It's safe to say that no one likes waiting in line — a quick survey at the nearest DMV is sure to attest to that. But some of the more tech-savvy fans of Charleston's nightlife may have recently heard of a new app that gives users the ability to avoid the wait outside downtown's most popular bars. It's called RAAD, and it's being developed right here in Charleston. But before we learn more about the team behind RAAD and what the new service could mean for the King Street scene, let's talk about how the app works.
Users can download RAAD for free on their smartphones from Apple's App Store. You sign up using your phone number. Once all that's squared away and you're ready to head out for a night of revelry, users can check the app to see what local bars are currently using the service. Still in its early days, RAAD is going through regular test runs at Midtown Bar and Grill and has been tried at a few other establishments downtown. Using the app, you can select a spot that's signed on and purchase passes that allow you to skip the line outside the bar. Prices usually range from $5 to $10 depending on the night and time. The number of passes available is limited to avoid the problem of simply creating a second line outside the bar. After purchasing a pass, the app saves your credit card information, much in the same way Uber does. Then, you simply show the purchased ticket on your phone to the bouncer at the door, he or she taps the screen to verify that everything is in order, and you can walk right in.
RAAD is still being fine-tuned by creators Kory Keefer and Jacob Wisniewski, but the basic model is already up and running. The idea for the app came to Keefer while he was attending the College of Charleston. The eager pitchman comes across as a born promoter for the new business. During his college days, Keefer says he'd try everything to avoid waiting outside of bars — pay off bouncers, buy the staff a few shots to make sure he was remembered the next night he came through. Keefer's restless nature is balanced out by Wisniewski, who is a bit more subdued. The two were friends for a time in high school before parting ways. After five years with no contact, Keefer stumbled upon his future business partner at a thrift shop. Working as a teacher in the Upstate, Wisniewski volunteered around the shop, helping price electronics. After the two were reacquainted, Keefer learned that Wisniewski had a talent for coding, so he pitched his idea for what would become RAAD. The app launched this spring, and the duo was accepted into Charleston's Harbor Accelerator program to further develop the idea.
"When you're creating your own company, it is kind of like a baby," says Keefer. "You have a different perspective of it, so you think 'Oh, users are really going to like this feature' or 'They're going to love this,' and then they couldn't give a shit about it at all. We're still improving the app, getting it in as many people's hands as possible and seeing what they like and what they don't like about it and tweaking it."
A major part of getting RAAD off the ground is finding a balance between making users happy and finding something that bar owners are willing to implement. Under the current system, businesses can sign on for free, and they receive a percentage of the revenue that comes from users. Keefer says it takes a bit of convincing to get bar owners to try something new. His main pitch for the app is that there's minimal risk for owners. If no one buys a pass, it's just a normal night. If a few people decide they'd rather not wait outside, that's just extra income for the bar. But aside from the extra cash, RAAD's developers hope they can provide something more valuable for businesses.
"If you look it up, you cannot find any statistics on anything related to nightlife," says Wisniewski, who suggests that RAAD could be an easy way for bar owners to learn more about their clientele and directly market to potential patrons using push notifications.
"We're getting data on the busiest times, how they can increase and utilize all this data, because a lot of bars we're finding out don't really keep track of that. Sometimes they'll have handheld clickers that never get tracked. They know the busier times, but they don't really know all of this data that a lot of other businesses have," says Keefer. "We're able to say, 'Hey, we can target your most valuable customers, get them in your establishment faster and with a better experience, so they're more likely to come back.'"
So as Keefer and Wisniewski work to get their product into more bars and cities, the idea behind RAAD is bound to raise questions about fairness. Not everyone is going to be willing to fork over the extra cash to get to the front of the line, and watching others skip ahead is sure to rub some people the wrong way. RAAD's developers are well aware of this problem. Keefer acknowledges that the app isn't for everyone. He also argues that RAAD does more to level the playing field than you might think.
"We're just targeting the handful of individuals each night who don't want to stand in line, who may have less time, and realize that time is our most valuable asset. That's one thing you can't really buy back. Whether you pay to skip or not, I was friends with bouncers when I went to school here and still am now, so if I go out I just skip the line, in general, shake hands with the bouncer, and walk in. That happens regardless, at the end of the day, so we try to make that available for the people who don't have that network," says Keefer. "You might not know the bouncer. You might not know the owner, but we can still give you that semi-VIP experience."