David McWhorter is a PhD chemist, homeland security consultant, and founder of a startup called Happy Hour Ninja that develops an app called CLiNK. Of course. I mean, if you have PhD and work for the government, starting up is just a natural progression – at least here in DC. Here’s his story:
Where did the idea for Happy Hour Ninja and CLiNK come from, and why did you decide to pursue it?
About a year ago, I just wanted to stop by someplace in Dupont to grab a burger and beer, and I jumped on my phone to find a good source of where to go. Many apps were DC-wide, and they weren’t able to capture the fine detailed changes that happen in Dupont on a monthly basis – I’ve been told that 2 restaurants open and 1 closes in Dupont every month.
I found there wasn’t an app that offered good up-to-date information that focused on Dupont. I went around and very carefully handcrafted my database for Dupont using Google Maps, and I walked every street to be sure I didn’t miss anything. It’s a really dynamic area, and if you don’t stay on top of it, you get lost or end up sending people to places that are closed.
In 140 characters or less, what does CLiNK do?
We find the best Dupont Circle happy hours that are closest to where you are.
Why is your startup useful?
It’s geo-located, so it knows where you are and grabs the 15 happy hour specials closest to you. I have different people, who I call agents, doing Arlington, Bethesda, U Street, Old Town, H Street, Adams Morgan. So it’s about to grow substantially, hopefully within the next few weeks.
What is your business model?
I’ve been to every bar, and every bar that is in my area are in my app for free. The app is free.
The model I set up is, if you want your bar to get a bigger listing or get prioritized or engage on Twitter with whatever you tweet, you can pay $30, $60 or $90 a month to get these services. Right now, I am covering my costs.
What do you need, and what do you want?
I need to add features to the app. I want to have agents in every micro area that will be represented in the app. That person is responsible for keeping the database up-to-date and engaging people on Twitter.
What’s in it for the agents?
Let’s take Dupont. There are roughly 200 bars, and 150 of them are relevant to CLiNK. Of those 150 bars, 50 of them decide to sign up for the $60 a month plan. I run that area. That revenue is all mine. For the agents, that $3,000 is split 50/50.
Over the long-term, what do you want CLiNK to be? Do you want to expand nationwide?
Yes, absolutely. I am smart enough to get this thing off the ground, but this gets complicated as it scales. When you have tens or hundreds of agents, you have to do what most startups do – find a CEO, CFO, etc.
Who is your biggest competitor, and why are you better?
If someone is looking for a happy hour in Dupont, there is no competition. If someone is coming to DC for a conference, there are several databases on the web that are very thorough in terms of reviews. In terms of apps, there is Zagat, but I would presume they have only 50% of what is in Dupont. On a micro level, I don’t think there is much competition. My shortcoming right now is that it’s only Dupont.
Tell me something unique or interesting about you or your company that most people don’t know.
The fact that I really am learning this on the go. I have played around with Twitter but never saw it’s utility and didn’t understand why it’s so popular. For a business like this, it’s my go-to marketing tool – and it’s free! So that’s been a big learning curve, finding some of those tools out there.
I’ve integrated the CLiNK with TaxiMagic, so within the app, you can actually pull up the TaxiMagic app if it’s on your phone and get a taxi within CLiNK. That connection to TaxiMagic came via Twitter.