Hi I'm Steve the CEO of Spot.com. We help people find the best places in the world and plan trips with friends. Before Spot I worked on early ideas at Expa focusing on product strategy, branding, and venture formation. I also used to drive nuclear submarines in the navy....Ask Me Anything! #AMA

Steve Weiner
Sep 14, 2017

Whether planning an epic European vacation or restaurant goals with your friends,  ensuring you're getting a personalized and authentic experience makes all the difference. We're all busy so Spot wants to make the discovery and planning process a little bit simpler so you can get out into your world and explore. 

I'd love to talk about discovering new places and how we're making that easier with Spot, but can also talk about what it's like to start and run a non-profit, building a company at a startup studio, driving nuclear submarines under the polar ice cap, or live music (I'm a huge Deadhead :).

Seriously...AMA :)

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Hey Steve,

Glad to see you on this platform. Could you tell us,

1) What were your strategies which lead you to achieve the Key Success Factors?

2) How about focusing your business in India, Asia?

Sep 15, 6:10PM EDT0

How was the experience to work with Garrett Camp? That guy is a legend!

Sep 14, 3:53PM EDT0

Haha I'm not sure he'd agree with that characterization, but would smile. 

Garrett is a system architect who has tremendous vision. At any given time he's working on several ideas at various stages and I'm continuously impressed with how he keeps it all sorted. When we met he had had very little exposure to people from the military, but we connected over my explanation of how submarines work. He grocked the technical design elements of a $4 billion piece of metal, powered by a nuclear reactor, that is designed to sink - but more importantly - designed to come back to the surface. He also fundamentally understood why someone who used to drive submarines would want to build companies and how I may be good at that one day. 

After working with Garrett for 18+ months I've picked up a lot of skills, both tangible and intangible. One of the things I most admired and have attempted to emulate was his ability to develop and comunicate product vision. To me, you can never be done learning how to develop and communicate product vision, but I'm tremendously thankful to have had the opportunity to sharpen iron with Garrett Camp. 

Last edited @ Sep 15, 8:51AM EDT.
Sep 14, 4:15PM EDT1
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Hey Steve, thank you for being part of our community! Here is an AMA you might want to jump in, I think Eva could use some advice and support from you!

Here are my questions:

What's your favourite band?

and a more grown up one:)

How did you solve the chicken/egg problem with Spot - so get enough locations and users on board?

Last edited @ Sep 14, 3:40PM EDT.
Sep 14, 3:40PM EDT0

thanks Tatiana I'll hop over there in a bit :)

My favorite band is Phish. I've been to dozens and dozens of shows (only I know the exact number and don't disclose it) and could speak about the band and their music for hours. I'll stop myself, because I won't be able to get to any more questioins :)

How do we solve the chicken/egg problem with Spot? good question, I'll let you know when we do ;)

In all honesty we are figure that out right now and it's tough! We publish locations right now by aggregating reviews from top food and travel publishers. If you want to dive deep on a Spot, you can click on a snippet of review of a venue and go to site that you know and trust. We make it easy for our users to send and recieve recommendations on where to go and to curate those spots into trip plans. 

We are going to publish a lot more spots as we expand futher globally and increase coverage density in current cities, but I'm really interested in how we make that direct-connection between a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop owner (ie the owner of a spot) and our users. Assembling THAT marketplace is actually Spot's big vision ;)

Sep 14, 4:02PM EDT2

How do you build awareness for a startup? I have a community site, i find it really difficult to gain traction.

Sep 14, 3:27PM EDT0

Hey Alicia,

I know exactly how you feel and by no means have the right answer, so let me take a quick stab at what hopefully is an optimistic approach.

The best communities are started by people who identify a problem or passion they have personally and do something to solve it. In the course of purusing the problem or passion, you often come across others who can empathize and see the value in what you're doing.

But you don't stop your pursuit just because you found one other person who agrees. You have to keep going until you've either exhausted resources or talked to everyone who will give you the time of day.

Look, some days at Spot are better than others. There are ups and downs, but that constant pursuit - the desire to run through walls - to create something that didn't exist before is what will help you get traction. And if you pursue your problem or passion that way and it doesn't work out, at least you can say you did your best :)

Sep 14, 3:53PM EDT1
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Hi Steve!

Big fan of what you guys are doing at Spot, and as an early adopter of Foursquare, I love services that help me log and discover new spots (pun intended!)

Would love to hear what types / profiles of consumer are you guys addressing first., and how you guys are thinking about targeting that core userbase. Is the traveler? The trendsetter who knows all the hip / new spots? The person who just moved somewhere and wants to get to know the neighborhood?


Sep 14, 2:48PM EDT1

Hey Jordan!

