August 9, 2010

RiotVine is closing. I genuinely want to thank everyone that ever signed up, posted an event, or used RiotVine to discover what was happening around town. Unfortunately, we never generated the traction needed to continue. I’m a big believer in learning from your failures, so I wanted to share my thoughts on building consumer web products. Think of this as a business plan for consumer web companies:

Ask yourself how people are going to find out about your product

  • Write down an honest answer. If you answer word of mouth, social media, or press, you need to dig deeper. Press is a small bump in traffic that lasts about 3 hours. Social media is a full time job and that’s time you’re not spending building your product. If it’s word of mouth, what are they saying? “Check out this cool website I found”? Lame. This brings me to my next point..

It’s not about good ideas or bad ideas: it’s about ideas that make people talk.

  • And this worked really well for foursquare thanks to the mayorship. If I tell someone I’m the mayor of a spot, I’m in an instant conversation: “What makes you the mayor?” “That’s lame, I’m there way more than you” “What do you get for being mayor?”. Compare that to talking about Gowalla: “I just swapped this sticker of a bike for a sticker of a six pack of beer! What? Yes, I am still a virgin”. See the difference? Make some aspect of your product easy and fun to talk about, and make it unique.

Figure out the difference between a website, a service, a product, an application and a platform.

  • You need to figure out which one you’re building because what users do with each one and how you make money is very different. If you answer all of the above, you’ve got a problem because the answer determines why people use what you’re offering, and it says that your focus is scattershot. The difference between these is another post entirely, and one I’m probably not qualified to write yet.

Your first public product had better have a viral loop.

  • Having a viral loop will stretch the traffic you get into more traffic, and ideally, more users. The only other option is to have a consistent and cheap social media strategy that drives traffic and this will easily suck up one person’s entire day, not ideal for a startup comprised of two people. If you don’t know what your viral loop is, STOP. Figure this out first. If there isn’t one, START OVER.

The best viral loops have two factors: they evoke an emotional response, and involve an element of surprise.

  • These factors make people share content online. Why do you think youtube is so massive? First you find a clip of two kids, and then “Charlie bit me!” happens and you’re laughing or going “Awww!” Video is the best medium to accomplish this. If you’re assuming people will share your content, think about how surprising or emotionally engaging that content is. If it’s neither, you’ll need to share it for them.

The best metric you should measure yourself against is whether you can make people feel something when using your product.

  • At the end of the consumer web rainbow, it’s not about the features, it’s not about the design, it’s not about the usability, it’s not even about the real world pain you solve. All of these things matter, but think about the largest sites in the world that you waste time on—
    • Facebook: People love seeing faces; this is a simple biological response that facebook excels at. If you spent one second looking at every facebook profile pic, you’d be at it for 158 years.
    • Craigslist: The design is completely underwhelming, which lowers your expectations.. but then you read something scary, weird or hilarious and you’re hooked. You keep reading hoping to find that next fix.
    • Ebay: If you’ve ever bought or sold anything on ebay, you know the thrill of hitting f5 until the auction ends. Even the aftermath where the person who bought from you is a nigerian scammer and paypal is a nightmare all involves an emotional response.
    • foursquare: Ever win a mayorship? Or had one stolen from you. Yeah.

Bottom Line: Build for an emotional response.

So why’d RiotVine fail?

How often are you just searching for something to do? Once a month? That’s not nearly enough to generate the traffic you’d need. Then there’s the competition: Eventful, Going, Upcoming, and Facebook. All have had millions poured into them. The lucky ones were acquired.

I’d argue that they are all pretty bad, but I blame that on the content; events are terrible content. If you already know about an event, you don’t need an event site. If you don’t know about it, you’re probably searching for something to do and the majority of events will not interest you. Even SEO is an issue; events expire and are pretty worthless after that.

To be fair, I think it’s very possible to create a compelling product that addresses this. We mapped out our vision of it, but we would’ve spent another three months head down developing it, without a business model or any way to keep paying the rent.. and Facebook would just end up ripping it off.

It’s hard to learn these lessons without first hand experience though so keep building your consumer web projects! I’d do it all over again, and in fact I am. Building RiotVine helped color my current design philosophy, and we’re taking all these lessons learned with us to spotly. Stay tuned for more 🙂

Got questions about how these principles apply to major websites, or why some websites, products or apps made it and others didn’t? Feel free to ask in the comments; I’d be happy to share my thoughts.


Marketing at SXSW, and how we rocked it

May 16, 2010

RiotVine rolled in to SXSW a relative unknown, but we did amazingly well thanks to a fun marketing campaign. Here’s how we did it:

  1. Make it relevant: I noticed a lot of spray and pray marketing with companies giving away schwag tagged with their logo, not a good spend for a bootstrapped startup. Find something that fits the theme and is useful during SXSW, e.g.: A small street map of downtown Austin, because your phone will not last the day. Include info about your product on the other side.
  2. Have a simple hook: Make sure you target folks interested in your product. Again, small startup, not a lot of money to spend, so we used Twitter to reach out to influential people and asked them a very simple question..
  3. Give’em something to talk about: You really need something to separate you from the pack. Get crazy, get creative; the best way to get people to talk about you is to give them something to say.

So what did we do? RiotVine is a a social event guide; we help you discover events you’ll love and make it easy to see what your friends are doing. At SXSW, this is something you’d check in the morning before leaving your hotel. And at SXSW, chances are you’re really hungover and would kill for some Advil. So we tweeted to some of our early adopters and a few people in the community to see if they’d like a hangover kit dropped off at their hotel room. Who wouldn’t want one? Relevant to the event, simple hook, and well worth talking about.

