UNATION plans to launch its event-driven, social network platform on 11/11/11. And if the news release that inhabited the fully dressed Straz Center's center stage last month -- a display that looked more like an Apple product demo than the launch of a stealth technology startup in Tampa Bay -- is any indication, there may be many reasons to get excited about this company.
Peeking upward from "bloggers-row'' (generally somewhere in the back so the pitter-patter of key strokes doesn’t distract), I remember saying to myself: "This ain’t amateur hour; these guys mean business.''
is a few things: A best-of-breed social networking technology platform, an events uber-registry, a brand-friendly social content distribution channel, and potentially, an up-and-coming e-commerce force to be reckoned with.
The team is solid -- all coming from successful careers in diverse industries -- and the bench of talent is deep. They began the technology build about 16 months ago, and now UNATION is in the final stages of priming the pump for what they have dubbed, a ''tsunami-style'' launch in November.
At the time of the Straz Center
event, the company was headquartered on Fletcher Avenue, just down the street from the USF Tampa campus, though CEO John Bartoletta says they will be moving into a 17,000-square-foot space in a downtown Tampa tower soon.
Wait, everyone’s already on Facebook, right?
Doesn’t the impediment of "cognitive cost'' of switching networks imply that the network battles have shaken out and the optimal strategy is to simply launch something on top of Facebook or integrate within it?
Bartoletta -- obviously tired of answering this question -- explains his rationale for why he doesn’t think so, and explains how they are going to overcome the "network effect.'' He proudly shares: "10 million users on day 1 is the goal. We've built the eyeballs before we built the site.''
Known as an "anchoring'' strategy, UNATION is accomplishing this via partnerships with content providers and big brands (celebrities, businesses, sports teams, etc.), which Bartoletta believes will allow UNATION to hit the ground running with plenty of users in the queue.
The company is currently in the process of load-testing to ensure that their technology can hold up to the millions of parallel processes per second that will be demanded of the site.
Given the list of partnering technology firms
(downright impressive), it’s apparent that hardware/software challenges will likely not represent the biggest risk to UNATION’s success -- this will be all about traction/user acquisition. After all, they’re up against Facebook, Twitter and GOOGLE+, aren’t they?
Maybe not. When you think about it, neither of the digital Big 3 really own events, do they?
Facebook probably comes the closest and isn’t all that impressive. In fact, in Facebook’s latest re-design, "events'' have been relegated to a small, single-bar on the right side of your page directly above your first sponsored advertisement. They cannot be hovered over for more details, nor can you scroll downward to produce a relevant list of things that you might like to do based on geographic location, your history of previous event attendance, recommendations from friends or people "like'' you, or even your stated/shared interests.
Room for improvement?
UNATION certainly thinks so. The founders also believe they’ve got a recipe to connect real-life events with digital-life, pre-and-post event, e-commerce.
UNATION, is aiming to be the real-time search/filtering platform for events -- more specifically, the events you care about.
• Free for users, (with perhaps a nominal fee for businesses and brands to be involved), the service is feature-rich and positioned to potentially create quite a bit of value for businesses, brands and general users.
• Privacy-focused, UNATION is determined to allow you to control the content you share. Your content is yours. Granted, it’s tough to know what statements like that exactly mean these days, however, suffice it to say that the UNATION team thinks there is an opportunity to attract some users to their platform because they represent a significant "privacy upgrade'' from Facebook. How this exactly happens is unclear at this point, however, don’t be surprised if their product is more in line with GOOGLE+’s "circles'' approach – which allows you to have excellent control over "who sees what.''
• Identity control is also important to this venture. Name verification is required, which makes sense for a brand-friendly social platform (better luck next time, squatters).
• Your profile page has an embedded rich text editor, which might make for more aesthetically pleasing social and document sharing.
• Hosting an event yourself? UNATION provides a micro-blog/landing page for events on your page, which will be a significant upgrade from Facebook, even if it’s just for the pub crawl associated with your birthday party.
• Calendar Integration: the service currently sports ical integration, and it would be surprising if the team wasn’t also working on other calendar systems-integration given their events-focus.
• The site header is pretty standard, and primarily used for navigation purposes. The footer, however, is uniquely social. Despite how many pages you click-into the site, the social bar at the bottom of your page stays with you, and allows you to communicate across-platforms with your contacts. This means that you can U-chat with people logged on to Facebook, Tweet and instant message friends logged on to other networks, without having to click away from your UNATION page. This rocks.
• What's next? Undoubtedly, there are more killer features coming.
How Does UNATION Make Money?
UNATION claims to have 15 monetization points -- the big two likely being targeted ad sales and e-commerce transaction fees (3 percent across transactions).
Furthermore, don’t be surprised if they get into the daily deals space, with a slight twist. They see value in providing businesses with more control over the structure of the deal (what can happen in the alternative scenario
has been well-documented.
Another interesting twist on the Udeals angle is a built-in avatar with an underlying auto-negotiating algorithm. This way, anyone can create deal parameters, and then users (shoppers) can make an offer and the auto-negotiating avatar will handle the rest. Pretty slick. Ears certainly perk up when UNation says "people will do more shopping here than they do on Facebook.''
Also of interest is the potential for not-for-profit organizations to connect and engage with their bases. Bartoletta is excited about this: "The number of pre-launch anchors we’ve landed is so big that we’re going to give back!'' There just might be big impact potential here for cause-oriented groups (read: Nonprofits, you might want to sign up and give this a shot).
UNATION is interested in making sure that Tampa-based companies will be represented in the pool of pre-launch anchors, so if you’re in the business of selling products online, it might not be a bad idea to pre-register for a business account.
Looking back on the news event at the Straz, it's difficult to not be excited by yet another launch in the Tampa Bay region of something with enormous potential for growth. Sure, it feels heavier than a startup. Then again, what they’re asking their platform to do is intense. So what's the bottom line? These guys just might be geniuses.
PS: The sound quality in Carol Morsani Hall inside the Straz is nothing short of FABULOUS.
Nathan Schwagler is a freelance journalist, creativity researcher and visiting instructor of entrepreneurship at USF St. Petersburg who will buy you a cup of coffee or a delicious pint if you promise to tell him something interesting on the record. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.