With the number of location discovery apps out there already, the question might not be “Where should we go?” but “Why make another one?”
The developers of HeyLets, however, believe there is still room to stand apart by delivering more personalized recommendations to people based on their interests (users can pick from 30 categories, ranging from the obvious like “fine dining” to more niche interests such as “cards and board games” or “new age and psychedelics”) and profile information.
The startup recently received a vote of confidence in the form of $1.65 million in seed funding from BlueSky Funds and five angel investors.
HeyLets is currently available on iOS, with an Android version scheduled for launch in June. Co-founder and CEO Justin Parfitt decided to tackle location discovery after having difficulty finding a hotel room in Italy using TripAdvisor.
“It was a time consuming, frustrating process trying to tease out which reviews were relevant. At one point he read a one-star review for a stunning converted mansion in a medieval town in which the reviewer complained that the building was old and the staff spoke poor English, and went on to describe the Sheraton at Milan airport as the highlight of their stay. Justin thought, ‘Why am I reading negative reviews from people I have nothing in common with?’” his co-founder Dean Kelly tells TechCrunch.
HeyLets filters out reviews from people who probably don’t have any overlapping interests in an effort to keep users from wasting their time searching through irrelevant information (it also limits recommendations to 200 characters).
The app faces several established challengers, including Yelp, Foursquare’s Swarm, and Everplaces. A couple of location discovery apps that could have been rivals went off the market last year (the team behind location discovery app, Pin Drop, was hired by Apple after closing down due to lack of funding, while Jetpac was acquired by Google).
Though the market is a relatively mature one, Kelly says that HeyLets, which currently has 100,000 recommendations posted by users in 91 countries, differentiates with its personalized feed. Swarm, on the other hand, focuses on showing users where their friends have checked in, while Everplaces lets them browse lists of places curated by other people. Unlike Yelp, HeyLets focuses on positive reviews—if a venue doesn’t get enough recommendations, it just won’t show up in feeds.
“There are literally hundreds of apps that focus on places, with reviews, tips, or comments hidden on secondary screens. HeyLets emphasizes the experience first and foremost, so what you’re seeing in your feed is a sequence of ‘this is awesome!’ moments from likeminded people. It’s more personal and entertaining than seeing a list of places,” says Kelly.
“We also think no one has really cracked personalization yet. Foursquare has made a stab at it, but we feel they’re hampered by legacy data and content. We think that your ‘recommended’ feed on HeyLets, even at this very early stage, does a better job of inspiring you to try new things. Ultimately there hasn’t been a breakout product to challenge Yelp or TripAdvisor, which both feel old to us.”
The startup is using its seed funding for new hires and product development. It also plans to add the ability to make e-commerce transactions through the app, like hotel and restaurant bookings or ticket purchases, which will hopefully help HeyLets land strategic partners as it scales up globally.
HeyLets plans to monetize through three streams of revenue: social referral marketing, bookings, and licensing content to third parties.
“Because HeyLets connects users to businesses on the basis of relevance and popularity, any deals inserted in each post only need to be sufficient to encourage the user to transact in app, and unlike advertising on other social platforms, deals on HeyLets don’t disrupt the user experience because they relate directly to the content. Secondly, users can already get an Uber directly to each experience, and they’ll soon be able to make bookings and buy tickets too,” Kelly says.
“Finally, given the number of categories HeyLets covers, and given that all experiences in HeyLets are positive and are categorized, that content can be used by many different groups. For example, we are talking to a major realty site about including local experiences alongside neighborhood crime and schooling information.”