Shore Up

Get to know a Toronto startup: Shore Up

Whose recommendation for a new cafĂŠ would you trust more: your best friend, or foodboy23, a stranger who posts his views on a public website? Ours? Toronto-based company Shore Up is banking on the idea that "friends know best," and has created an app that will allow users to recommend businesses they like to their friends, and earn rewards when those friends visit places on the strength of their recommendations.

Shore Up launched in public beta at the Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference in April. Since then, about 150 users have signed up and Shore Up is planning to launch its second version of the app later this month. I recently spoke with CEO and Co-Founder Matthew Woo, 21, who filled me in on what Shore Up is up to.

What is the idea behind Shore Up?

From the customer's perspective, market research company Nielsen found that customers trust 90% of the recommendations they get from friends and family, only 70% from sources like online customer opinions, and even less when recommendations are from other sources. We think these results are explained by the fact that the best experiences come based on the recommendations of friends. Shore Up is meant to be a better way for customers to discover places they'll love.

From a business's perspective, the best customers are not the ones who come into a business most often, but are the ones who refer others to their business. The problem is that owners don't know who these valuable customers are. The idea for Shore Up is to encourage people to recommend places they love, and to allow businesses to reward those people who drive traffic to their door.

How does Shore Up work?

Let's say I go to Niche cafe and I think that one of my friends would love it. I can recommend it to her through Shore Up. Then, the next time she's nearby and opens the app, she'll see that I recommended Niche cafe to her. Shore Up stores all your friends' recommendations, so they don't get lost, and then uses location-based technology to tell you when those places are nearby.

How do customers earn rewards?

When customers use Shore Up, they earn coins that can be redeemed for rewards. For example, when I go to Niche and check in, I earn one coin. If I recommend it to a friend who then goes to Niche, I earn two coins. Each business decides on what rewards it will offer its customers. For example, at Fahrenheit Coffee you get a free espresso for 10 coins and a cappuccino for 15. The coins are specific to each business, so coins earned at Niche can only be used at Niche. In the future we're hoping to offer unique experiences to Shore Up users - for example, a special dish or new flavour of latte.

What are "experience points"? Are they different from coins?

We've included "experience points" to build on the concept of gamification. Foursquare shows us that people want to "achieve" and beat other people to move up the "leaderboard." Similarly, the more you use Shore Up, the more experience points you'll earn. We've used the boat symbol as the icon to show you where you are on the leaderboard. You start off as a piece of wood, then move up to a row boat, and then a small sailboat. Every time you move up, you get a cooler boat.

What businesses are signed up so far?

There are nine businesses signed up so far, which are mainly restaurants and cafes. We recently spoke to a large restaurant chain, which is interested in letting us roll out Shore Up in its 156 locations over the next 6 months. We have plans to eventually take Shore Up into entertainment and services.

Are there similar apps to Shore Up?

There are a lot of "loyalty apps" in the United States, which are a bit different from Shore Up as they mainly reward people based on how often they check in to a business. One app, Belly, hit about a million "check ins" in the last few weeks, which shows us that users value these loyalty rewards. There are other apps that allow users to share recommendations, but we're the only one where sharing recommendations is the core functionality.

Where does the name "Shore Up" come from?

There are two reasons we chose "Shore Up." First, "shore up" means to build up. For a business, it is about building up customers, and for customers, it is about building up great experiences. Also, it was important to us to have a name that had two syllables. It sounds strange, but if you look at all the most successful companies, Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, Pinterest, you'll see they're all two syllable names.

How does Shore Up make money?

We charge businesses each time a coin is issued. It's no risk for them. If nobody uses the app, they don't pay a cent. The fee we charge per coin depends on the type of business. For a coffee shop, it is about 5 cents a coin, and restaurants range from 15 - 25 cents per coin. In the future, if we collect enough information about customer use, we may sell that to businesses. A final source of revenue could be allowing customers to purchase coins when they just need a few extra to earn a reward.

What information is Shore Up going to collect about me?

Shore Up collects data, but it will be about aggregate trends - not directly linked to individual users. For example, we may see that 10% of the people who go to a coffee shop then go to a gym afterwards. This may then signal to a coffee shop to offer more healthy food. Or we may see differences in the type of people who recommend coffee shops. We collect the demographic information through Facebook. As of now, you need to enable the app through Facebook to be able to use Shore Up.

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