Like most people, Eric Adler and Julien Chabbott hate waiting in lines. But unlike most people, Adler and Chabbott attacked their frustration the way college entrepreneurs do best: They brainstormed until they had an idea that would solve it, and make a buck in the process.
After thinking about GPS devices and the shortcomings of traffic-monitoring websites, the roommates came up with using mobile social media to provide up-to-the-minute information on wait times.
"With the proliferation of smartphones," says Chabbott, now 27, "we decided it was the perfect time to use the power of crowds."
The problem, of course, was "the chicken or the egg" issue of crowdsourcing: Without accurate data on line times, nobody would want to use the app. But with nobody using the app, there wouldn't be enough data to provide any value. By the time the two graduated in 2006, they decided they needed more time to perfect a plan, so Chabbott went to work at his family's import-export business, and Adler started in a Master of Professional Studies in Sports Industry Management program at Georgetown University, aiming to write a comprehensive business plan for their venture as his Capstone Project.
Three years later, their plan was finished: They would build a free iPhone app called Line Snob that would give real-time information on lines and wait times, and it would reward users (through points that could be redeemed for coupons) for reporting on the lines they're standing in. Instead of relying on word of mouth to build their database, the two signed up popular venues to populate the data on their own lines. The businesses would then provide on-premise signage instructing those in line to download the Line Snob app to get incentives such as discounts and special offers.
"You can't rely on luck to build a community," Chabbott says, "so we approach businesses with an offer to help them reduce their bottlenecks, increase revenues and give customers a better experience."
One of the first partnerships was with Wynn Las Vegas, which was interested in evenly distributing crowds in its hotel. Using Line Snob, the hotel can dispatch vital information such as where to find the shortest buffet line. Line Snob also appeals to nightclubs such as Visco Venues in San Diego, which uses it to give clubgoers estimates on how long it'll take to reach the velvet rope and even the ability to pay a premium to jump the line.
Line Snob makes money two ways: After a free three-month trial, businesses pay a monthly fee depending on the estimated amount they will make by being able to communicate with users who were previously unreachable. Line Snob also makes a commission with in-app promotions, which lead users to make purchases at the venues. For example, users in the Washington, D.C., area can use Line Snob to get $1 off a salad at a Sweetgreen restaurant.
Line Snob hit the Apple App Store in April and had 5,000 users within a week. The plan is to grow that to more than 100,000 users in the fall, partly by rolling out versions for other smartphones by year's end. Even better, Chabbott says, they are working on new technology that will predict waits, "before the line has ever formed."