Ivan Kovacevic

10 years of ‘Untappd’, the ultimate beer-drinking companion

Untappd check-in 10 year anniversary

There’s hardly a craft beer enthusiast out there who hasn’t heard of ‘Untappd’, a social discovery app for beerdrinkers that allows you to check-in to beers, rate beers and share reviews with the world all while “earning loyalty badges”. We recently had a chat with founder Greg Avola who took us on a trip down memory lane and into the future.

Foursquare + beer = Untappd

Back in 2010 social media was just beginning to take serious traction. It was the year of Foursquare, a very popular application launched by Dennis Crowley (the guy who previously sold one other location-based startup named Dodgeball to Google) in 2009. Foursquare allowed you to check-in to places, share that information with your friends, and earn various interesting badges and points. One of the early adopters of Foursquare was Greg Avola, a software engineer who came up with the idea to make an app that is similar to Foursquare, but with beer being the primary focus and central activity. 

Ivan Kovacevic from Wine&more and Greg Avola of Untappd
Ivan Kovacevic from Wine&more and Greg Avola of Untappd

Drinking Socially

“Drinking beer is a very social activity, but there was never an online representation of that for this particular endeavor. So we combined the two loves that we had, social networking and Foursquare, and Untappd was born”, recollects Greg in the‘Untappd Drinkumentary’ released to celebrate Untappd’s 10 year anniversary. Greg met his co-founder Tim Mather on Twitter. At the time, Greg was looking for a designer and Tim proved to be the perfect fit for his project. 

The idea of doing something with beer and user location was hot in Greg’s head, so hot that he developed the initial prototype for Untapped in under 24 hours. Two weeks later Untappd was launched. There was no “e” in Untappd, for the same reason there is no “e” in Flickr, the domain was already taken. Initially Untappd  was a web-based application when it was first launched, but the Google Play and iOS apps eventually followed two years later. Greg’s dream at that time was to see someone in a bar pull out their phone and check in to their beer on Untappd. A few months later the dream became a reality.

Untappd checkin screen
Untappd checkin screen

Beer bragging

Bear in mind that before Untappd became a 100+ person company it was just a two-man team that took care of everything, and the two still managed to enjoy a few beers in the process. Funnily, every New Year’s Eve during the first five years of the app’s release, the app would crash. Greg often found himself having to leave the party behind to take care of the servers and other app issues; he even left his wife at a bar once. 

Untapped managed to scale to 3 million users simply through guerilla marketing, meaning they did not spend any money on advertising. One of the pivotal moments that really helped kickstart the app was a ‘Mashable’ article that increased their daily active users from 100 to 5000 in one day. At the core of Untappd and its true value is in its community: the passionate craft beer enthusiasts who spread the word about the service. Some of these users are really only in it for bragging rights on the number of unique beers they’ve had, among other things, but the vast majority of them are just trying to discover new craft beers. 

Untappd badges and venue screen
You can never have enough Untappd badges

Going full time

Untappd was a two-man showup until 2015. Greg was used to his day job, fixed working hours and a steady paycheck. Untappd was simply a part-time hobby. Five years ago Untappd was approached by and merged with ‘Next Glass’, (a leading provider of software to the alcoholic beverage industry), which allowed Greg and Tim to switch to full time mode. Finally, an idea that two guys who lived on opposite ends of the country came up with over twitter became a real thing. 

Untappd for Business

Growing from only 2 people to an over 100person company in less than 5 years meant that what was once a hobby now needed to bring in some revenue, and eventually ‘Untappd for Business’ launched. Untapped for Business  allowed bars, pubs, specialty shops, restaurants and taprooms all over the world to publish their beer menus. 

If a user subscribes to a bar he/she would get a notification when new beer was available at the verified venue. People would come to a bar from far away just to enjoy new or rare beers.  Untapped for Business was a huge hit with 20,000+ venue owners proudly displaying their “Untappd Verified Venue” stickers and beer fans sporting virtual Untappd badges alike. The expansion of Untapped into Untapped for Business, most importantly,  helped bring in a significant amount of their 10+ million USD revenue in 2018. 

Untappd 10 year anniversary
Cheers to the first 10 Untappd

The power of community 

With the number of beers within the craft beer community growing, the accuracy and reliability of the data was getting out of control, at least in some countries/regions. That’s when Greg and his team realized they had to utilize their most essential tool and secret weapon, the beer enthusiasts themselves. Greg and the team decided to give them moderator rights to specific users. Currently there are more than 376 active moderators who communicate over Slack to help manage the large assortment of data. 

The inclusion of these moderator volunteers helped a lot in preserving data accuracy and also brought people together. There are even stories of two people meeting at a bar, not  exchanging contact information, but managed to reconnect over Untappd and later got married. The power of Untappd on the beer drinking community, and vice versa, is definitely something to be admired.

Top rated beers and trendy styles

Untappd currently has approximately 9 million users worldwide that have made over 900 mil. check-ins to date. Greg Avola shared with us some interesting facts about the trends they’ve been seeing: “I can tell you that IPAs dominate every year, but Sours are the highest style increase year over year since the start of Untappd. I found that sours had the highest increase in check-ins year over year (163%), a consistent average rating of 3.9 or above, and an average sentiment score of 72% positive among users who had left a review for a beer of the sour style. As I am  not a huge sour fan, that was pretty crazy to see!”, says Greg. 

When rating beers there’s an impression that more intensive beers get better ratings on Untappd. If a user is not too fond of a beer style the beer might get a lower grade “We’ve been thinking about introducing the option “Rating by Style”, where you would see how a certain beer compared to the beers of the same style. 

Greg Avola of Untappd on trending beers
Greg Avola of Untappd on trending beers

I think a lot of people just rate beers based on whether or not they like it themselves which can lead to issues in the overall beer rating. We have some work to do in this department to develop an algorithm that better understands rating based on user preference. We’re doing a good job now adjusting ratings, but definitely need to make it more apparent for the user based on their preference”, says Greg. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Greg at the SXSW film, interactive and music festival in 2018. One of the most interesting topics he talked about was trends in beer consumption at the festival and on a global level. IPA’s and Sours were the dominant styles back then as well.

Beer memories and the future of Untappd

Having just celebrated their 10-year anniversary, Untapped is  currently taking care of tech debt and launching a new project – Untappd Marketplace, a software solution for alcohol distribution. Additionally, the Untapped team has recently been hosting virtual beer festivals. 

Apart from these two recent accomplishments,  Greg recently hosted a hackathon of his own in November 2020 for one of the most requested features of Untappd. “Coding has always been something that has kept me going and made me happy. I like to try to solve problems with technology in order to delight someone’s day or make their life easier.

Beer memories
If you’re looking for a legit reason to travel back to the future, Beer memories sounds like a good one

Over this past weekend, I wanted to build something, so I tapped my long-time friend and Untappd moderator, Chris Betz. The goal was to see if we could create something quickly on Untappd API, to see if there’s any interest from the community. I get it — it’s odd to see a founder of a platform, build an API app instead of just building into the existing app — however, I wanted to see how successful it was with the community and get it out quickly.” says Greg. 

That’s how Beer Memories was born (note that it’s not an Untappd related product). It’s a simple serendipity app that tells you which beer you’ve had on this day for life of your account. I just remembered my first check in from 2011. Here is e to the past 10 years of Untapped and another 10 years to come. Cheers!

Untappd check-in 10 year anniversary

Ivan Kovacevic, partner Wine&more

Write a comment