When you think of SXSW, sessions and keynotes featuring heads of state and Hollywood stars, thousands of band gigs and hundreds of films come to mind. So do lots and lots of parties, all serving up a bevy of beverages. What better time and place for a cocktail app to launch, even in the midst of a noisy, massive conference? “Giving away a free drink, everybody’s interested,” said Hooch CEO, Lin Dai, “Nobody ever walked away from that conversation.”
Hooch, available for iOS and Android, is part of the growing subscription-based economy. For $9.99 a month or $99.00 a year, Hooch members can go into partner bars, show the app and receive a free drink. Every day of the week, if they so choose. That’s $9.99 for 30 to 31 drinks a month. Not bad. Plus, new members can try it for free for seven days.
Starting with New York in December of 2015 and Los Angeles in January of this year, at this year’s SXSW Hooch launched in Austin drinking establishments, including Cedar Street Courtyard, The Nook Amphitheater, Old School Bar & Grill, and starting today at the annual Lose Control party, which runs from March 15 through March 19 at Krave (free non-official, non-badge party with RSVP at 302 East 6th Street).
Lin sees the tradition of people sharing cocktails and alcoholic beverages as the strong foundation of their business model. “People have been drinking for thousands of years, and I expect they’ll drink for another thousand.” When it comes to the free drink component, bars have been using the paper drink ticket for guests, party goers and visiting bands. To date, there hasn’t been a technological replacement for paper.
There’s also a psychological aspect to getting a free drink, that feeling of being special adds an emotional bonus to the drinking experience. While Hooch is investing marketing dollars in growing their download numbers, especially during SXSW, Lin is strongly focused on organic reach through word of mouth, tapping into the nature of the user experience. He expects psychology to come into play each time a Hooch member shows their app to the bartender to get their free drink, sparking curiosity in fellow bar goers.
For participating bars and venues, building free drinks, which Lin says have an average mark up of 1500%, into a venue’s marketing budget is more cost effective than traditional and online advertising, including investments in Yelp ratings. “We offer our platform for free,” he explained, but venues also need to meet certain criteria as a place Hooch believes their members will enjoy.
The UX is also a priority, capturing eye catching photos of the venue and the chosen drinks, giving members three options to choose from. At Krave, for example, members have a choice of a vodka tonic, cranberry and tonic, and draft beer. At the Samsung SmartThings Airstream (located at the Samsung Studio at 2nd and Trinity), they’re serving up the Hooch Smash, SmartStream, and a Tecate beer.
As the member numbers and usage statistics grow, so will the data, giving Hooch new insights into consumer behavior for varied but specific demographics, such as, women in New York between the ages of 25 to 34 prefer tequila drinks over vodka drinks. This data can then be used between Hooch, the venue partner, and the liquor brand, to promote drinks to those targets where a specific liquor will best resonate. “It’s really something unique. There hasn’t been a tool like this,” which does a daily capture of consumers’ alcohol brand decisions. With their most active users redeeming on average, 16 drinks over a 30 day period, they’ll have plenty of data to work with.
By the summer, Hooch will be launched in Miami, Dallas, Hong Kong, San Diego, San Francisco, and Chicago, utilizing local industry representatives to search and out find participating venues; people who are knowledgable about their city’s drinking establishments and have those relationships in place. Hooch will also be pursuing partnerships with liquor distribution companies, a logical fit for their business model. Lin, along with fellow Hooch executives Aleksey Kernes and Jared Christopherson, are being aggressive with their city roll out plans because they see that with their growing user adoption comes the potential of growing competition. Their goal is establish Hooch as the de facto standard for getting free drinks in cities across the country.
Beyond expansion plans, Lin stated their potential plans for a social component to the app, where members can connect with each other directly, make recommendations and sharing experiences. This connects back to the Hooch identity, which is influenced by the prohibition era when secret societies were born in the back rooms of their speakeasy.
Find Hooch tonight at another Cedar Street show, and at the first night of the Lose Control party. Hooch for iOS here, and Android here. Stay on top of more Hooch surprise announcements and VIP events during SXSW by following @HoochApp on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.