Boosk.