Friends Don’t Let Friends Dial Drunk — There’s a ‘Mode’ for That

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I can’t say I’m proud of working my way through the vices in this column. But if I do get to sloth, please somebody stop me.

Let’s see, there was that time I wrote about an app to help you party and hook up with foreigners when you travel.  Then of course I helped you get your high on with an app that led you by the nose to the nearest dispensary.

So what now? Alcohol, naturally (something with which I have a passing acquaintance.) If you’re like, well, anyone you’ve probably found the bubbly creep up and egg you on to do stupid sh*t. Well, as they used to say, there’s an app for that.

The little tool for your phone called Drunk Mode is pretty much what the name implies: Drunk? Switch your phone to drunk mode to avoid making embarrassing calls at 2 am. (I’m looking at you every 22-year-old.)

But it’s not all face-saving. It’s also about keeping yourself out of trouble — and being safe — when your inebriated brain decides, “Whooooah it’s not time(!) for the PARTY to end yet! Play one more song by LCD Soundsystem man!”

Josh Anton, who will be speaking in the startup showcase at Street Fight Summit in June, is CEO and founder of Drunk Mode, and he knows well the danger of drinking + phones. He’s also a bit of a contradiction, which this column reveals. (But you’ll just have to read to find out about that one.)

So, Drunk Mode. Tell me where the idea came from and when? (Is there a personal story here?)
Essentially, I was the victim of a drunk dial.

A crush called me and said some things that she later told me she regretted saying. It made me think about the issue of drunk dialing, and that week I decided to survey over 100 students. Almost all of them said they would use an app that blocked them from making drunk phone calls, so me and my then partner, Justin Washington, built the first version of the Drunk Mode app. At first the app’s only function was to hide the user’s contacts while Drunk Mode was on, in hopes of blocking you from drunk dialing. We had over seven thousand downloads within the first month or so of being live, showing us we had a winning concept.

Give me the pitch — what’s it all about?
Drunk Mode’s goal is to help students look out for themselves and each other when they’re at their most vulnerable, and to stop drunk people from making calls/texts they wish they never made. If the app is used correctly, it is meant to make intoxicated outings safer — both physically and socially.

What are the core functions of the app? [Edited for clarity]

  • Find My Drunk – Use GPS to track drunk friends, keeping you and them safe.
  • Stop Drunk Dialing – Block selected contacts to hide them from drunk you!
  • Breadcrumbs – Track your night to retrace your steps the next day (Lost keys? Wallet? Dignity?)
  • Find A Ride – Easily find an Uber home after a long night.
  • Hotspots –  See where the party’s at in real time. Live feed of the night around you!
  • Homebase – Add trusted contacts to watch over you on your way home, call for assistance with our BlueLight button, or easily dial 911!

How are HotSpots determined?
At first we developed most of HotSpots based off of our campus reps’ suggestions. We hired many students at every major university and surveyed them to find the best places to go out. We also took in user suggestions when we first launched the feature.

Now, the X-Mode [see below] network is powering our HotSpots, not with only Drunk Mode users, but numerous partners via our SDK (which also helps developers monetize location data). Our back end data is powering and optimizing the accuracy of our HotSpots feature. We actually work with some of the largest independent, indie drinking and social apps on the app store, to help create a living map for when you go out.

So how did you actually develop Hotspots?
To create hotspots in college towns, we actually created our own in-house point of interest database around where millennials party. We did this by curating information from our hundreds of thousands of monthly Drunk Mode users and drew out the hottest places to go on a college campus.

Then we take the overall location that is collected in the X-Mode network (not just in Drunk Mode but in other apps as well) to refine our hotspots by matching it to clubs, bars, general regions, sorting it by demo, gender and location (all anonymous) etc. to refine the information.

Tell me more about X-Mode
X-Mode is the parent company of Drunk Mode. We had to develop a way to keep battery drain on Drunk Mode low, and out of necessity built a SDK that can pull extremely accurate geolocation data with little drain on battery life. This led us to develop more location based apps, as each new user under the X-Mode SDK will make the features of every app stronger. We also developed Walk Against Humanity, which is an exercise app that’s mean to you. X-Mode hopes to one day release and launch an app a quarter to make life more convenient for everyone. We also assist other apps that use geolocation keep their battery drain down as well as monetize their data, through integrating our SDK into their apps.

In the last 4 months since launching our SDK, we now have over 100 partner apps we’re working with contributing location to X-Mode via building our some pretty awesome mapping features in their apps, whether’s heat maps of where folks are partying, to geo-filters, to breadcrumbs of where users went.