Customer segementation and targeting is something we've thought a lot about at Spot, especially with our website rebuild. 

When we looked across the travel and food landscape we studied different behaviors of people as it relates to making decisions on where to go and how to keep organized. We wanted to identify really extreme behavior that shocked us, but could eventually become more mainstream if better systems and tools were built and scaled with software. 

We wanted to make sure we could segment and target users who were fanatic about food and travel and were doing difficult - and sometimes unbelievable - things just so they could enjoy their passion. Because if we could make passionate food and travel people lives 10x easier, we could make mainstream travelers lives 1000x easier.

Last edited @ Sep 14, 3:41PM EDT.
Sep 14, 3:41PM EDT1

Hi Steve,

(I'm a biased friend with a genuine question)

Startups are hard (as is the location space) - what is the most relevant military experience that translates to making what you do easier and how do you apply that time to what you are doing now?

Sep 14, 10:36AM EDT1

Hi biased friend with a genuinely great question!

I would agree that startups are hard. When it comes to managing people and creatively solving problems, I draw on my military experience daily whereas I almost never apply my MBA. I'd bet if you asked my Spot teammates whether I tell more stories about submarines or my grad school experience they wouldn't even know what school I went to. I'm pretty proud of that.

The location space is hard for so many reasons beyond just being direct-to-consumer. Among other things, it's a massive data reconciliation problem. Venues open and close every day and if our goal is to inspire people to explore the real world we have to be efficient and accurate to ensure we're not giving bad advice. 

In the submarine force, when we were learning how complex systems - like nuclear reactors - worked we used to draw out every pipe, valve, pump and switch and have to explain all the interactions. I used to trace systems hand-over-hand to learn them and would draw/erase them on the white board for hours until they were committed to memory. When something broke, we would jump into troubleshooting the problem, usually only with massive physical technical manuals that were all written before I was born. And guess what?! Most of the answers weren't in that book and depending on where we were in the world, we couldn't always call for help. Some of my most memorable and proudest moments were when I hadn't slept for almost 48 hours troubleshooting a broken sonar array that was trailing behind the submarine or rebuilding the main engine throttles that wouldn't open all the way prohibiting top speed. Mind you, I had never changed the oil in my own car.

We're currently dealing with a REALLY annoying integration (hint: it's an oAuth provider) where the technical documentation is absolute garbage and there's no customer service. I don't write code, but I understand systems, so when the engineers get stuck, I love to talk it out, draw it on the white board, get down to bare metal, and figure out the way forward.

The military really prepared me for being comfortable with uncertainty. Yes we wear uniforms, salute based on rank, and have procedures for flushing the toilet. But when I was driving the sub in parts of the world with tiny fishing boats that don't show up on sonar, we're trying not to be detected while we collect intelligence, and smoke starts to billow into the control room, you have to make a call by trusting your system knowledge and the people around you.

When I first started at Expa, our CEO, Garrett Camp, asked me if I was okay operating in ambiguity. All I really could do was smile :)

Sep 14, 11:19AM EDT0

Does Spot.com only recomment European destinations or is it global?

Sep 9, 1:46PM EDT0

Spot is global! We are focused on a few core cities right now and will expand hope to greatly expand our coverage (particularly in Asia) over the next few months!

Last edited @ Sep 13, 1:50PM EDT.
Sep 13, 12:54PM EDT0
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Why did you decide to build as a non-profit?

Sep 9, 12:55PM EDT0
  • Wharton FinTech was the first student-led FinTech initiative. we were publishing and facilitating career management for students interested in the sector. we eventually rolled up into the student government - a non-profit -to simplify administration.
  • VetTechTrek provided veterans and spouses immersive career days at startups and tech companies. We built it as a non-profit bc we believed this should at least be a service that the federal government should provide and had no plans to monetize the trips beyond covering our minimal operating costs. 
Last edited @ Sep 13, 1:55PM EDT.
Sep 13, 12:59PM EDT0

Hi Steve, How have you carried out user onboarding for Spot? Among other things, were you lucky to uncover new design solutions?

Sep 9, 12:10PM EDT0

We think about onboarding a lot and are constantly trying to make it more efficient. Our goal is get users to use the product ASAP, but we obviously need to balance education and gathering the info we need to give users the best experience, from the first time and beyond.

The new version of Spot on the web will allow you to view all of our content without logging in. We want people to be inspired by the awesome spots and lists and create and account or log in when they are ready to start liking spots and creating lists.  

Sep 13, 1:04PM EDT0

Where are you from?

Sep 9, 8:04AM EDT0

I'm originally from New York, but have lived all over bc of the Navy. I've moved almost every year since I graduated college in 2008.

