When Robin Shimmin (CEO), Nicholas Dart (CTO) and Devran Karaca (COO) quit their well-paid day jobs — at Lotus F1, Deutsche Bank and Ernst & Young, respectively — to found Dojo, they had one thing on their mind: to solve the problem of finding something to do in London, a city all three had moved to after graduating together from Bristol University.
The resulting effort is a newly-released app for iOS that offers a highly curated and visual guide with suggestions of how to spend days and nights out in the UK capital city. Specifically, it’s targeting 18-35 year olds who want to move slightly away from the beaten track. To do this the app offers up daily suggestions that range from pop ups, places to eat, exhibitions, night clubs and cosy so-called ‘speakeasy’ venues, bars and members clubs.
Its modus operandi — and how it hopes to stand out from a crowded market for venue and event discovery — is a ‘less is more’ approach, using a mixture of its own algorithms to surface events from blogs, other publications, Twitter and Facebook, coupled with an editorial team made up of “young Londoners” who handpick and curate each day’s finds, which are presented based on time of day and weather. The app also adapts to your personal preferences.
“We believe we are the first app to bridge the gap between venues and events, answering the core need of ‘what do I want to do today?'” says Dojo CEO Robin Shimmin. “Our underlying value proposition is that we aggregate editorialised content from top publications to bring events and venues of the highest quality. A user comes to Dojo for the top rated, bringing an exclusive and personal experience. Trying to find a good Pop up, speakeasy, exhibition, market or night out in London is time consuming, and it is painfully fragmented. We believe Dojo is the first app to bring all of this into a single, simple to use platform.”
There’s no doubt the Dojo app is simple to use and has a nice design that certainly takes away some of the heavy-lifting of trying to get inspired for a day and/or night out in London. The city has so much going on each day, but trying to get away from the usual suspects, especially for those like me who have lived here for as long as they can remember, isn’t always so easy.
That said, claims of a first is perhaps stretching it somewhat depending how you view traditional players such as TimeOut, Yelp, and Foursquare, or something like Yplan, which has pretty much nailed the last-minute tickets and events problem for those of us who are poor planners. There’s also many other upstarts who are operating in the venue and event discovery space, such as Billetto, which recently pivoted to focus on event discovery, or Spotnight, which focuses on helping you discover club nights based on online buzz.
Shimmin says Dojo differs from TimeOut by having a narrower and younger target market and by taking a mobile-first approach with a better interface for both venue and event discovery. It does this by offering a handful of location-based suggestions for what to do or where to go during the morning, day time and evening/night, or letting you browse by venue and event type, all presented in a grid of photos and accompanying headings. Unlike TimeOut, Dojo doesn’t take paid listings (yet), either.
He also argues that, unlike Yplan, because Dojo’s revenue model isn’t based on in-app purchasing of tickets, the startup isn’t incentivised to list events “with the highest ticket prices”, which it might otherwise be inclined to do. Instead, Dojo plans to charge venues for analytics and to take more control over their listing, though this will still be kept fairly exclusive. There’s also plans to charge for event submissions, though, again, the emphasis will remain on those hand-picked and independently curated daily suggestions.
“We [also] found during the hundreds of hours of user testing that people want to grab some food, a drink, then head to an event, and achieving this within the same platform decreases fragmentation and leads to retention,” adds Shimmin.
Whilst it’s still very early days, since launch just over two weeks ago Dojo has garnered around 3.5k downloads and been recognised by Apple in its Best New Apps category. Shimmin puts this down to what he says has been a relentless emphasis on user testing — perhaps utilising that Formula 1 design background — with a beta version of the app chalking up over 250 hours of user interviews, in addition to nearly 3,000 A/B tests.