GroupMe Branches Out Into Group Buying, Launches New “Experiences” Service Into Beta

The team at GroupMe has certainly had an impressive ride so far — after winning the Disrupt NY Hackathon in 2010, they quickly locked up some funding, and were eventually acquired by Skype.

So what’s next for GroupMe co-founders Jared Hecht and Steve Martocci? As it turns out, they’re looking to get into the group-buying game, and to that end they have just launched a new service called Experiences by GroupMe into private beta. Its goal: to simplify the process of getting people together and doing cool things in the real world.

Here’s how Experiences works. Upon taking a look at the Experiences site, users can select from a handful of carefully-curated events to attend with their friends. Once an experience has been chosen, that user is given a unique URL to spread around, though each experience is typically designed for a set number of participants. That user also has access to a “plan” page, which lets them keep tabs on who’s attending and how much time is left before they lose the experience.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see that the service also ties in with GroupMe — when a user selects an event and friends begin locking in their spots, a GroupMe group is created for all attendees so they can stay in touch with each other through the booking process and beyond. That GroupMe group is also used to deliver notifications about new attendees, though they’re also sent by email just to be safe.

Perhaps the best part? Each participant in an experience has to use a credit card to fork over their share of the cost, but only has to pay when all of an event’s slots are filled. Thankfully, this means the process of wrangling payments is much neater (not to mention less contentious) here than it is in meatspace. Like most other group-buying services out there, GroupMe will take a percentage of the sales from each transaction, though the team has other (secret) monetization ideas in the works too.

The inspiration for Experience struck back in December 2011, at which point the team hashed out all the concepts they wanted the service to include, but the story of the service’s genesis stretches back even further than that. The Experiences concept seems like a quite a stretch from the group messaging focus of the GroupMe app, but the founders look at both services as variations on a theme they’ve been clinging to since their early days — making it easier for groups do things better together.

“We have the luxury of accumulated knowledge about how groups work,” Hecht told me. “Experiences is a natural progression from where GroupMe started, because we’re not only helping groups communicate better, we’re helping them buy better.”

For now, Experiences is only open to users in New York City — their sales, marketing, and business development teams can only do so much. The team fully expects that to change down the line though, and they’ve confirmed that users will eventually be able to create and share their own Experiences in due course. There’s plenty more in the works for Experiences too — co-founder Martocci hinted at other potential features down the line (think event recommendations and the like), but for now the team is focused on “getting the product out there first and iterating like crazy.”