Bringing a new dimension to festivals and events

Back in August Techcrunch wrote about Outside Lands Music Festival and how they had nailed it with their festival apps and approach to social. They did. The apps, produced by Aloompa, were awesome. The emphasis was on providing an integrated festival experience, including social and local; and making the app more than just a repository of stage listings and artist bios. It’s a trend that will continue, and there are companies like Greencopper who are doing truly innovative work in this space (for example creating a very cool “enhanced reality” AR module for Nuit Blanche).

At Echoer we’ve had a very keen eye on the event and festival space. Since the early sketch-pad days of the app we’ve believed that it would be the perfect compliment to multi-venue events. Location-based, real-time, visual, and focussed on relevance in the here and now. Then in Summer 2012 we had the chance to collaborate with the Montreal Jazz Festival, the world’s largest, as well as the Montreal Gazette. The results exceeded what we’d hoped for, with excellent re-engagement metrics, a wealth of great content from users and partners, and serious interest from local retailers and stakeholders wanting to see how they could join the buzz taking place around the JazzFest in Echoer.

We’re excited to take this even further over the next year. And one of the key steps to doing that will be integration of Echoer into a seamless “single festival app” experience. We dont want to give the whole game away here, but we’ll be focussing on a few key things:

1. User experience: ensuring Festival/Event goers have locally relevant information only a tap away within the event app. Out of towners in particular loved what we did at the JazzFest. We’ll be making that even easier and integrated.

2. Surfacing the best content in and around the event: this content will come from users and from our growing network of bloggers and local experts. During the JazzFest we were able to process and “echo-ize” thousands and pieces of festival content in a matter of hours.

3. Making it relevant in the here and now: based on time, crowd-sourcing of information, and intelligent analysis of signals from in and outside of Echoer. At JazzFest we even tailored the look and feel of Echo Spaces, and content, to fit what was going on at that venue.

Our smartphones and the apps on them can do more and more sophisticated things by the day. The art is to seamlessly bring all of this together to enhance, and not distract from what you’re doing in the real world.

Watch this space.

Making it big in the Middle East

Making it big in the Middle East

I remember very clearly the day before Echoer launched. Sitting in San Francisco (where I had gone to speak to local press), my co-founder Davin and I were on Skype debating the merits of a US/Canada vs global release. On one hand we wanted to put all our energy into the local markets. They were on our doorstep, we knew them best, that’s where our contacts were, and if we made it big we were good to go. On the other hand we knew that any media coverage we got would be available worldwide, so why naively limit downloads, frustrate users and pretend that borders still matter? (Dori, thanks for the kick in the butt).

We opted for a global release, and thank goodness we did. On Thursday April 26th 2012 Echoer launched. The culmination of a year of very hard work. We received some great coverage, and the resulting downloads were good. But not jaw-droppingly great. Exhausted and a little disappointed I headed to Chicago, where I spent the weekend before heading back to Montreal. Downloads continued to flow on Friday and Saturday, but again, nothing astounding.

Enter Sunday. Wake up, check our analytics. Downloads steady, but no serious uplift. On to the airport, flight delayed, check analytics again, no change. Obsessive much? And then something remarkable happened. I arrived in Toronto, turned on my phone, which rang immediately, and Sydney was panicking: “someone’s hacked Echoer… tons of echoes… a new user every six seconds”.

And so began Echoer’s relationship with the Middle East. Nobody had hacked us. The downloads were real, and they were almost all coming from the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia. That weekend turned out to be a great one as we saw almost 16,000 downloads in 48hrs. And the piece that started it was from a Saudi blogger whom we previously had no idea about. His articles spurred others and before we knew it we were the no.1 social app in several Middle Eastern countries.

Much of that Sunday evening is a blur, but I’ll never forget the excitement as we worked through the night with an Arabic speaking friend to translate local echoes, drop instructions and explanations (in Arabic) into active Echo Spaces, answer Q&A/support requests and translate our tutorial into Arabic.  It was also fascinating to see our users in the Middle East using Echoer in ways which we either didn’t expect or hadn’t planned for so soon.

One benefit our Middle East users had was an immediate density of people echoing – the sought after network effect! The no.1 complaint we receive from users is that “there are not enough people around me using Echoer”. It’s a marketing challenge, but not one we faced that weekend in the Middle East. Very few startups get to see so early on how their products work under such circumstances, some never will. For us this was amazingly instructive and exciting, and has informed our product direction and priorities moving forward.

There’s a lot we have done since then to engage the local market and find out what those users want next from us and from their mobile apps generally. We’ve also done a deep-dive into how Echoer is being used, analysing user behaviour and content. It turns out that the commonality of place and thought (as per Echoer) is a more powerful connector to the people around you than social graph matching (as per Highlight and co). We’ve also seen Echoer being used commercially, by local vendors and businessmen, with no urging from us. And we’ve been charmed by the compliments and feedback from our users, including those in the Middle East. In response, watch this space, we have a lot more to come.

