Startup Q&A - GoNation Connects You to the Pulse of the City
Cambridge is an eclectic part of the Greater Boston area, especially when it comes to looking for “things to do.” However, when you want to find that one specific restaurant/activity/etc. it can be hard to find it without having to do a Google search or asking the locals questions.
GoNation is providing a variety of options those looking for something in particular in mind. GoNation is helping people to
discover what’s happening right around the corner. Their app allows both small businesses and users to share real-time experiences based on a precise location, which are uploaded onto the app and stored in the cloud.
GoNation’s Co-Founder and CEO Chaz Tanase and Co-Founder and COO Matthew Brisch spoke with us about how the company’s app is showcasing the, as they put it, “pulse of the city” and how they are saving people time trying to figure out what to do in the Hub.
CB: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins of GoNation and what was the big “A-ha!” moment that made you want to go forward with this company?
CT: I was a successful nightclub promoter for 15 years in the Northeast and then did some pretty big events down in Miami. When you’re living in that environment, you’re always answering the same questions over and over. The first question is always, “Where should I go tonight?” Then it’s, “Where can I get something to eat?” and then it’s “Do you know anybody there?” So, when you’re a promoter, you’re tapped into the network of the city. The cool thing about that is you get to see people from all walks of life, but you get to look at the interactions between the businesses and the people.
However, it became clear that there was no connection from the people in the city to the businesses in the city. The idea for GoNation started brewing, but I noticed it was in another area beside my own when I went into a major city and the same thing was happening. Growing up in Connecticut, you’re between Boston and New York. So, I always thought it was only in Connecticut that you couldn't find where to go. But when I went to Miami for a major music festival my hotel was full of people trying to figure out where they should go for their last night in Miami. Everyone was on event websites, Google, and social media just looking for answers. It made me realize that it wasn’t only Connecticut where you weren’t sure how to spend your time, it’s everywhere.
CT: Life's too short to settle or miss out. Our goal is to help people live better and get more out of the experiences in their area or city that traveling to. It’s a broad question with a simple answer, but it’s the details that make that possible. What that includes is giving local businesses fun tools to share what they have to offer in a much faster way. The other side of that is that users can dial down local discovery in a way they’ve never been able to do before.
I think if you can give back 15 minutes in someone’s life multiple times, that’s saying a lot. To me, it makes no sense that when we travel and get to our vacation spot, we spend another 15 to 30 minutes trying to figure out where we’re going to go next. You don't even need to travel; it happens every day where we live. With real-time local information being as accessible as it is and with the capabilities of technology, people shouldn’t have to be miserable wasting time to find where to spend their time.
CB: What sets GoNation apart from other, similar services?
CT: We are not a directory. We are not a social media network limited by connections, and we are not a review site. We do not make the user work. They just tap in and discover now or share their local experiences. We are connecting people directly into the pulse of the city, and the only data restrictions we have are with a user’s geolocation. We give the power back to the local businesses and people in a city.
CB: Explain what your company does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work?
CT: GoNation is a web platform and an ios app with user-generated content. After downloading the app, you log in and choose the city you desire or use your current location with GPS. From there, you're tapped into that area. The pulse shows you everything that is happening in the area from events, to items, to photos that people are sharing, to announcements, and to businesses nearby.
Say, for example, you like sushi, and you’re looking for a spicy tuna roll, and that’s something you look for when you go to a city. You will be able to search real-time menu items. Let’s say, at the same time, there is a jazz band playing, and someone is sharing a picture of a sunset. What GoNation does is it allows you to tap into the pulse of the city to discover and search all those things without having any pre-existing connections. All the data is shared through the geographic location and structured the way you want it.
That is how we harvest our data and that’s when the magic happens. Using another example, if I’m looking for pizza and I can put ‘pizza’ in the search bar [on the app’s interface]. Not only am I going to get information about anything related to pizza in that area, but I can read menus of restaurants that have uploaded it onto the app.
CT: Currently, we have a partnership with the Harvard Square Business Association to be “The Pulse of Harvard Square,” and we are pushing to discover the places of interest in that area. It’s wild because I’ve only been to Harvard Square to see Matthew at his apartment, but recently since I have been using our app I feel like I lived here longer than he has. That’s how powerful it is. That being said, we’ve already started to bleed into Central Square and Kendall Square. By the end of February, we will be “The Pulse of Cambridge.”
MB: We figured we’d start small and create systems to roll out throughout Cambridge. At first, we were thinking Newbury Street or Faneuil Hall, but once I fell into Harvard Square and found out how many businesses and restaurants are in that one area, I was sold. The business association is incredible. It’s like a chamber of commerce on steroids, and they have been so supportive of our vision. We honestly couldn't have asked for a better starting partnership.
One of the most significant data points that Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA) gave me was that it takes 45 minutes to spend one dollar in Harvard Square. It’s not a big area, but there is so much to offer and 45 minutes is way too long to spend time figuring out what to do. So, why not cut that in half? I find myself being inspired to spend faster just by looking at all the data in the pulse.
CB: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
CT: It’s a total of 16 right now. And we are looking to hire a few positions over the next three months which includes DevOps and a Project manager. Currently, Matthew and I wear about 10-15 hats a week we would like to get it to 5-7. This platform is big and so is the business behind it.
MB: We are part of IDEA at Northeastern [University]. I’m an alum from Northeastern, and they started the program after I graduated in 2010. We joined IDEA when I first started with GoNation, and then got involved again this past March.
We had a couple of interns through IDEA last Fall, and we plan on rolling out co-ops in the Spring. They have been helpful with mentorships and feedback. The community at Northeastern is great in general, and we expect on making that one of our “stops” with GoNation since we have roots in that area. Our overall experience has been great with IDEA. It’s a nice little incubator, but I feel they are under-the-radar. It’s awesome because it’s student-run and gives the younger generation a chance to maybe ‘run the world.’
We may be at the New England Restaurant Show at the end of February which isn’t really ‘startup-y,’ but it’ll be good to make an appearance, and we were just were invited to be a BETA startup at Collision Conference in New Orleans, in April which we accepted. I’m sure we will be at the Venture Cafe soon since there’s something always going on there.
CT: We recently received $100K in angel funding and $150K through a Connecticut VC, Connecticut Innovations. Up until then, though, we were bootstrapped. We are always open to working with good partners that will help us achieve this vision.
CB: I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did GoNation get its name?
CT: My promotion company was called Nightlife Nation and the original name was going to be GoNation. I kept the name GoNation in my pocket until I didn’t know what the idea was going to be. When I realized the capabilities of the platform, I went back into the drawer and decided to use the GoNation name.
A better question would be how we came up with the logo because it actually took me six months to come up with it.
I just had a baby and it was four in the morning, after one of my son’s feedings. I had this 20-inch iMac just blasting in front of me and my mom walks in and asks, “What are you doing? You look like a maniac right now, go to bed.” I said, “I just can’t figure it out. I’ve been trying for six months and I can’t figure it out.” And then she goes, “Every time I look in your eyes, I just see this guy and he’s just running and you just need to stop.” And then I looked at her and said, “That’s it! Mom, you’re a genius!”
So, I made the logo at 5:15 in the morning and he hasn’t changed since.
MB: I don’t think I heard that story before. That’s amazing.