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The Flyover Series: GigScout with John Cifelli

What is GigScout?

John: A mobile application on iOS that shows where live music is happening around you. The core feature that we started with is a map that uses your location to show pins for all of the shows going on. We spent a lot of time digging through lists for concerts and thought that something visual, something that quickly showed nearby options for a random boring night, would be more intuitive. You can buy tickets to some events and we’re certainly looking to expand that. Also recently rolled out some new features... Song previews with iTunes, brief artist biographies for some of the more established bands and a hook up with Uber so you can order a ride to the show. It’s all about seeing what’s out there, learning a bit about the band and then getting to the show.

What was the genesis of the company? Where did the idea come from?

John: There were a few different things that inspired the product. I moved to Chicago in September 2013 from south suburban Chicago Heights. So I’m an area native but I had always looked forward to being able to explore the city and the venues without having to get in a car and drive for 45 minutes. I started doing that and was overwhelmed by the number of venues, there were way more than I expected, even though my expectations were high. After a couple of months, I had missed shows that I would have totally gone to and weren't far away. The way I had been finding shows was to go to the venues that I knew about and look up shows on their website. Not something I wanted to spend to get caught doing at work. I didn't know what else to do so I just looked for events on their website. 

Then, I missed a show that was right near my apartment at Lincoln Hall. A band I totally would have gone to see, The Wood Brothers. It was ten bucks, right there, on a weekend night, and we were looking for music. To miss that - I was bummed. That’s when I started thinking about “what would be a cool way to do this?” There’s an app called SpotHero that does parking and I really loved that interface. It’s intuitive and very common sense, it doesn't even need explaining. As soon as I started thinking about what was out there for finding live music that came to mind. I thought, "it’s not parking lots, but there’s plenty of venues, especially here in the city.” I built off that and came up with the app.

What’s your process like for building out the product? You came up with this idea, how do you go about getting it built?

John: My background is not technical. I didn't really know where to start. I knew I wanted to work with people in Chicago because I don’t have experience in any of this, and I wanted to shake someone’s hand, go sit with them, talk to them, and have them get to know me.  My resources were limited, so I started emailing people and I made a basic website. I worked on that for about two weeks, just trying to get my idea down and figure out what I wanted. That was a cool place to collect my thoughts and prioritize things. To visualize what the idea would be.

I made the website and then started sending it out to dev shops. I was quoted laughably high numbers by the first five that I talked to. Through the grapevine I got in contact with a local firm who ended up being able to work with my budget and understood what I wanted. From there we got the ball rolling and we did lean sprints, two weeks at a time. Really the first three months was just building the product and doing that.

How did you get the word out? Where did you get your first fifty users from?

John: I started with friends and family. I am from Chicago and went to U of I and so many people from U of I end up moving to Chicago. I had a pretty solid network of people who had just moved to the city and were going to concerts. I interviewed about twenty friends and I asked them what they did and would they use something like this? From there it was just getting the word out to them on social media. We had a launch party at The Shamrock Club which helped to get the word out to my personal network, which was the first goal. I wanted everyone in my personal network to know what this is, and built from there.

What was your strategy to go form fifty to five hundred users? Or from five hundred to five thousand users?

John: Local Chicago resources and press is where we've had the most success so far. Features in “Crains” and “The Chicago Tribune” were helpful in building some buzz and awareness about the product throughout Chicagoland. 

How did you get in contact with them?

John: I emailed them about fifty times. Finally someone got back to me and we did a nice interview that was very helpful and exciting. Right about launch time, they did a cool feature that really helped with expanding the audience. We got some local buzz. I also joined 1871 a couple of months after I started development. They helped with some initial press to the Chicago community and tech community.

Still, there’s certainly a ton left here to reach, but targeted social media advertising works. If you make it compelling enough and use the right picture on Facebook, people will actually click on it. Also, creating content now in terms of blogging, trying to cover a band per night here in Chicago, and tell out users about this event. Encourage people to go and give bands who are up and coming a spotlight to talk about themselves and get some awareness.

What would you say is the most difficult problem that you have faced so far?

John: The most difficult problem today is marketing, or growing the user base and building awareness, because it’s a crowded marketplace. There are a lot of apps out there and everybody is screaming for attention, so how do we differentiate? We’re working on that now.

Where is GigScout going next?

John: We’re going to Android next. We’re on iOS now and we just released some new features about a month ago. We’re collecting feedback on that now and pushing it out to the user base we have, and trying to expand of course. It’s usually the first or second question people ask “Is it on Android? That’s where we want to take it next in the short term. Beyond that, we’re looking at building a platform for smaller artists, to be able to control their own event coverage and make it a self-sustaining platform.

Are there any resources in Chicago that you have found particularly helpful? Is there anything that would be helpful for other Chicago start-ups to know about?

John: The first one right off the bat would be 1871. They've been an incredible resource in terms of workshops that they offer and the mentors that they bring in, it's a community where you can reach out and say “Hey, does anybody know somebody who can design a logo?” and you get ten answers. I would certainly recommend them to anybody who wants to get started and doesn't know where to start. The Chicago tech community has been very supportive because they like supporting things that are built and grown here. Just making connections at different networking events, you’d be surprised how open people are to collaborating and connecting you with somebody who might be able to help.

Are there any particular networking events that you have found useful?

John: Craig Vodnik at Cleverbridge hosts an event every month where I've made some good connections and Built in Chicago has a list of events too.

What is the number one takeaway from your experience so far? Something that you've learned or you think other people should pay attention to?

John:  I would say that there are more resources out there than you would expect. I didn't expect to get as much help as I did, which was awesome. If you just ask for help, especially here in Chicago, people want to help and keep building this community. Just get out there and get started.

If you enjoyed this post, let us know on Twitter: @flyoverworks and @gigscoutapp