Platforms Are Getting Creative About Big Data
Founder of GoNation
May 29, 2019
Platforms Are Getting Creative About Big Data
Using "big data" has become essential for every leading business, both off and online. In fact, it has become so important that experts are calling data "the new oil."
By their very nature, platforms have become strong magnets for rich data. The challenge is, how to channel that information effectively.
Learn how entrepreneur, Chaz Tanase, tapped the "Texas Tea" that is big data and used it to empower local businesses through his platform, GoNation.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the marketplace revolution. This is Platform Players.
If data is the new oil, then marketplaces are the tycoons. Learn how Chaz Tanase tapped the "Texas tea" that is big data and used it to empower local businesses through his platform, GoNation.
This is your Platform Player FLASHBACK!
“Hey Chaz, it’s Larry. You got a minute?”
“I have just about that. I’m in Miami – what’s up?”
“Really great job on the digital campaign recent promotion. The restaurant was packed this weekend. But we think we need a new website. Is that something you can help us with?”
“Yeah – we can talk about that. I’ll give you a call tomorrow when I’m back in town.”
“Sounds good – have fun tonight.”
Chaz hung up the phone. “Another website”. He crammed into the packed elevator and as the doors closed, the thought about how he had basically created the same restaurant website over and over again – and none of them were connected. It was a problem. But it was not a problem he was going to solve tonight.
Then, the elevator opened on the ground floor and everyone spilled out into the sea of women in five-inch heels and sharp-looking men ready to spend whatever it takes to have the time of their lives.
Chaz gazed around the room, admiring the packed lobby. He was excited as hell for the last night party – but “why are they all still hanging around at the hotel?”
Then a group that knew he threw events and was a promoter spotted him:
“Hey chaz, where do we go?”
Chaz’s job had been to get them to the hotel. The event organizers were supposed to take care of the rest.
Where’s the party?
“I’m from Connecticut, I have no idea what’s happening right now. Why don’t you check the website for the event?”
“We did – there is nothing there.”
“Did you try social media?”
Chaz watched as hundreds of confused people scrolled through their phones for answers they would never get online. Here they all were, dressed to kill, ready to spend money, and they had nowhere to go.
This is ridiculous. He thought. There is a connection problem here that is much bigger than promoting a party in New Haven. It’s 2011! How is there no platform that just allows hospitality businesses to tell people what is happening right now and help them know where to go to spend their time and money?
Well, there was no time to think about that now. He had to quickly turn this hotel lobby into the party of the century!
Fuck it, I’ll make the party here. I’m not going to have a shitty last night!!
But as he popped bottles of champagne and pumped up the house music, Chaz vowed that as soon as he was back home in Connecticut, he’d close his marketing agency and create an online platform for local hospitality businesses to digitally promote their events and engage the people in the area in real time.
Flash forward! GoNation now contracts with 527 local businesses and counting!
Let's get down to the NITTY GRITTY. Here's your host, Kurt Bilafer!
Hi everyone! Welcome to episode four of Platform Players, where we’ll be discussing the ever-relevant topic of big data. Contrary to popular belief, big data is not just for big businesses – as our player today will tell you. Ladies and gentlemen, join me in welcoming GoNation’s founder, Chaz Tanase to the show today. Hi Chaz!
Thanks for having me.
Really compelling founder story, as we just heard. You saw a need for local businesses to communicate to their customers and then later, you were able to generate some very rich data that was beneficial to both sides. But let’s start at the beginning. When you built this platform, how did local businesses respond and how did their feedback help evolve your platform?
Once we launched, they loved it. The businesses just wanted more. "All right, here's my next restaurant. Here's this business. What else can you do for us?" It became to the point where it was like, "Well, there's really nothing else we want to do, and we don't want to get unfocused because you could very easily do that in a marketplace." It's already a distraction with the consumer side and the business side.
B2B and consumer is like—yeah. That's a whole other ballgame there. You have to choose basically what area you're going to go in. So, we went to B2B because we were always business first. We knew the problem was from the business first. We knew that all these platforms that were out-focused on the consumer experience and not what the business got out of it. So, we doubled down in that area.
Our first customer said, "Well, we don't want to power our existing website. We want you to build us a website." No, we're out of the website building business. All we do is just generate the data and send it to your existing website." It became to the point where we stopped doing sales for about three months because what happened was is the macrotrend was iPhone.
