Aloqa is a mobile services company that recommends Facebook friends around you and things to do. It recently raised $1.5 million in venture funding from Wellington Partners and angel investors. This past July, Aloqa was awarded the people's choice award at VentureBeat's MobileBeat conference.
Aloqa launched as an Android app, but has since expanded to Blackberries and as early as the end of this month, the company's services should be available on the iPhone. Essentially, the Aloqa service wants to help in the discovery process by recommending places - events, restaurants, movies, friends - to people while they are on the go. Their goal is to have a number of venues and vendors on their service, creating their own presence (or channel) on the Aloqa network.
In this four-part interview, Bambi Francisco interviewed Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO of Aloqa and formerly head of Google's product marketing. They cover everything from how Aloqa plans to scale its current 50 channels, how it competes with competitors Loopt and Google Latitude, to how Agrawal and team plan to execute on their various business models. The two also discuss the philosophy behind the different approaches to serving someone on the go. For instance, Siri is a virtual assistant, which let's people ask for what they're searching for. Aloqa wants to let people discover what's around them, without having them search or ask.
Here's the first part of the interview (partly edited):
BF: The idea of being away from home and knowing which of your friends are around you as well as knowing which of your favorite restaurants are around you, and to know what is happening around you has been the vision for quite some time. Why is the time ripe to offer this service today?
SA: There are three things that are different than they were before. Phones are just a lot more capable. You can do a lot more to find where the person is. Many companies offer location as a commodity. Phones such as the iPhone, Android, or the Blackberry are able to know where the phone is almost all the time. The second one is people are able to download a lot more applications through the iPhone app store. There is ability to get applications from this phone that was not possible before. Thirdly, where Aloqa comes in is there are technologies like Aloqa that allow a proactive push meaning we are able to detect in real time where a user is, what the interests are, who there friends are. Overtime, we develop enough knowledge of them to see what segment they belong to and we push the right content to them. In the past, people would always talk about Starbucks coupons but we don't think people are really looking for that. But now the sophistication on the backend of the server and sophistication on the front end which is the client is such that you're getting a very simple user-friendly way to deliver content to the right person at the right time.
BF: That is still a big challenge to deliver the right content to the right person. You really have to understand the context of that person. So what is the best way to understand the context of that person?
SA: At a high level, this problem has been around a long time and people have taken different approaches such as Amazon and Netflix. So part of what we do is similar to that. We see how much content you've consumed in the past or if you've told us that you've expressed referenced us then it is clear. But even without you expressing this reference in the background, we know your types of behavior...for example you might look for nitch coffee shops as supposed to brand names.
BF: How does that activity work on my mobile phone that you know I am at a local coffee shop or not?
SA: If you're using Aloqa and you go into the coffee channel, you have either refused to put the coffee channel in there or if you flip through the coffee shops that are available to you, you end up spending a lot more time looking for a coffee shop.
BF: So if you see a person click on Pottery Barn, Best Buy, or Starbucks, you realize this person doesn't like the local places and that this person likes the name brands.
SA: That person will know a group of that people who have that preference.
BF: And now you can make recommendations to people based on that brand who are local or who are national.
SA: That's part of the equation. Another part of the equation is that people's behaviors change on weekends and weekdays as well as the time of day and when they eat. So the types of entertainment you may be looking for such as entertainment, music, or movies, would be very different in the evenings and weekends than during the day.
BF: But you'll store that and remember which channels you are choosing. Show us your demo.
SA: This is the Aloqa client where I've customized this to include the different channels.
BF: How many channels do you have and how many does Aloqa have?
SA: I currently have about 20 channels and Aloqa has about 50 to choose from but roughly comes with a dozen. I have chosen to add some as well such as a music one or a great parenting resource and during the day I can go in and I can see all the different things I can be doing with my kids. So I will click one. Apparently there is a birthday event.
BF: They know you're in the Berkely area and so they show only what's in your area.
SA: Then I can go through everything else and rate it as kid-friendly. If I am here with my daughter, we may just see something. We can also go back to the music deck. I don't know who the couples are but The Oxygen Room is hosting them starting February of this year through January of next year and I can go and see the show. I can also flip through twenty of these and see that my options are based on what's around me, what I have seen before, and know who is around me and what do I like.
BF: The heat of your business is really getting the users to crowd-source these channels so you can have millions of channels.
SA: We started a set of professionals so you see Yelp restaurants and you see music from Eventful, Google maps, etc. So there are about fifteen publishers here. But now we're starting to create data from a publisher, no offense that you may have never even heard of. It's not at Yelp but he has awesome content on things to do with kids. If you were a Pittsburg Stealers fan and you know where Stealers fans like to watch a game, then you can actually go and create a channel.
BF: The nice thing is that you're going to create a channel here and this will be available across all other phones. So you're on a Blackberry and what else?
SA: So currently we launched on the Blackberry platform and the others will be coming out soon. The iPhone will be out in September.
BF: Please stick around for more. I've been speaking with Sanjeev Agrawal. I'm Bambi Francisco.