Gamification Expert, Founder Institute Startups, Speak at July NJ Tech Meetup


At the July NJ Tech Meetup, held on the Stevens Institute of Technology campus on July 17, 2012, gamification was on the minds of the 160 or so attendees, who also speed networked and listened to four presenters from the Founder Institute (New York).

Networkers rubbed elbows with other startup founders, developers, entrepreneurs, investors and consultants there and learned from the entertaining presentation by Gabe Zichermann, chair of Gamification Summit, a conference at which industry thought leaders gather to share knowledge and insight.

The meetup always offers members the opportunity to “ask” for anything they need, from a mentor to help them out to a programmer for a specific project. After asks and announcements — including one about the upcoming full-day NJ Spark Summit conference in September — NJ Tech Meetup founder Aaron Price, himself a startup entrepreneur, at crafterMania, got the presentations segment started. Attendees were asked to vote for the best pitch.

July’s audience choice award winner was Social Bicycles (New York), a company that has devised a way to integrate all the technology needed to secure public bikes into the bikes themselves, saving municipalities or other companies that offer the transportation method money on setting up infrastructure such as bike docking stations. Technology used includes an onboard computer and a GPS tracking communications device, powered by a hub generator in front and a solar panel in back, founder Ryan Rzepecki said.

“The lock works with regular bike racks, eliminating the requirement for proprietary and specialized infrastructure,” Rzepecki added. Consequently, the company has reduced the price of installing each bike from about $5,000 to approximately $1,100. Social Bicycles works with smartphones, and the platform offers a number of incentives for users to return the bikes within an acceptable time parameter. It also provides them fun facts, such as the number of calories they’ve burned during their ride and the amount of CO2 emissions they’ve reduced.

Hoboken native Brian Cajes, Questlr founder, presented his platform, which “redefines how we play and connect with friends.” The gamification site connects people withchallenges and games, which will be supported by brand advertising. Cajes envisions Questlr replacing ads, calling social media and mobile advertising the “least trusted” form of advertising. “The latest generation of consumers has grown up with games and expects advertising to have gamelike experiences,” he noted. Advertisers like the idea of ads that provide real-world challenges to help secure user engagement, he added.

Jane Hendrick, the founder of FreshFox, a New York-based collaborative shopping website that calls itself “the fun and interactive way to shop with friends,” said her site is different from the competition due to its ease of use. For example, if friends want shopping advice when picking out bridesmaids’ dresses, they don’t have to send links to individuals to get their input. Instead, shoppers can create goods collections and let friends comment on them within the application. They can vote on the best selection and see others’ votes. “As an additional monetization strategy, FreshFox intends to partner with online retailers to generate revenue through affiliate commissions. In addition, we intend to build out sponsored channels,” Hendrick said.

Songe LaRon of Miigo, an online service that allows “anyone to plan, save and join any event imaginable,” also presented. In a twist, this New York startup is offering its services in Brazil, where social engagement is very high but there isn’t much competition for this kind of business.

Brazil is the sixth largest economy in the world, with 81 million Internet users, LaRon said, and consumers who spend more than $2 billion on events each year. “We’ve always known that Brazil is extremely social offline, and we are learning it is equally social online.”

When it comes to online event planning, there are still some pain points. Event planners for small- and medium-sized events don’t have a way to easily sell tickets to their events and promote them, and ticket purchasers often have to buy them at physical locations to avoid high purchase fees.

Miigo allows event planners to both sell tickets to events and set up a site allowing those attending them to connect with one other. “This is really our secret sauce,” LaRon said. “Users will have access to rich profiles of attendees right on the event page, allowing them to connect with others attending the event.”

After the startup pitches, Zichermann discussed gamification, which is not what many people believe it to be — just slapping a game or badges onto a website. “Gamification is the use of game thinking and game tactics to engage audiences and solve problems,” he explained.

It turns out that the human brain is rewarded by dopamine each time it meets a challenge. Today’s consumers are accustomed to video games, which frequently ping their brains with dopamine. Zichermann discussed how to apply that concept to practical use.

He provided the example of a speed camera lottery in Sweden. In that country, drivers are hit with heavy, income-based fines for speeding. Fines alone didn’t stop the speeding, but a reward for not speeding, offered by an innovator, has. Drivers “caught” driving at or below the speed limit are entered into a pool to share the money collected through the fines. That use of gamification has worked to give drivers the incentive to slow down.

Another example comes from tech companies like Spotify and Facebook, which have replaced their annual employee performance reviews with an online system. Workers across the board are encouraged to catch colleagues doing the right thing and make comments such as “Hey, I see you closed that account! Great job!” The system informs companies of the specific tasks performed by their employees, capturing information that might otherwise have been lost. It also rewards workers with compliments, engendering those dopamine pings, which in turn make them happier.

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