Sep 13, 1:06PM EDT0
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Does Spot have a subscription fee, or have you found other ways to monetize?

Sep 7, 4:02AM EDT0

Spot is free and we are going to experiment with a few revenue streams in a few months. While I'm not ready to talk about them quite yet, I believe the way venues get discovered (a bunch of comments from strangers, high foot traffic, and paid advertising) is broken, so we will be trying something totally new ;)

Sep 13, 1:09PM EDT0
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What is Wet?

Sep 5, 10:14PM EDT0

probably best described as an essence?

Sep 13, 1:10PM EDT1

What has been your favorite destination?

Sep 5, 11:52AM EDT0

good question! when I was traveling on submarines I loved pulling into port in Japan. It's one of my favorite countries and I'm overdue for a trip back (airplane this time).

I recently came back from a trip to Europe where I visited Berlin, Munich, Prague, and Vienna all for the first time. It was a whirlwind tour, but Berline really student out. Such amazing art, music, history, food, and a burgeoning tech scene, too. I plan to go back in the spring for a longer stay when Spot experiments with a distributed team format!

Sep 13, 1:13PM EDT1
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Do you feel the entrepreneurial spirit is dying off in the US as of late?

Sep 4, 7:39AM EDT0

What I've noticed is an increase in activity outside traditional tech hubs. Let me be clear, this is crucial for the US economy to continue to compete. It's never been cheaper to start a small busines and new avenues to access capital are opening up. But that means there's more competition and your product needs to be differentiated. So you still have to make things people want, but I think there's another component that matters a ton: public policy needs to lead from the front, not lag beyond. Lawmakers needs to think decades into the future and figure out what kind of workforce the US is going to have. Then we need to create pathways that incentivize entrepreneurial activities. I'm optimistic that the US entrepreneurial spirit will find new and interesting ways to morph and adapt.

Sep 13, 1:22PM EDT1
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I opened a non-profit dog rescue in Texas years ago. Did you find, as I did, That the competitive feel is far more pronounced within the non-profit community as compared to for profit businesses?

Sep 4, 1:10AM EDT0

what I noticed about running non-profits is that they can sometimes fall into the trap of of becoming a passion project without delivering much value. This can potentially contribute to a perception of a lot of incumbent competition, but in reality there are a few organizations all fighting for the same sponsorship dollars. This is when you'll see larger non-profits or for-profits donate to smaller ones that can't afford to do the big money-printing banquets. I frankly think the whole system needs to be refactored. Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org/) is a good way to understand how non-profits are spending budget and whether it's being efficiently allocated to the causes they claim to support.

Sep 13, 1:27PM EDT0
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What publications do you get your information from?

Sep 2, 11:32AM EDT0

we have about a growing list of publications that we shource venue information from. we're always looking to add more publications - particuarly international and small city - and you can send publication recommendations to publishers@spot.com

Sep 13, 1:28PM EDT0
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How much capital have you invested in total in all the businesses you've invested in and started, and what has been your ROI?

Sep 2, 4:07AM EDT0

I'm not a VC, but when I invested with student-VC, Dorm Room Fund, we would write $20k notes into the earliest companies on campus. None of have exited yet so no ROI per se, but the return on relationships and experience can't be undersold. DRF was one of the single most valuable experiences of my professional career.

Last edited @ Sep 13, 1:45PM EDT.
Sep 13, 1:33PM EDT0
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How many businesses in total have you started?

Sep 1, 5:16AM EDT0

depends on how you'd define "business" and just exactly how far you have to get to consider it "started" ;)

In all seriousness I love tinkering on ideas and working on projects. It's addicting!

Sep 13, 1:35PM EDT0
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Since you are a Veteran yourself, do you offer any kind of incentives when hiring Vets, or discounts at Spot for vets?

Sep 1, 5:01AM EDT0

Spot is a founding participant in the Shift Military Fellows program (shift.org/fellows) and we're excited to welcome a transitioning servicemember onto the team, hopefully this fall. I think military vets have such unique work and life experiences that often get overlooked bc they simply can't translate what they've done and what they can do for a company in the private sector. Thankfully Shift, which is also Expa-backed, is solving that so we will always have access to that talent pool.

Sep 13, 1:40PM EDT0
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Do you travel often?

Sep 1, 12:46AM EDT0

yes and with modern communiation, project management, and collaboration tools, Team Spot can pretty much do it's best work no matter where we're physically sitting. That's why we're experimenting with distributed work as we scale the company. You shouldn't have to live in San Francisco 300+ days a year to be a successful startup. You should be able to live anywhere and have a job. We want to make that a reality at Spot.

Sep 13, 1:43PM EDT0
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