At SocialDevCamp Chicago, I caught up with Jason Goodrich. Jason is one of the people behind A Space Apart, an app that aims to connect people in intimate spaces. Part deal finder part connector, A Space Apart joins a sea of location specific tools. Will I use ASA at a bar? Not sure. Would I play with the app at a conference? Yes. Here's how my chat went with Jason.
CTR: How long has ASA been around? JG: The concept was born in spring of 2009. Development started in September, and we incorporated in Jan. of 2010. We just launched the mobile platform in August at SocialDevCamp Chicago. People were so excited by the possibilities of connecting everyone at the event. CTR: How many people are working on the app? JG: Four people, including myself, plus a three-person advisory board. I'm looking to expand both groups. CTR: So you're hiring. Which specific positions? JG: I'm looking for a kick ass Django/Python engineer, a mobile engineer, a graphic designer with programming experience, and sales and marketing folks. We're getting ready to rumble! CTR: What challenge does your product solve? JG: For individuals, it answers questions like: "Who's here? What's going on? What's there to do?" Then it enables them to engage others—including businesses and organizers—in more relevant ways. We're finding that when people share public-facing information in an environment where everyone has buy-in to be there, their curiosity gets the better of them and they interact more, spend more time and money there. It can seed real community. For businesses, it connects them with their customers like never before. They become more important social and business hubs by being more engaged in the conversations surrounding their business and empowering customers to get what they want. Business owners profit from increased traffic and sales. We're helping them build their business through direct, sustained customer engagement. CTR: Who uses A Space Apart? JG: Right now we're focusing on business and networking events, so mostly attendees of conferences and meetups. We get a lot of crucial feedback from a large number of people very quickly this way. It's perfect for getting to know people at networking events. Our proof of concept, however, was conducted in an environment we expect to make up the bulk of our users: the places we go every day such as cafes, restaurants, bars, schools, even workplaces. A Space Apart is made for any place people gather for a purpose. CTR: How have you gotten the word out? JG: So far, we've just used word of mouth. Since we're still in beta stage, we don't need or want to shout from the rooftops. Not yet. I think building reputation slowly at first will pay off in other people shouting from their network rooftops at the right time. CTR: What makes you awesome? JG: Ha! OK, I think what makes A Space Apart awesome is that it's useful and relevant. It helps them navigate and expand their world with local knowledge. It acts as that magic remote control we all wish we had whenever we go someplace. It's awesome because it starts with the individual and their needs—including privacy and respect. It's awesome because it gives businesses an instant online presence with the people who matter most to them: their loyal and potentially loyal customers; They will do all the work of creating new loyal customers. CTR: What are your thoughts in basing your business in Chicago? JG: I live here, first off. Second, my business can be based anywhere, so why not the third largest American city? The Midwest is a great barometer for consumer tastes and trends, not to mention social commerce innovation. Groupon, Orbitz, 37 Signals, Threadless...I like the company we're in. I think Chicago is vastly underrated right now, but that won't last long. For now we can over-deliver and build steam. From my vantage point, we don't seem to be lacking for much, if you know where to look. CTR: What are your favorite Chicago startups or events? JG: Man, so many awesome ones now. The companies I mentioned earlier, plusSprout Social, which helps small businesses manage their social media efforts;ScaleWellis a great example of the new ethos of crowd-supporting scalable businesses; Foodie Registryreplaces the chafing dish as wedding "gift" with a culinary experience that extends the couple's honeymoon.
For events, I think midventuresLAUNCH on Sept. 27-28 is going to introduce a lot of people to the real power of Midwest startups. A Space Apart will play a big role connecting the 3,000 attendees before and during the event, which is incredibly exciting; SocialDevCamp Chicago continues to set the pace for relevant tech events in Chicago; ChicagoTechMeetup has something like 700 members of really driven techies. If they can host at least once a quarter, it will keep fostering community and more ideas. And, of course, TechCocktail continues to engage new and veteran players. Frank (Gruber) and Eric's (Olsen) homegrown tech party just went worldwide. That's impressive.
CTR: What would you like readers to walk away with? JG: Ask yourself: What would I do with a magic remote control in the places I go? Then send your answers to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll get the genie right on it!
CTR is about sharing the stories behind the ideas, technology and talent that combine in one lovely mosh pit of Chicago's growing entrepreneurial scene.
I'd like to introduce you to one of the latest additions to the talent pool - Evan Estola. Evan is a recent graduate of IIT and was recently hired at my alma mater, Orbitz.
CTR: How did you like your time at IIT? Was it useful to what you do today?
EE: Many of my classmates loved to complain about IIT, but I think most of them would hate it anywhere. My overall college experience was great. The professors were smart and friendly, and the school is small, so you can really get a lot out of them if you work for it. No major complaints, although I must admit that several of my favorite professors are gone now.
I got a job right out of school so I would say that it was definitely useful. I'm hoping I get the chance to apply knowledge from some of the more specialized classes in the future.
CTR: What was one of the most useful classes you took at IIT? Did you have the chance to work on any side projects?
EE: The best class I took at IIT was Information Retrieval. I learned about not only search engines but the theory, math, and algorithms behind them. Dealing with large data sets and calculations that actually take time to complete really changed the way I look at many different problems. It was also the toughest programming class I ever took. Outside of class I worked for the Information Retrieval Lab at IIT. I also spent a summer working on comparing and analyzing DNA sequences with a tool called the W-Curve for the Bioinformatics Lab.
CTR: What are your thoughts on being an engineer in Chicago? Why did you stay?
EE: I stayed in Chicago because I could! I love this city. I love the lake, and the seasons, and the people. Parts of Chicago still remind me of the small Midwestern towns I grew up in, but then you have all of the diversity and opportunity of a major city. There are a lot of technology groups and conferences in the city as well. The only problem I have with the technology community in Chicago is that it's still very geeky. It's almost like you aren't accepted in some crowds unless you're socially awkward. Is it like that everywhere? Does everyone hate me now? Am I even allowed to ask questions?
CTR: If you wanted to build a start up, would you move West?
EE: There are enough resources and talented people here in Chicago. Plus, I was in California once and it was 60 degrees and raining and they were closing up stores because of the 'Winter Storm'. I don't think I could live there. Do they have technology in Canada?
CTR: I was happy to hear you are at Orbitz, my old stomping grounds. Tell me about what you do there.
EE: I work on the Hotel Content team. Any non-booking related information you see about a hotel on one of our sites goes through my team's code. I get to use my skills in technology like Linux and relational databases, and I've gained experience with application frameworks, content management systems, and other enterprise-scale tools.
CTR: Are you involved in any engineering groups in the city?
EE: I'm going to my first meeting of the Chicago Machine Learning Study Group tonight! I've spent time with a bunch of different groups but nothing has stuck yet.
We are looking forward to seeing how Evan's career progresses. Good luck, EE!
Evan is not a spokesperson for Orbitz Worldwide and the opinions
and views expressed in the interview are his and not those of Orbitz