Today we’re mapping out the foot traffic of over three million Americans daily, or about 1% of the US Population. Our location technology allows us collect 100+ points of day per user around the always on location permission, where our partners use X-Mode’s Data to understand the places users go.

What are the most used elements of the app?
Breadcrumbs and Find My Drunk are our most popular features as far as usage, with Drunk Dialing being the feature with the most buzz. Most folks download Drunk Mode to block drunk dialing, then realize we offer so much more.

What is your background? How did you hustle all this at a fairly young age?
I’m 26 now and started all this craziness back in college. I graduated from Mcintire School of Commerce at University of Virginia, with a focus in entrepreneurship. Drunk Mode was just one of the many projects I had going on while in college. I’ve always wanted to be entrepreneur so I decided to start five businesses. Drunk Mode has been by far the most successful.

I set four goals to figure out the idea I wanted to do in entrepreneurship, because I honestly didn’t know where I wanted to focus first. Over my last two years of college, I decided to set four goals: write a book, build a mobile app, start a public speaking firm and figure out how to market anything I wanted to.

I ended up doing all four of them. The book gave me credibility, a drunk dialing app became X Mode, and public speaking has given me a platform to showcase what we’ve done to help solve safety as I’ve been a keynote speaker for both TedX and Unilever’s largest summit in the UK. finally, I’ve been doing growth hacking for 5-plus years helping co-found growth-focused companies like Trend Pie and yOptimize.

I assume you’re not encouraging getting lit … but maybe you are? I’m in!
We don’t necessarily encourage it, but we aren’t blind like some old heads. People like to get lit. So why not make their night a little more safe and convenient? We essentially target the one in two students who think they are invincible on a college campus and sell them safety in the form of a Drunk Mode app. People are going to do what they already do; give them the tools to be safe.

Talk a little more about how the safety elements
While we show you girl to guy ratios in bars, and where the most popping spots in town are, we also put a big focus on user safety. Find My Drunk has been said to have saved lives. We get tweets and emails from users all the time thanking us, as the app helped them find a friend in a sketchy situation.

Homebase also lets users add a “Guardian” who doesn’t even have to be a Drunk Mode user. This Guardian gets updates as the user leaves the bar, gets half-way home and finally when they’ve made it home safe.

You’ve got 1.3 million downloads. How many active?
We’re currently averaging around 150,000-plus monthly actives, with most spikes coming on the weekends, as if you couldn’t have guessed that.

What’s the average age of your users?
Our main age range is between eighteen and twenty-six, with most users being around nineteen to twenty-one. With over seventy percent of users being female.

Seems you have Uber integrated. Is there a way for me to easily hail an Uber/Lyft if I just find myself lost and wandering a dark alley?
Most definitely. While we don’t currently have Lyft integration, users can easily call an Uber to their location or even send one to a friend. We also show the pricing up front making it harder to get ripped of by some surge pricing when you’re drunk.

Where is your largest user base? Any hot spots?
The majority of our users are in the D.C. and Virginia area, as I went to school at University of Virginia, and we’ve tested most of our marketing strategies there. The second largest group is actually in Tuscaloosa, AL thanks to my CMO going to college at the University of Alabama.

[Hot spots include] college towns, but NYC, Pennsylvania, Midwest and oddly around Austin.

Outside of the U.S., where are people using the app?
The UK is huge for us, Ireland has a big base, along with France and Russia. Fifteen percent of our user base is British

How many in the company now?
The team is up to around 20 folks, we’ve got a pretty large engineering team. We currently work out of AOL’s incubator Fishbowl Labs, and have around ten full time employees in the office daily.

And the revenue model?
In a nutshell, by monetizing on location data. Advertisers want to know where to put their billboards and such, we know where foot traffic is. So, we make the data completely anonymous, and then distribute that data to different vendors.  We’re very selective with who we deal with, as it’s our data too… we use many of these apps ourselves.

What’s the most drunk you’ve ever been?
While most people find this hard to believe, I have actually never been drunk. I’ve never even drank alcohol, honestly. It’s a joke amongst the team that once we sell, raise series A, or even IPO, that’ll I’ll have my first drink. I brought on a lot of partiers early on that helped make Drunk Mode what it is today. I try to remain the sober cog in this machine.

RickRRick Robinson is SVP of Product for on-demand roadside assistance startup He is also an advisor to Street Fight. Follow him at @itsrickrobinson

Join X Mode’s Josh Anton and hundreds of other top local companies and brands at The Best Street Fight Summit Ever — a three-day extravaganza in Brooklyn on June 12-14. Click here to register now!