We also learnt a few lessons about the power of untapped or outlying markets. I’m not going to give away all our secrets, but if you are reading this, ask yourself for a minute what it was about the Middle East market that made it easier for us to make an impact than at home? What aspects of Echoer specifically resonated there? What was it about that first blogger and his readers that meant we didn’t have to get a piece in Techcrunch? And how can that be recreated elsewhere?

Finally, we’re learning a huge amount about the region. For us and many other startups, the Middle East (and Saudi Arabic specifically) is a fascinating and exciting market to be in. Only last month, while we were finishing off our own analysis, the New York Times detailed Saudi as the fastest-growing Twitter zone. If you have time you should also go and read about how and why bluetooth took off a few years back.

At Echoer we’re trying to think away from the norm. Getting users and then keeping them is our greatest challenge. But fortunately we’ve found an audience that’s just as excited about what we are doing and is taking engagement, adoption and innovation to new places. I look forward to seeing where else Echoes takes root, and I hope the lessons we’re learning in the Middle East will benefit our users everywhere, whether upcoming feature additions, new use-cases, or lessons in marketing and creating a network effect closer to you sometime soon.

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Getting Social Media Right

Getting Social Media Right 

Social media remains a key strategy for growing your user-base and engaging users. But “doing” social media is not easy. At Echoer we face the same problems that many small companies or growing brands do. What’s going to get us heard and what’s going to engage our followers?  The answer’s simple: content they want to read.

Over the past few months we’ve been trying various approaches to see what engages you and what turns you off. Sometimes it works out and other times it’s an epic fail. It’s been a mixed bag, and has included posts inspired by our 500+ strong network of local bloggers; travels tips; Echoer experiences and updates; and a bunch of other stuff aimed to amuse you.

Well we’ve been listening to you, and as of today we’re going to be starting a whole new approach to Echoer’s social media and content creation. It’s time to break through the noise and give you social media that counts. We’ll be breaking it down into four main groups:

1. What’s Echoing. City by city, week by week, we’ll be taking a look at a new destination and providing you with bite-size snippets straight from our users.

2. Blogger of the week. Our blogger community is a really important part of who we are. Each week we’ll be shining the light on one of our bloggers for you to see.

3. Echoer Updates. We’re often asked how Echoer is doing. Well it’s time to open the kimono. Key stats, updates and developments are coming your way.

4. Market Insights. We get a lot of questions about Echoer and our space generally, and we have some answers and insights we’d like to share, coupled with the odd story that catches our attention.

Aside from this I’ll be doing a lot more blogging. You can expect to see a new piece every 1-2 weeks. At first I’ll be focusing on Echoer and our Insights, fleshing out some of the posts mentioned above. I’ll also be discussing some of our decisions and outlook in more detail. You’ve been asking, so here you go!

Echoer is now 62,000 users’ strong and with your support we can do some amazing things. It’s time to get engaged.

Thanks for reading.


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The Washington DC Experience

Echoer CEO, Daniel Cowen, Skyped me at 9.30 this morning in a state of complete and utter excitement. He had spent the weekend in Washington DC and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it! Our delightful, amazing little app Echoer had made his weekend and he wanted to share his experience!

“I was in Washington DC visiting some friends who had only moved there a few months ago and we decided to go to a baseball game to see the Washington Nationals versus the Miami Marlins.  At the game we were met with another friend of ours… (If anyone reading this has been to a live sporting event (not just baseball) you’ll know how hard it is to find one person in a crowd of thousands)! I thought it would be fun to integrate Echoer into our baseball game experience and leave our friend an ‘Echo’ trial to follow so they could find the exact spot in the stadium where we were sat! It was a great being able share our ‘game’ experience from across the field!”

“Following the success of the Baseball game we decided to use Echoer again to see what else was going on in the local area.  We found an Echo from one of our bloggers ‘The DC Vegfest is a free outdoor festival…’. We were thrilled! My friends are vegetarians and knew nothing about the festival! So thanks to our blogger my friends can veg-out until the heart’s content in a couple of weeks time.”

Have you used Echoer to find out what’s going on, leave a trial for your friends to follow or just used it to give your thoughts on a location or venue? We’d love to hear how Echoer made your weekend better!

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal and The Gazette

As part of our collaboration with the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, we partnered with The Gazette to fill venues with a true wealth of content, including event listings, reviews, images and tips.

One of the most creative ideas we had was based on something the Echoer team came up with a while back: changing the “skin” (or background) of an echo space to match what was going on at that time.

Each day of the festival The Gazette released the best photos from the day before.  We set up a dedicated space to host those photos as backdrops to that Echoer space, creating a visual cue to what had gone on the day before, bringing the festival tips and reviews to life, and stimulating comments and discussion amongst festival-goers.  The results were both eye-catching and, based on the activity in that echo space, truly engaging.