Smartphones were on this massive rise, and everyone didn't have a mobile smartphone website. Instead of going back to their old developer from 2005 and 2006 and '07, they wanted a brand-new website. They probably already hated their web developer. That's a common tale. They wanted us because they trusted us to build them this website.
So, we had to figure out how we were going to take the data, instead of just generating the data on an existing website, how we were going to build the website. So, we built the website generator using our data. Now, we're at 500 customers growing pretty heavily now.
Since we've been able to power local business websites when people see the data that we actually have in our individual cities because we still have this whole consumer side which is really just a fun way to display our data in a centralized manner. Cities have been asking us for the data. "Hey, can you power our city? We see that you have all these restaurant menus and all these events. How do we get that data?"
So, we created a community partner platform where we syndicate our data out to these cities. Similar situations have happened with corporations. For example, without any names, there are a lot of coffee shops that have multiple locations. The funny thing about coffee is that, for example, Starbucks.
Starbucks is in every city. It's all over my town. People act as if it's their local coffee shop, but it's this billion-dollar brand that has crushed all the little coffee shops. Yet, they don't know what is happening at their individual location.
I didn't know that they had a cold brew at the location a mile down the road for three and a half months because there's no way to know what's happening at your local Starbucks. They're advertising is in a very global manner. The manager of Starbucks jumped on GoNation and started promoting what was happening at the Starbucks in the area. They said, "People aren't coming in. They knew that we had this. They knew that we had that. So, this platform works.
We've been able to pitch a couple of corporations like, "Hey. Make your global brand local and have a way to communicate to the people in your area, and go back to where it all started." That seems to be working for us as well.
That's awesome. What's interesting is, there are a number of things you brought up, I think. The one is the sense of community. The reality is brands today need to think globally but act locally. It's easier said than done. The one piece that's missing from that is the ongoing engagement with their users or with the community. So, you're certainly bringing those pieces together.
One of the things you talked about early on was just the importance of trust. So, obviously, trust is paramount in building the community and building value. How do you do that? How do you ensure that the restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and all those things that you onboard are accurate?
I'm sure there's this whole thing too with like the health service records and all those sorts of things that people worry about is like, "Is this a good place?" I'd love to get your thoughts on that.
A lot of that could just be done by building a better mousetrap. They've been sold the same product. I'm going to speak on my own opinion. On my own opinion, they've been sold the same product over and over again with just a different shade of lipstick.
When you start looking at the WIX's and the Squarespace's, and the Weebly's and the local web developers, they're all just building websites, but they're not looking at it from the core problem, which is not building a website, but it's actually updating a website. It's about what can we do with the data on the website rather than just keep it within that one domain, and then hopefully your search engine's going to get you chicken parm in San Francisco, which it's not because there are about 500 blogs that have way more views than your Italian restaurant sitting on a corner in San Francisco.
Where it comes down to with GoNation building the trust is, we're no fluff. It's very simple. We provide you the simplest way for you to update your information online. We don't charge you a crazy amount of money. There are a lot of cloud-based web platforms that are trying to make their mark now, and they are making their mark. They're charging $100 to $200 a month for a website. That's insane.
It doesn't make any sense when a website is almost easy to get for $7.95 on GoDaddy. But you have to build it yourself. So, we have a reasonable, fair cost to get on our platform and to get your website. We offer a premium first, so you automatically get on it and just start promoting freely to the people in your area. That alone creates an ounce of trust because it's like no one's walking into these local businesses and saying, "Let me give you something for free." It's actually going to move the needle.
Absolutely. What sort of data are you providing to the various restaurants once they signup? It is a really cool feature that you've embedded or enabled the menu items to be searchable. Oftentimes, people are searching for whatever it is. Like, I've been in the mood for a cold pork sandwich. Where do I go? Right?
So, that's super cool. But do you show the restaurants what the most frequently searched items are or what that looks like so they know what the demand is?
Yeah. It's a pretty large platform. It's probably larger than I should have built. One of the things I always say is everyone asks what would you do different? I would have built this [way tomorrow 6:56]. But I'm already there, so I'm just dealing with it.
