Avola is advancing the egalitarian cause through an online social-media platform called Untappd (www.untappd.com) , which he co-founded and serves as chief technical officer. By connecting far-flung aficionados of lagers, porters and stouts, the 16-month-old website and mobile application look to change the way drinkers think about their brews — and how beer makers relate to their customers.
The venture took shape more than a year ago. Avola, a web developer who lives in New York City, was brainstorming possible projects with his business partner, Los Angeles-based web designer Tim Mather. Beer drinkers, they observed, lacked a strong online community.
“Drinking is a social activity, but it wasn’t being presented in a social-media way,” says Avola, who teamed with Mather to create the Untappd prototype. The site attracted 25 people on its launch day in October 2010. Current users top 100,000.
Through Untappd, friends can tell friends which beers they’re drinking and what they think of the brews. A geographic element tags the user’s location, so someone visiting a certain bar can dial up recommendations by other Untappd users.
Brewpubs with long tap lists “can be intimidating,” says Avola, who is quick to admit his own limited expertise in malt beverages before crafting the application. “With Untappd, you can see what other people are drinking and not feel embarrassed if you haven’t heard of it before. We want to help by putting everyone in the same virtual room and getting them to talk to each other.”
Indeed, the Pub function on the Untappd website shows a scrolling log of “check-ins” by users such as Louis (“having a Snowstorm by August Schell Brewing Company: good ale stuff) and Justin (“nursing a Russian Imperial Stout by Brewers Best: home brew that I made a year ago. … still pretty good”).
Driving the app’s early popularity were “gamification” elements, such as badges awarded for certain check-in activity. One of the most successful competitions involved the Dogfish Head Ancient Ales series.
“If you checked in having tried three of five ancient ales, you got the badge,” explains Avola. “It generated a hundred percent increase in check-ins for those beers, and really pumped up awareness.”
Both Sides of the Table
Another Untappd goal is to strengthen the connection between brewer and consumer. The current path of commerce, with beer sold through distributors, bars or liquor stores, means that beer makers often have little direct information about who is buying. Smaller craft brewers, without the marketing research budget of suds giants, can be at a particular disadvantage.
A new function of Untappd, set to launch in mid-January, enables beer makers to “claim” their brew. Fans of the product can follow it on Untappd, and receive news and updates on Twitter or Facebook, as they might from a favorite sports team. The breweries, meanwhile, get detailed insight on where their beers are consumed . . . or not.
“A lot of the smaller brewers sell to areas they don’t need to – and end up pulling out of some states because they’ve overextended,” explains Avola. “With our data and real-time stats, brewers can see who, what and where — and make better decisions about marketing to their public.”
With his gaze fixed on making the venture a profitable business, Avola is committed to building the community that Untappd has uncovered.
“We want to create an environment where brewers and consumers can get valuable information — on both sides of the table.”