Student Startup Works to Replace the Guest List with Smartphones
What if there was an app that got you into clubs, hooked you up with deals and helped you track down your friends during a night out?
A team of Montreal students-turned-tech entrepreneurs are working to do just that. They have self-financed the development of an app that’s bringing Montreal’s nightlife out of the dark ages.
The Wildcard app is the brainchild of Tom Zheng and Randeep Singh, two 20-year-old undergraduate students at McGill who launched the project in May 2012. The beta version is being tested by 100 users and if no major glitches are found, the full version will be available for free on iPhones and Androids in the coming weeks.
In the loft-style Wildcard office on St-Laurent Blvd. Singh, a soft-spoken materials engineering student, explained his motivation for the project.
“We wanted to create a nightlife app to replace guestlists,” he said.
Singh described guestlists as “a really annoying process” that he and Zheng wanted to revolutionize.
Sam Watkinson, Wildcard’s Project Manager for development and technology, was inspired by the idea and joined the team in late August.
“The application of technology to nightlife in the way that [Zheng and Singh] were envisioning seemed like something that just made so much sense, but it didn’t exist yet,” said Watkinson.
“It sounded to me like something that should have been around for years.”
Wildcard has already partnered with 11 locations—nine clubs and two restaurants. These locations are equipped with Quick Response (also called QR) Code scanners to authenticate the phones of people using Wildcard. This technology trumps the current “check in” model popularized by Foursquare because it lets venues keep tabs on the number of people actually attending and can then offer the best deals with that information.
They’re also trying to ensure the best nightlife experience by partnering with clubs whose staff “are polite, respectful and try to make sure nobody gets hurt and everyone enjoys themselves,” Watkinson explained, referring to the occasional power-tripping bouncer that can ruin a night.
Despite their student status, Wildcard is no class project. With sleek branding and product development, the team has pulled out all the stops to make it a success.
“If it can’t be done in-house then we’re not trying hard enough,” said Watkinson, who is also a full-time student in audio engineering at The Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology in London, ON.
He explained that initially “the development was being outsourced to India,” but after facing a slew of challenges by having people outside the circle develop the app the team opted to have full control over their technology.
Watkinson now heads up the development end of the company along with Marc Burns, a student at the University of Waterloo.
Unlike most tech companies, the Wildcard team faces the additional challenge of balancing business and school.
“During finals week it gets tough,” said Singh, who raced straight from school to his office in a knit sweater and Igloofest tuque.
Watkinson also acknowledged the challenge, explaining that he spends up to two hours everyday on Skype discussing Wildcard development with Singh.
But their focus on the end goal is their prime motivator.
“If Wildcard does what we’re hoping it’ll do, [going out] will be a much more socially integrated experience for everybody,” said Watkinson.
According to Singh, the company is on the right trajectory on both the tech and business front.
“We’re actually making revenue,” he said with a smile.
Each time a Wildcard app is used at a venue, Wildcard makes $1 to $5 depending on the agreement with the club.
And if everything goes according to plan, this in-pocket promoter just may change the face of Montreal nightlife.
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