If you haven’t heard of BarLift yet, get ready for the future of bar-hopping. This app revolutionizes the experience, allowing users to receive exclusive deals from nearby bars, helping them make spontaneous decisions when they’re out at night.
The idea came to senior Dominic Wong during a day on the lakefill. About a month ago, sitting with some friends, he asked them how they could have improved their bar experience from the night before.
“All throughout college I’ve wanted to try something entrepreneurial,” Wong said. “It didn’t really matter what it was to me, but I wanted that experience of trying to build something that would fix a problem.”
He identified that problem on both ends of the spectrum — Northwestern students at bars weren’t getting the best bang for their buck — while some bars couldn’t fill up even with great deals.
“[BarLift] is essentially an application — a platform — that allows bars to dynamically lower prices or issue deals throughout the night,” Wong said. “On the other hand, it allows users to get spontaneous and relevant deals. BarLift uses your location to send you deals at times when it actually matters.”
Basically, the app allows a bar to issue a deal at any point through the night. Once that happens, everyone who is in the vicinity of that bar that has downloaded the app will get a push notification about the deal. The long-term vision of the app is to create a platform that not only sends you relevant deals, but also tells you where people in your social network are going on a given night.
Wong decided to beta test his idea by creating an event called NU Bar Week. To do this, he went to every single bar in Evanston to ask what they thought of his idea.
“It was almost a 100 percent ‘Let’s do it’ rate,” Wong said.
From there, he and his team, comprised of junior Lissa Marten, Oskar Melking and Joy Liu, went on a mass marketing campaign to get people to go to NU Bar Week. They created their website, barliftapp.com, sent bulk email blasts, and also distributed hundreds of business cards, designed by Melking.
“The idea was to use NU Bar Week as the over-arching event in order to gain BarLift users,” Wong said.
The campus responded in a huge way. On the first day of signups, more than 400 people had registered. But the time of the first event, hundreds more had signed up for the text message blasts.
Unlike what he had originally hypothesized, Wong’s users were spreading the word about NU Bar Week organically. It wasn’t only his friends helping him out — people he didn’t know were sharing it amongst their own friends.
“That was one promising sign,” Wong said. “So I think if we did the same thing at another school, it would be easy to replicate.”
Once the week began, it went off almost without a hitch. The bars were full of Northwestern students who were hanging out with their friends and in the most cost-effective manner possible.
“All the bars were full of Northwestern kids taking advantage of those deals,” Marten said. “It was an awesome week and we want it to extend into the future.”
According to Wong, BarLift redemptions during NU Bar Week increased bar revenues by over $6,000.
“Right now, deals are sent out through a text message platform,” Marten said. “We are going to try to develop the app this summer.”
Next fall, Wong said that he plans on expanding to other college campuses. Students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have already reached out to him and he is looking to test BarLift at campuses with more vibrant bar scenes.
“U of I has 12 on-campus bars that are 19+ and then 27 others downtown,” Wong said. “This is an app that gives bars a competitive advantage. It just works better in areas where bars are densely packed.”
Now, the team of four will use the rest of the school year to analyze their data and figure out where to go from here. They’re off to a fast start and want to capitalize on the momentum.
“At the end of the day, it was a success,” Wong said. “We were really happy with the turnout. People going out, having fun. It’s Spring Quarter. This is a good start.”
Photo via Flickr Commons