What do you think?

Jazz Festival, Montreal, Gazette, Echoer

Echoer and Softball

This is Sydney’s Echoer Experience….

“My boyfriend was playing in an adult softball league on Sunday afternoon at Hampstead Park. The weather was absolutely perfect and I decided to tag along and make the most of being outdoors and in the gorgeous sunshine. What made this softball game slightly more entertaining was that Andrew (My work colleague) was playing on the team opposite my boyfriend! I decided to place an echo telling everyone about the game… About an hour after the echo had gone live a few of friends showed up saying they had seen the echo and knew where I was. We had a great few hours watching my boyfriend lose to my fellow Echoer team mate! Go Echoer!”

Echoer, sport, softball

Echoer and Wall Art

Daniel was on an Echoer marathon this weekend on the Echoer Team challenge…

“I was at Else’s adding an echo of my own, when I saw this one “.

(Else’s is an intimate and inviting pub/bar between Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis. You can get their homemade chilli… which is an Else’s favourite! Tapas, or a choice of something else off their fantastic menu! It’s a great place to unwind and catch up with friends… or head there to have a business meeting)

“As someone who loves street art I took note of the echo and went on a hunt for the wall art across the road after finishing eating at Else’s.  It was a great piece, really striking, and garnered me a lot of Instagram likes too!  There’s no way I would have noticed it or walked that way if I hadn’t seen it in Echoer”.

Wall Art found in Montreal by Echoer

Echoer on the Beer

This is Alex’s Echoer experience…

“I had a friend’s birthday taking place at the Irish Embassy”

(The Irish Embassy is situated in the heart of downtown Montreal. They offer a large range of beers, an extensive menu, contemporary music and warm, friendly staff. The Irish Embassy can be used for any occasion! Especially Birthday celebrations….)

“I decided to check on Echoer to see if anything interesting was showing, and sure enough there were a few echo’s from people recommending food from the menu and the beers on offer. I decided to go for the braised lamb and the Smithwicks from the echo’s coming through. Both were awesome! Using Echoer made it easier to sift through the menu and work out what was worth having…”

Echoer, irish Embassy, Montreal

Echoer at the JazzFest

The Echoer team (based here in Montreal) live and breathe echoer everyday and we love it! So, after a team brainstorming session last week we decided to wander the streets of our City looking for echo’s which may catch our eye and then report back to you (our readers) about our ‘echoer’ experiences.

Please keep in mind when reading these posts that we had no plan, aim or mission mapped out as to where we would be going… we literally just followed our echoer app and the thoughts of those around us!

This was Daniel’s Echoer Experience:

“I was in my apartment and was contemplating heading to the Jazzfest”

(For those of you who haven’t heard of the Montreal JazzFest…It is an annual event here in Montreal, and in 2004 was placed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the worlds largest Jazz Festival. Every year they have numerous artists performing from all over the world. There’s indoor and outdoor shows, live music and entertainment and of course… copious amounts of alcohol on every corner. It’s an amazing festival… and when you mix it with the gorgeous Montreal summer you can’t go wrong!)

So… Continuing on with Daniel’s experience….

” I cracked open Echoer to see what was on (we already had all the JazzFest listings in there) and what people were saying, and I saw an echo about Anthony Gomes performing at Scene Loto-Quebec, so I thought I would check it out.  I headed down for the 9.00 p.m. show and it was awesome!  So awesome in fact that I went back for his second set at 11pm.  With so many events going on I really had no idea where to head, but using Echoer it was less of a problem because people had been commenting in response to what was happening and all I had to do was read their comments and follow the trail to the best events going on…”.

Jazz festival Montreal, Echo Post

Echoer: Amping up the JazzFest

Echoer is truly proud to be partnering with the Montreal Jazz Festival and The Montreal Gazette this year. What started off as a pitch to the world’s largest jazz festival only a few months ago is now a reality. Starting today Montreal and the JazzFest venues will be filled with a true wealth of content: event listings, reviews and images from the Gazette, tips, “relevant” Twitter content, and last but not least, the thoughts and discoveries of festival-goers. And the visual icing on the cake: Festival and Gazette content will appear in bespoke echo colors, sometimes inside specially “skinned” echo spaces.

What we are doing with the JazzFest is extremely cool and useful. It’s also unique. I’ve been playing around with the first wave of content, and Echoer really is the perfect interactive guide to what is happening in and around the JazzFest. There’s no other platform that can present you with so much varied and useful info/opinions relating to each location; and then allow you to interact with it and share it with others.

I ask that you (and everyone you know) explore the JazzFest area in Echoer; and if you are attending, have a great time and let us know how we can make your experience even better.

– Daniel Cowen (Co-Founder and CEO of Echoer)