It helps that our SXSW guide was awesome, letting you filter parties by which ones had free drinks, free food, and even the ones that didn’t require a SXSW badge. Don’t take our word for it, here’s what Robert Scoble had to say:

Damn, best mobile @sxsw party guide I have seen yet! 2300 events for SXSW! New mobile version too /via @RiotVineSXSW

Check out some of the tweets about this marketing campaign:

Akili's Tweet about RiotVine's hangover kit

Alexa's tweet about our hangover kit

@armano's tweet about RiotVine's hangover kit

@anamariecox's tweet about RiotVine's hangover kit

Video of the hangover kit “unboxing” courtesy Jeff Cutler and Mike Langford

Total marketing spend: South of $100
Reach: Over 1.5 million people
Rocking at SXSW: F’ing priceless.

Huge thanks to Rachel Levy; she was a sport and absolutely indispensable throughout this; hit her up if you’re looking for someone to execute on a marketing plan. Honorable mentions to The Mike Walsh, Tom Monaghan and Jeremy Levine and Aaron of @eatBoston fame.

RiotVine is hiring!

April 30, 2010

We’re looking to expand our founding team by a couple members, including a mobile application hacker and an entrepreneur/bizdev person. Full descriptions and application are online here:

Attention baseball fans! Full schedule is now up.

March 29, 2010

As mentioned in Sunday’s Globe, RiotVine now hosts the entire baseball season schedule, all 2400+ games, available here:

You’re able to go through and pick off the games you have tickets for, then share’em with all your friends at once to see if they want to join you.

Don’t have tickets? Each event page has a Twitter feed searching for available tickets.

If you’re reading this, chances are you only care about one schedule, so have at it:

Have issues, questions or concerns? Leave us a comment or hit up the contact link on our site.


Avoid the sausage.

March 17, 2010

I’m extremely proud to announce that RiotVine has unearthed the holy grail of event sites: which events have the best girl/guy ratio! That’s right; when browsing RiotVine you can now see how many people are at the event and your odds of meeting that someone special. For the night, anyway. Check it out at night when most people go out and watch it light up like this:
The odds are not in your favor

You don’t need to download anything to use it, just head to right from your phone or computer.

With this solved, what’s next you ask? Peace on earth. We might need some help.

All of this was made possibly by our friends at Foursquare; check it out and use it for a couple days, you’ll love it!

[tweetmeme source=”@RiotVine”

5 huge reasons to check out RiotVine

March 9, 2010
  1. Facebook Connect! Share events and see what your Facebook friends are doing. Click here to connect your Facebook account.
  2. Profiles! Get your own URL that you can share with your friends of all the events you’re interested in attending. Here’s mine! Want to see what a friend has planned this week? Look up their profile or..
  3. RSS! Subscribe to a feed that shows you the events your friends are interested in. You can add it to iGoogle so you can see what they’re planning.
  4. Buzz about it! Add your RiotVine profile to your Google profile and RiotVine will show up under Connected Sites in Google Buzz. You can auto-buzz events, so your Buzz followers can jump in.
  5. Mobile! Our beautiful mobile site just launched! Head to on your phone to check it out, discover events on the go and see the events your friends are interested in.

And a bonus sixth reason:
6. SXSW! If you’re going or have a friend that’s going, check out for the easy guide to SXSW. You can easily search lists of parties and showcases, or for bands you want to see to find all the times they’re playing, see all the parties with free drinks, and easily find ones that don’t need a badge or wristband to attend.

That’s five good reasons to use RiotVine. If you’ve got a good reason why you don’t, drop us a line:

Don’t be shy; we love to hear people think, even if you’re not a fan. And we’ll give you credit for your ideas.

Rioters Getting Ready to Rally at SXSW!!

February 28, 2010

Our great, big first press release, announcing our massive SXSW party guide. We’ve got thousands of events, all easily searchable. We’ve got a list of free parties, and parties with free drinks! And we’ve got embedded audio on our SXSW showcases. You can even sort events by Twitter buzz. If this is your first year at SXSW, this is the guide for you.

Looks like RiotVine is all grow’d up. *sniff* *sniff*

Win a Music Festival wristband for a festival in Austin in March (or cash!)

February 24, 2010

RiotVine is giving away a Music Festival wristband to a lucky winner this year. To enter, head here:

Not sure where to go or how to get around in Austin? Check out our just published unofficial SXSW guide, with over 2300 easily searchable events:

Win tickets to see Neon Indian for you and a friend!

February 2, 2010
This takes 2 minutes and gives you 20 chances to win. Click here for Neon Indian show details on RiotVine.
  1. Click the Add to Favorites button, then Sign-Up with your Facebook account.
  2. During sign-up, invite the Facebook friends you want to see Neon Indian with.
Each invite you send automatically enters you to win two guest list passes to see Neon Indian with Bodega Girls! Winner is announced tomorrow morning so enter now. Skip the line, walk right in. We’ll even try to sneak you backstage 😉
Even if you don’t win, come by. We’ll have gift bags for RiotVine users courtesy of Rescue waiting at the merch booth, right up until we run out.

Follow @RiotVineBoston or Fan us on Facebook for more show updates, contests and giveaways!

Questions? Email us.

New feature: Friends list!

January 13, 2010

Friends ForeverHere’s a neat little feature we kicked out a couple weeks ago that I totally love, an active friends list. This is a quick list of the people that follow you on Twitter that are on RiotVine, and we recalculate it every night. This is how we show you the events that your friends are attending, so you can hang out with them more.

If you have a RiotVine account, you can see this by clicking here. If you don’t have a RiotVine account, what’re you waiting for?