We are calculating all the data on the backend, and we provide limited data on that for the owner right now because we're growing so fast. To be quite honest, we can't even keep up with our output. We're going to hit 100 new customers in a 30-day span. It's getting to the point where we actually need to go faster and optimize our own platform where we can't put out the features fast enough that they're requesting or that we can't even provide them right now off of our own data.
Currently, we do have a data set that we provide that shows what their number one page is being clicked. You could pretty much guess it. What's the number one page being clicked? It's the menu page for restaurants. If it's a salon, it's the menu page. It's how much your stuff costs, and what do you offer to me?
Then, obviously, the second is actually contact page, and then you go into events. We're helping them see where they need to be putting their focus because one cool thing about our platform is you can add a photo in real-time from your phone. So, you could put your entire menu online digitally, and you don't need a photographer or crazy web developer restructuring sizes, sending it to a developer's. You literally just take the picture. Snap. Boom. Done, and it's on your website.
Showing them that their website views went up because they shared their menu, and people are looking at their menu now more percentage than they were the previous month shows, "Hey, you know what? Adding photos to my Specials really helped out. So, we're doing things like that with our data.
We also know the traffic that they're getting, which is pretty impressive because on average, most websites are getting ten times more than what their social media pages are getting. Not the social media content. That's different. Because when you post, it goes into multiple feeds, and you get a lot of eyes. But the actual page itself where all the information lives is actually not clicked often as the website is.
When you look at where this could go, I could imagine at the city level you could determine what are the trends? Is sushi hot this month, or, is it Italian, or whatever the different cuisine types are? We'll often see these food trends. Sriracha is a big thing.
As these food trends emerge, you almost could have like a Garder-style or a Forrester Wave Report that's like, here's the hype cycle. We can see all these people searching for these things and supply guidance because a lot of these restaurants have had the same menu for a very long time. If they could bring in seasonal specials of pumpkin or whatever it is, I've got to imagine that's a real value-added service as well.
Absolutely; 100%. It actually goes even deeper than that from the point of if something's not selling, you can see where people are clicking or what they're looking at more of. So, if you have calamari on your menu, and no one's clicking on the calamari to see the picture, it's a little bit weird. Maybe they just think calamari looks the same, or it maybe means that no one's interested in your calamari, and it's time to take it off the menu.
You can help optimize menus. You can help predict trends in cities. You can help predict trends in industries like restaurants, like salons. You can pick where the hotspots are where people are searching the most so you can see where the areas are the most aggressive with consumers traveling and walking.
The opportunity is immense in what we can do with this data. That's not even the other side of the data. The other side of the data is that with tracking being so common now on cookies and users, we can know who these customers are, how many times they're frequenting a restaurant, where they are frequenting a restaurant. Are they staying within their own area? Are they moving out of their own area? That's when you start getting into some really interesting data.
Early on, you mentioned just the platform, and this thing being huge, bigger than what you had originally planned. Talk to us about how did you handle this growth? How do you plan for the growth? How do you engineer the product to do this because you do have these multiple markets?
You talk about a demand side and a supply side, but you have this third side which you said is really like these cities. The reality is people can consume this data in a variety of ways. How do you plan for that platform growth?
That's a great question. I don't know if I can answer it in one sentence, but tequila definitely plays a nice part in the daily activities. It's interesting. I don't think I have it sold yet, without a doubt, because the data is just crazy. 500,000 menu items streaming onto restaurant websites, and then in your own city, in your own consumer app.
Then on a city website that's got your own users going to it. Then partners. It's a lot of data being streamed out. What happened was is we realize that it wasn't just the individual local business website that had this problem.
If you go online right now and you were to put in "a mall nearby." It's almost impossible to find out what's happening at the mall right now. When we started looking at what the data was, the data is the same data that needs to be everywhere, but it's nowhere. Relevant, real-time local business information.
You're like, "Oh, yeah, but there's Google. There's Facebook, and there's Yelp, and there's Foursquare." Yeah, they are, and all of the data lives inside of those platforms. Where the data needs to go is it needs to be inside those platforms, and it needs to be at all the other platforms.
Otherwise, you're limiting what true local promotion – what local data can do, and that is the biggest problem from the beginning that we realized really early on that if we powered a menu on a restaurant website, yes, it is powering a restaurant menu.
