Friday, September 25, 2015

Papering the house -- 21st Century style

Equal parts interesting and annoying. This another one of those stories where the reporters (and possibly founders)  are so fixated on buzzwords and new economy BS that they don't realize how the new technology actually solves a business problem.
Surkus [pronounced 'circus' -- MP] calls it "crowdcasting" — providing clubs, restaurants and events in New York and Los Angeles with bodies to fill the room, order drinks, and liven the place up. Promoters and bar owners tell the company how many people needed — what age, sex, lifestyle, and what you'll pay — and they hook you up with people like Chuli Joy:

"Going out and getting to talk to the pretty girls, that's cool, you know?," said the 28-year-old actor. "But to get paid to talk to pretty girls? I'm like, hey, you can't beat it."

"I only thought celebrities got paid to party," said Myriah Klingler, a 23-year-old production assistant. "But nope, anyone can. I guess that's part of L.A."

Some of these so-called "Surkus-goers" say they've made as much as 30 to 50 bucks at other events, just by being there. But what about the clients? Paying people to come and drink free booze seems like a good way to go out of business, fast.

"People find crowds interesting," said Robert Menendez, the company's president and co-founder. "Why is that crowd there? What is happening there? This is just human nature. I mean, nobody walks by a crowd and goes, 'eh.' People are curious."

Surkus pitches its value also as a matter of timing. People who show up right when the doors open keep the place from feeling dead. Their presence is a kind of kindling for the raging party bonfire to come.

Jin Yu has been running Jazz Night at the W for five years with a fashionably-late arriving crowd in attendance. Surkus changed that, he said.

"Most of my guests get here around 11 p.m. Surkus-goers get here at 10 p.m. and it's an immediate energy burst right before all my guests get here," said Yu. "So the moment they walk in they say, 'Wow! This is amazing!'"

Yu was so amazed by Surkus, he said, he joined the company—Yu is Surkus' Chief Creative Officer now.


Surkus says more than 30,000 people have downloaded the app, and the company is looking for investors to expand that number. Potential "Surkus-goers" are asked to fill out a personal profile and then give the company access to some of their Facebook data — how else will you know if someone would enjoy a hip-hop event if you don't know what they publicly like?

Surkus also looks at how many followers its users have have, on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram. Surkus says it sells more than just bodies to its clients, it sells influence, too—what Surkus-goers Instagram, their followers see.
Of course, this sort of thing has been going on since at least the end of Prohibition. Clubs have always brought in ringers to create the impression that the establishments were popular and exciting and frequented by the right sort of people. The main problem was that, while theaters could simply give away tickets, clubs had to spend considerable time and/or money and/or ingenuity to get the sort of people they wanted in the club when they needed them.

The combination of mobile computing and social media has made this problem orders of magnitude simpler. With social media the number, location, and demographics of followers allow you to easily quantify the desirability of your plants, while smart phones allow you to bring them in at literally the last minute (or at least the last ten minutes).

In the full article, Menendez drops various trendy references to big data and behavioral economics, but not in a way that suggest a strong grasp of the concepts. This might indicate that the company's founder doesn't have all that solid a grasp on his own business model (these things have been known to happen) but I suspect it's more a matter of wanting to downplay the actual nature of the service.

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