Hyperlocal Has Cracked ‘Local’ and ‘Now’ — Sosh Now Looks to Target Intent

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I don’t know about you but I see two levels of experiences. There is the guide-book type of thing like the general activities of going to a restaurant or hiking on a trail. And there are more specialized events like “Have a Special Wine Tasting Dinner at Super Grub” or “Go for a Moonlight Hike Among the Redwoods.”

To date, accessing the specialized events has been a nightmare and is actually best accomplished by subscribing to email lists or reading the paper or, worse, trolling through really lame event calendars which toss everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. Which is why startup Sosh is interesting to me.

The types of events on Sosh (pronounced as the first syllable of “social”) are, by and large, local or hyperlocal by nature. And they are transactional during the search process: people seeking to find them tend not to be just browsing but are actively planning or trolling for something cool to do. Sosh aims to personalize this process in a Hunch-like way by aggregating cool, unique events and serving them up to you in response to requests.

The tool sounds extremely cool in answering the “What should we do tonight?” question, which has morphed somewhat into: “What can we do tonight that is unique and not in any other guide, really?” Sosh co-founder Rishi Mandal told Forbes.com that Sosh “finds unique events in a way that is purposely ‘unscalable’” — not accessible via Yelp or other traditional venues. “Doing unscalable things to delight users is the most important thing to us,” Mandal said.

Mandal’s logic makes sense to me. I too seek out those sorts of events. And it also points to a place that I think we’ll see a whole lot of movement in the hyperlocal space. That is, just-in-time advertising. We have an inkling of this with GrouponNow and other deal offerings that are time-sensitive (as in, a few hours) and location specific. But those offerings, casting a wide net, fail to also capture intent. That’s not to say they won’t work, but the other side of the coin is a startup like Sosh.

Because it is intentional and transactional in nature, Sosh is probably more likely to see responses akin to search engine advertising, where people who are there know what they want and are ready to buy. And that could be a particularly excellent venue for local advertisers. Granted, this is a highly splintered, crowded marketplace. And reaching these sorts of mom-and-pops to advertise is tough because they are not really tech savvy. But while many people still say smaller businesses will never fully embrace online ads, I see evidence of the opposite.

Clearly, Groupon and its ilk have illustrated that mom-and-pops will try out new mediums more aggressively if they are properly educated. BlackboardEats, one of my favorites, is getting great coverage and traction doing something quite similar to Sosh but for foodies – and with a much smaller organizational footprint than the big daily deal players. Massive sales teams are not required if you are not trying to place two or three deals per day and the offering remains exclusive – which, frankly is preferred. I have no idea whether this is ultimately Sosh’s revenue model. They could just as well, like BlackboardEats, offer a referral fee structure for premium placements. Or just be a freemium with some other type of monetization yet-to-be-determined.

They company, which snagged $1 million in seed backing from a gold-plated list of investors including PayPal mafia don Keith Rabois, has a really large inventory of sources for their activities and events, and has built crawlers customized specifically to pull them out. For now, Sosh is running online as a Web app and not on handsets because the company is seeking to capture the planning phase — at your desk, Googling “What to do in SF on Saturday” rather than in the moment. Thus far, it’s only live in San Francisco. I’d watch Sosh and this trend as people continue to gravitate towards experiential discovery vehicles — and ad and commission dollar move in that direction, too.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday on Street Fight.