Where else could this menu be valuable? It could be valuable on the Chamber website. It could be valuable on Facebook. If it's at the mall, it could be valuable on the mall's directory. But there are no menus in mall directories. Why? When you have thousands of people looking at your mall to go spend their money there.
It's almost incredible how valuable this data is to the consumer as much as it is to the business. When we realized that early on, how are we going to do this? How are we going to structure this in a way where it's consumer-friendly, and we can show the value in it in our own model by just building a consumer model out?
It started with structuring the data. A lot of these platforms, GoDaddy for example, or WIX, you throw the data in, and you're all structured in this dev, and it lives in this one area, but it's not a menu system. It's not an event system. None of this data's connected or structured in a way that it will be streamed out; just that data. It's a website.
In GoNation, we realized that the data if it was structured properly, it could scale anyway. If we failed with the consumer, we could still be another menu platform. Which quite frankly, there are there of them right now. I can name 500 customers that don't use them. So, the market's there.
If you didn't do good in that, maybe you could just do good in community events. I can tell you. I just left a big meeting with over 50 people, and no one knew what was happening in their city yet. There's an incredible theater. There are over 700 restaurants. How do you not know what's happening in your city when your city's right outside your front door? It's crazy.
We realized that if we structured this data in a way that allowed it to get in fast, and share fast, and distribute fast, then we had something. We started with structuring our data, and then we started building out the components of what that structure data would look like in each environment.
We started with the local business website. Then we went to a consumer platform to show what our data would look like if we took all the data from those websites and put it into a city.
Then we turned it into a city API partnership where we can power cities, basically, just giving them a donation. Then we looked at it like, why don't we take 500 of this coffee shop and just see what it looks like if we were to show all the local data at these coffee shops?
Platform Players is brought to you by Yapstone, the premiere payments provider for the platform economy. And here it is, people, TICK TOCK! Where Kurt has 90 seconds to get up close and personal with our player. On your marks, get set, TALK.
This is an oddball question. What's your favorite smell or sound?
My favorite sound is house music. My favorite smell is my girlfriend.
Okay. So, that thump, thump, thump. Do you make that your ringtone or anything else like that?
I surround myself in beats. One, because it brings me to Miami at all times where life was great, and I wasn't a tech startup. I was a raging nightclub promoter that had a lot of fun. We'll just say that. It was a happy time, and it's not what it is right now. So, I like to always keep myself in that moment, and it always keeps me smiling.
Number two: it's the only music that keeps up with my pace of thought. So, even when I'm trying to slow it down, it will allow me still to focus and still keep the beat going where I don't get lost.
Very cool. What would you be doing now if you weren't doing this?
Probably running someone's company. I like product a lot, probably more than I should. I think I like product because I like the end result of what the customer gets from the end product. That's what I'm most fascinated about is their Aha! moment or their – we call it the mind-run] syndrome here because every single time we show an owner our platform, you could literally see their eyes just explode, and they're like, "Why would anyone use this?"
You can only get there by being a product maniac. I love product, so if I wasn't doing GoNation, I would either have my hand on someone's product helping them create that Aha! moment for their company, or I would be running their company.
Got it. What do you still enjoy doing the old-fashioned way?
Talking. I hate email. Email is so impersonal. You're always trying to read the other person. Like investors. Let me just tell you. Emailing investors is painful. It **** ****. That's the bottom line because you write this really nice email; you're just trying to be cordial. You get back one word, five words, no periods, nothing.
So, you're like, all right. Should I do that the next time? Then you don't get response. Was it because I didn't put the period? Was it because I didn't give them a five-second pitch? There's so much, and you see it change.
When you're talking to a person, you don't really see the dialect change unless you bring down their wall. In an email, there is no wall. It's an automatic wall. It's an email. You don't have an idea who this person is. It's behind a computer. You're reading text. You don't see the enthusiasm when they're talking or how sharp they are.
It's just words on a **** document, and you're sitting there trying to decipher all of this at the same time as making a decision. I like just talking to people. I like talking to people and working through problems with voice fast. I don't want to sit here and fluff about it. I just want to get things done. Let's just talk about it, and cut out that whole middle part that we don't need to do.
Chaz, thank you very much for joining us. I really enjoyed the conversation. Loved hearing the story about GoNation, where you guys have come from, and where you're heading next. So, thank you, again.
Thanks for your time, Kurt. It was awesome talking with you.