Daanish Jamal (MSB ’16) took a leave of absence from Georgetown this semester to found his company and smartphone app, NextSpot, aimed at those who find Facebook events too formal for planning group gatherings and group messages annoying,
Jamal and co-founder Adhir Ravipati, a graduate of Northeastern University, sought to streamline coordination for group meetups and location-specific events through a casual, but structured network.
“What we tried to do with the app is make it as bare-bone as possible in terms of structure,” Jamal said. “We’re really trying to maintain the fluidity of the messenger, trying to make it casual and light, while still trying to incorporate some aspects from Facebook events.”
NextSpot, which was released as a free app to the Mac App Store on Jan. 31, allows its users to set meeting locations, known in the app as “spots,” vote on activities and coordinate with groups through a messaging system that is built into the application with phone number verification.
“We were hoping to solve a problem that we saw in super-connectivity,” Ravipati said of the founding idea.Both founders came up with the idea behind their application in part because of personal experiences with group meetings and several years of conversations regarding social interaction.
“The core concept came from this night over the summer before Daanish’s freshman year and [my friends and I] all ended up in the same place without having any idea that we were all in the same location,” Ravipati said. “We thought that there’s something around the idea of the connectivity of friends and groups that brings people together.”
While Jamal noted that NextSpot is not the first of social apps to coordinate group meetings, he stated that the app intends for a more privatized and intimate experience, not just event planning.
“We were looking at micro-local events that were hyper-personal,hyper-location based, and we realized that there were a lot of apps coming out that tried to aggregate local information into one feed,” Jamal said. “So instead we moved more towards the privatized side where it’s just your own events.”
Positive feedback from friends, venture capitalists from Silicon Valley in his native Northern California and advisers at Georgetown prompted Jamal to consider investing his full attention in NextSpot.
“I got to a point my first semester sophomore year where I was much more engaged with this app than I was some of my classes at the time,” Jamal said. “I would go to … people who would understand the scale of this project … and I asked them the question of should I leave school? And you get sort of two answers — one, that you should totally take a semester off and see where it goes, and the other people basically think that you’re just another college kid trying to make a social app.”
Ultimately, Jamal said, he listened to the answer that he wanted to hear and took a leave of absence for the sophomore spring semester.
Ravipati, too, took full-time leave of his job and founded NextSpot Inc. with Jamal.
“It was a lot of work and extra time, for both of us I think we kind of owed it to ourselves to invest fully in the app,” Ravipati said.
Ravipati and Jamal joined forces with Y Media Labs, an iPhone app developer in Redwood City, Calif. that invests in start-up apps as well as big businesses.
Despite leaving academic and young professional environments, Jamal and Ravipati used their experiences with social networks to form their business model and target a college-aged demographic.
“I think that initially we started with three demographics: college students, young professionals and high school students,” Ravipati said. “The reason that we were so focused on college students is that they have the most active social life.”
Ravipati, who now coaches high school soccer and football, said that he utilizes the app to coordinate practices with his team members.
“The kids I coach they like setting up practices through NextSpot … and I am a young professional myself so I’m using my friends to see what they think of it,” Ravipati said. “So far we’ve had good feedback.”
The app had a soft opening in January, with Jamal and Ravipati quietly promoting the first trial of their social network to 25 friends.
“We ended up getting about 200 people on those first trials, which seems to be a good sign,” Jamal said.
On March 15, NextSpot released version 1.2, which the founders more actively promoted in their extended social circles.
Jamal has tapped into his college network and is promoting the app at Georgetown with the help of NextSpot representatives Calvin Millien (COL ’16), Alana Snyder (MSB ’16) and Parker Wilf (MSB ’16).
Millien, who uses the app to coordinate his own meetings with friends and student groups, described the plan for promotion as gradual, but ultimately organization focused.
“We’re going to target friend groups so we can get feedback and once we get the best NextSpot, we can start to engage with student organizations,” Millien said. “We’re going to meet up with respective student groups and give a presentation about how they might be able to use it to help them organize.”
Jamal, too, accounts for a gradual growth of the app and looks to pursue his company for the long term, presenting NextSpot to investors to replace their current seed funding, which will determine future plans.
“The process of putting together a company really drives me, and I hope to do this for a while longer and see NextSpot grow into something much bigger than it is right now,” Jamal said.
As such, Jamal says he is unlikely to return to Georgetown, at present.
“I really love doing this and I miss school. It’s strange not having anyone around and being significantly younger than everyone else,” Jamal said. “But I’m really enjoying it and I don’t think that I’m going to come back next semester.”