I’ll bet that got your attention. Finally, an app that wants to buy you a drink. Well, not exactly, but it’s the next best thing. LoSo is a location-based social media app for the iPhone that re-launches today to bring the best parts of Foursquare, Yelp, and OpenTable together in one app for your mobile phone. An ambitious goal, yes, but to counterbalance that, LoSo is targeting a very specific market: your local restaurants and bars. So, on the one hand, LoSo is addressing a problem cited by many small businesses in using Groupon: They’re happy to have a blast of new customers taking advantage of a big discount, but they want to see loyalty, not single-serving customers. And, on the other hand, LoSo wants you to be rewarded for doing just that: By being (or becoming) a loyal customer at your favorite local eatery or watering hole.
While this may not be a “new” idea, it’s worth checking out. In a nutshell, LoSo is taking the better parts of the aforementioned services (and, maybe Citysearch) to create a realtime guide for going out on the town. Currently, the app offers 200K realtime feeds for 700K local bars and restaurants, allowing you to see happy hours, drink specials, dinner specials, what bands are playing, and more. LoSo ranks these eateries and bars according to total number of checkins, so you can get a sense of which place has the most activity.
Taking a page from Foursquare, LoSo encourages users to checkin from their favorite spots, pooling these checkins in live Twitter and Facebook-like feeds, which you can get a sense of from the screenshots above. By clicking “IMHere”, you can show your friends where you are, as pins drop down on a Google Map to display your current location. You can navigate this interactive map of local venues and leave posts that tell your friends where you are.
With each checkin, you earn a point. Earn ten points and you can redeem your points for free swag. You can make checkins private, or public. And, probably the coolest part, is that you can post videos you take while being over-served and post them to Facebook and Twitter. They show up on the business pages of the place where you’re eating, which is hopefully great for the local business. As long as the videos aren’t troll-ish, of course.
As to the reward system, each time you checkin at a local spot, you earn a certain amount of points, most often 10 points. In the meantime, LoSo has encouraged the local business you’re patronizing to set up a rewards page, describing the types of rewards you can earn and how many checkins it takes to take advantage. Most frequently, it only takes one or two checkins, LoSo CEO Rich Rodgers tells me, before you might be throwing back a margarita gratis. LoSo will also be offering points of its own, so if a user starts checking in frequently (to any place), they will become eligible for LoSo rewards as well. Which could be anything from a cruise to 3 months of free HDTV, Rodgers says.
But what’s to stop people from doing drive-by checkins to take advantage of deals? To discourage these miscreants, Rodgers says that part of the app’s secret sauce is that you will only be eligible if you’re within 100 feet of the establishment, and the reward will only become available after 10 minutes. So you can’t just throw back a quick one and then run, like a coward..
“We set out to create a mobile app that was built around the idea that mobile is a mentality of the here and now,” said Rodgers. “We started by building the largest social media connected database of any city guide”.
While there are definitely game mechanics at play here, unlike FourSquare and other game-related retail “directories”, LoSo gives people more than just listings and status. LoSo’s Restaurant Rewards Points are good for free drinks, eats, and prizes, and each check in on LoSo also counts as a checkin on Foursquare and Facebook Places, so all checkins can be done from one app. So, users can not only become Mayor in Foursquare, but stay current on Facebook, earn restaurant rewards, and accrue LoSo Loyalty points.
Rodgers also tells me that LoSo recently closed a $350K round of seed funding from various New York-based angels and VCs, allowing them to do some more iterating and a little bit of hiring. But, how is the free LoSo app going to make money, you ask (aside from seed funding)? Well, unfortunately, there may be some ads. Rodgers told me they won’t be obnoxious, but if they are, don’t shoot the messenger. LoSo is also offering local businesses the opportunity to let the startup take over all of their social media activities, email and SMS marketing, and all that good stuff. The subscription will cost $100 a month.
The other bad news is that, though you can use the app anywhere (and they’ve already added 800K places), rewards are only available in Philadelphia. But, Rodgers says that if the experiment goes according to plan, they should be expanding to other U.S. cities within the year. With how expensive eating can be in the Bay Area, I hope LoSo makes it out to the West Coast before I’m bankrupt.