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Find the bar that fits your night out with SceneTap

Find the bar that fits your night out with SceneTap



Searching for a decent bar in your neighborhood is easy enough using Google, but figuring out if it’s going to be your scene is a whole other story. Are you going to step through the door into a total bro fest, a room full of half horizontal 21-year-old wrecks, or a completely empty dive aside from the guy plugging Jefferson Starship into the jukebox all evening? It’s almost impossible to say, and that’s exactly the problem Chicago startup SceneTap has set out to solve.

Instead of relying on your instincts (or that happening bar-finding dowsing stick you discovered all those years ago) you can simply check out SceneTap to find out in real time how full an establishment is, the average age range of people inside, and the male to female ratio of the crowd.

We chatted with SceneTap CEO Cole Harper, who assured us that this isn’t the first step into some Orwellian future where we’re all legally required to be named after soft drinks, but a great tool for both consumers and business owners.

What is the story behind SceneTap?

It really started from a consumer perspective--entertaining a lot of friends and associates and running around the city of Chicago trying to find the right place for us. I thought to myself, I can’t believe that there isn’t an app out there or something that can tell you in real time what a place is like before you go there.

My buddy Marc Doering and I looked into things and realized there was a huge opportunity to create the technology we would need to collect this information. We came across a software program called Video Based Software -- to be more specific Anonymous Video Analytics. Essentially what it’s able to do is anonymously dictate, through video images, what somebody looks like in terms of gender and age.

We found another system that can do people counting, which essentially will count everybody if they go in our out of the place. With that we were able to install systems in venues such as bars and restaurants that could collect that information.



How does this technology register age and gender? How accurate is it?

It’s very accurate and it’s something that we actually built on top of. The out-of-the-box software that we’re utilizing is typically around 85 percent accurate for gender and around 80 percent accurate for age, plus or minus three years.

One of the things that we’re able to do is set algorithms at a venue level. We might know from historical information that one venue is more likely to be 25 to 30 on average, whereas another venue, like in a college town, might be 21 to 25. With that we’re able to manipulate the software to become more accurate.

What are some other potential uses for the kind of information you’re gathering?

With this data business operators can view the effectiveness of their marketing and advertising. They can see when they’re busy and not busy and use that from a staffing perspective. It also becomes a predictive tool in that sense, where they can gauge and prepare for the response to promotions.

The second use is for consumers to be able to get a sense in real time of what a place is like without even being there. You can go on your phone and search for a bar that is pretty crowded, 70 percent full, and has this male to female ratio, and with a few clicks you can find that exact place and have a recommendation.



Have there been any customer concerns about the technology?

People certainly ask questions, but the more people become familiar with how the technology works, the more they realize that this is less intrusive than technology that’s been around for the last 30 years. Anytime you walk into a private place you’re being recorded by surveillance cameras. Not only are you being recorded, but when you pay your bill with a credit card it has your name, your financial information, your address.

When we go in and add our system on top of what is already out there it’s not actually breaching any personal privacy. There’s no recording, there’s no streaming video, and there’s nothing that identifies people individually.

There are certainly questions that come up just to make sure that we’re not Minority Report or anything like that, but once people become more familiar with our technology compared to what’s out there they realize that we’re really more of a marketing tool and something that’s attempting to improve the consumer experience.

What has been your biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge is explaining SceneTap in a way that makes people say, “Hey, that’s cool,” as opposed to thinking it might be creepy. It really comes down to building the right perception and explaining the technology enough for people to fully grasp the positive results for both businesses and consumers.

I think it’ll become more accepted in the world. Both Facebook and Foursquare were looked at as stalker applications when they first came out. As long as we explain the way we’re applying this technology and the way it’s being used in the marketplace, I think it’ll become commonly accepted like Foursquare and Facebook have.



What advice would you give to any beginning entrepreneurs out there?

Every idea will have holes. You have to view those holes as opportunities as opposed to restrictions that are reasons to give up on your idea or give up on your plan. If it was easy somebody would already be doing it. For people that have a totally new idea I would advise them to move forward, take a risk, and go for it.

What’s next for SceneTap?

There are actually quite a few interesting things in development for us. We have a number of professional sports stadiums and operations groups that have reached out to us to put the tech in place. We’ve had a very similar outreach from the retail sector and other branches within the hospital industry.

There are a number of different market verticals for the data that we’re able to collect and it’s going to be really interesting to see what takes off beyond the nightlife space for us. I’ve always had the vision long term that you’ll get home from work and use SceneTap to figure out whether it’s a good time to go to the grocery store or the gym.

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