Just recently, an American friend was moaning to me that an old high school buddy of his was visiting Berlin for a few days, and that – unlike pretty much every other weekend – he couldn’t find any cool parties to take him to.
In a town with a crazy nightlife like Berlin, that really shouldn’t be an issue. And now it won’t be, according to the team behind Vamos, a new service based here in the German capital. Vamos aims to pull together events from every possible source – starting initially with Facebook – and you can see what’s on now, what’s hot and what your friends are attending.
The app, which is currently in limited beta, is clean and easy to use, and provides a list of all public Facebook events close to you which are happening now as well as later. There is also a function to see which of your FB friends are going to what.
The team behind Vamos consists of Luis-Daniel Alegria, David Prentell, Jens Dressler and Erik Collinder. Luis, a Swede with Chilean heritage, already has experience of working around Europe despite his tender age of 24, and it was while he was in Amsterdam on business with David last year that the idea for Vamos came about. They were trying to find something cool to do on a Thursday evening, and resources such as Google, Lonely Planet and Time Out weren’t of much use.
Creating the Event Compass
Eventually they found themselves at a bar – a cool little venue, but not a great event. “Back at the hotel,” Luis said, “we started to brainstorm how we could solve this problem better. We came up with the idea that it would be great if we could, instead of looking for venues, start to look for events.”
With existing solutions not satisfying them, they wanted to take all public Facebook events and put them onto a map – hence the project’s first name, The Event Compass.
The idea behind Vamos, then, is to allow users to find interesting things to do nearby. “Our big vision of what we want to do,” Luis added, “where we will hopefully stand out from the competition is not just Facebook events but any events. So let’s say the Berlin authorities comes to us and says, ‘these are all our exhibitions, our cultural events we are having in town,’ we can bring that into Vamos and make it more interesting by adding a social layer on top of it.”
There are downsides, of course, to relying on Facebook events – there is potential for a great deal of spam or false advertising. But better filters are surely part of Vamos’ future thinking.
The story behind Vamos is an interesting one. It has been a social collaboration between the co-founders and their friends – even the final name was suggested by a pal – which included a weekend hackathon in Berlin in February, marking the startup’s emergence as a serious project.
“David and I met at our previous job, at AKQA in London. We were partners in crime doing crazy stuff together as an ideas team. Eric I met at Startup Weekend in London, and Jens at the Twitter developers conference here in Berlin.”
With Eric based in London and David in Oslo, Vamos describes itself as the first startup created entirely through Skype. Luis added: “Working remotely can be pretty frustrating and difficult… But the good thing about working on Skype is that we were able to work on matter where we are.” It also created a deep level of trust amongst the founders that they could all rely on each other to do their jobs.
The team decided that they needed proof the concept had enough traction, so the next step was the hackathon, for which they invited friends from as far away as the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Poland to make their way to Berlin. “They all stayed in my apartment, which was a total mess but it was extremely funny,” Luis said. “But just seeing their dedication to helping out, when people believe in something so much that they are prepared to fly to another city at their own cost; I think that for me was the first time that I saw the real potential in this.”
There were developers, designers, PR experts, business experts, and by the end, according to Luis, “almost everything had come together.” And having proven himself at the hackathon, Jens came on board as CTO on March 1 and had the first prototype ready within a week.
With a small group of just 55 initial beta testers, the team has been beavering away since to improve the product. “We want this to become the ultimate tool for finding interesting things to do. Whether it’s the European Championships or the Berlin Fashion Week, there will always be a need for an overview of what’s going on in your city at any given time.” With the 55 beta testers, Vamos was garnering 6,500 events for a Friday and Saturday. Now they have plans to push it global as quickly as possible.
As for the competition, Luis is at pains to point out that many current solutions are focused on planning what to do in advance – for concerts, say. But the space Vamos is targeting is in the here and now, where the user is. “We are enabling the user to make their next move, giving them enough information to not only convince themselves but to help them convince others.” This will include geo-tagged photos from services like Instagram and EyeEm so users can see in real time what is happening at a venue, similar to the functionality of EyeQuest.
A Perfect Set of Tools
Other key aspects to Vamos include seeing who else is going to a specific event – including which of your friends – and integrating with Google Maps (and ultimately its iOS6 replacement) to provide directions.
“This gives you the perfect set of tools to be able to find, convince and get there, whether you are with a group of friends or home alone.”
Asked about money, Luis follows the typical startup line – “we’re focusing on gaining user traction” – but there is a clear plan. Having run club nights for under 18s when he was younger, Luis recognises the problem of low turnout at an event. Currently, there is no real solution for filling a half-empty venue at 11pm without looking desperate, but Vamos offers the ability to drive traffic to featured events. “With Vamos, we already know who is going out, and we can give this information to them while they are on the go. So suddenly, that becomes a subtle way of promoting your event… an ecosystem to drive people to different places.”
The official launch is scheduled for August, and one by one, the team is quitting their day jobs to go full time with the startup. They are also looking for funding at the same time. As a beta user, I have seen how Vamos already has plenty to offer in the way of suggesting things to do. It’ll be fascinating to see the traction it can attract when it goes live.