When Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht started putting together the startup in 2010 that would become GroupMe, they were looking at ultimately doing more than just group messaging. They wanted to get people together in real life and help them decide on things to do together. The New York City startup, now a part of Skype after an acquisition last year, is finally getting to that larger goal with the introduction of Experiences by GroupMe, the company’s first foray into group event planning.
At launch, Experiences will offer a handful of curated events in New York City that are designed for a set number of people, usually about 4 to 6 participants. Users can invite friends to join the event through a unique URL using GroupMe, Facebook or email. When a person reserves a spot, they enter in their credit card information for their share of the event cost but the card is only charged when all the spots are reserved. After an event is booked, a new GroupMe group is created so participants can coordinate before the event and stay in touch afterward.
The service will be limited to a beta group at launch and will eventually spread to more cities over the rest of the year. For now, GroupMe is working with venue owners to craft the events, which can include special perks and unique experiences beyond just admittance. For example, a VIP event for the Upright Citizens Brigade performance includes the ability to skip the line and a cocktail party. Experiences will be accessible only through GroupMe’s online site but mobile app support is in the works.
The plan is to empower users to create their own events and use Experiences to organize them and manage payments, said founder Steve Martocci. Ultimately, it’s about expanding the power of GroupMe beyond an online experience to an offline one as well.
“We want to be able to make groups an everyday part of life,” Martocci said. “Groups are a hard problem and that’s why we’re focusing on how to get people together and make that process easier.”
The move puts GroupMe into competition with other start-ups like CrowdTilt, a crowd-funding service for events and parties. Hecht said GroupMe excels because it has been focused on groups from the start and so it can offer not just event planning or payment but communications services to tie it all together. GroupMe’s ability to tackle event planning was one reason Skype bought the company in the first place. Skype’s CEO Tony Bates said as much at the time of the GroupMe acquisition, describing GroupMe as a service “that helps users stay in touch and make decisions.” Martocci and Hecht told me after the sale that GroupMe had an opportunity to get into the local offers market, using its GroupMe messaging tools to help people plan for offline events.
Here’s what Hecht had to say in a blog post at the time:
The peer to peer economy is driving unprecedented intelligence to the edge of the network, and messaging is just the first wedge in helping individuals and groups make decisions and take actions instantaneously. When I talked about Groupon closing the redemption loop a few months ago, I was adamant that a mobile commerce layer and a social / communication layer are being built out that will have unprecedented impacts on how we interact and consume things with friends in our physical environments.
So expect to see more of this kind of offline planning and local offers from GroupMe. Messaging was just the start but the bigger play is influencing local spending and getting a piece of the local ad market.