Northside Innovation: Speaking with Joah Spearman of Localeur

Joah at Work by Gary Williams

Each month Northside Innovation, the tech and innovation conference that occurs during the annual Northside Festival in June, gathers top founders and thought leaders, who–over BBQ and beer from Brooklyn Brewery–speak on topics relevant to the community.

April’s meetup theme is Building Technology to Craft the Live Experience.  We’ll be hearing from startup founders and seeing the awesome interaction designer, James Patten, talk about his work.  In anticipation for Monday’s meetup, we chatted with Joah Spearman, who co-founded and runs Localeur, about his company and favorite Brooklyn whiskey joint.

What is Localeur?  

Localeur is a community of locals who share recommendations on their favorite places to eat, drink and play. Our mission is to help people experience local wherever they go. We launched at SXSW 2013 with just Austin and now we are in 14 major US cities and have been named the Best New Startup in Austin and a top travel app by The Today Show, TIME, Men’s Journal and others.

What was the amount of time between when you and your co-founder talked about your company’s idea and the time you started working full time on it?

My co-founder Chase White and I worked at Bazaarvoice together, him on the product design team, helping clients leverage user-generated content, and me on the operations side, leading their travel market strategy. This was during their 2012 IPO year so it was highly relevant experience for us making the decision to pursue our own startup. He shared a travel experience he had where he wanted to “experience local” with me in fall 2012 and I felt I shared that situation on trips I’d taken so we spent a few months talking about – mostly via email and short coffee meetings – what this idea could become and how to solve the problem we’ve experienced on trips of not knowing where locals hang out before actually pursuing this full-time starting January 2013.

There are a plethora of user-generated recommendation sites, what makes Localeur different?

For starters, you have to be a local to contribute. That cuts out so much of the clutter you see on Yelp and Foursquare. Secondly, you’re only sharing recommendations, so it’s not turning people into food critics where they are writing these scathing, unhelpful reviews about places the second day they open or, worse, writing about businesses they’ve never been to besides that once. Our locals share recs on the places they love and they do it sharing their real name, real face and in the city they live in, so it’s much more authentic, credible and truly helpful.

What is one characteristic that makes you a great entrepreneur?

That’s a tough question just because I don’t see myself as a great entrepreneur yet. Maybe the best characteristic I can offer here is that I have a lot of passion and a huge chip on my shoulder to do what others found too difficult to do. For example, I think at one point Yelp’s founders realized they were losing their authenticity and sense of community but then they were growing too fast to care. Billion dollar problems, I guess, but that’s one particular thing I’m extremely passionate about striving to maintain with Localeur, that authenticity and sense of community. Ultimately we need this to serve locals and local businesses to work.

What’s the most difficult part of your workday?

It’s really just being patient. We are going up against a multi-billion dollar company and they have all the engineers in the world, all the community managers in the world, and all the resources necessary to grow rapidly. For us, we somehow have to build a community that propels us to even faster growth but all the while staying patient to not want all things at once because that’s a roadmap to short-term success and long-term obsolescence which we’ve seen in this space before.

Your favorite part of your workday?
Getting to build something everyday that actually gets better everyday. Everyday for the last two-plus years, I can truly, whole-heartedly say that Localeur has gotten better not only for myself but also for each and every one of our users. More locals, more local recommendations, more places, more great photos and content, more community. People asked us early on if we could scale taste and curation, and we’ve proven we can whereas with our competitors they have already reached a point of clutter where that 1 millionth review of that Starbucks or Taco Bell is definitely not helping any of their users.
You’re in every major US city, which one is next? Plans of expanding abroad?
We are in 14 major US cities, we just launched New Orleans and Portland, and we plan to hit 6-8 more US cities this year including cities like San Antonio and San Diego. International expansion is coming very very very soon, but not before we take care of some more important US markets.
What is the coolest experience you’ve had that you learned about on Localeur?
Easy. I love Parm. It’s a little counter restaurant in Nolita in New York, and that’s my favorite place to get a quick bite for lunch – usually the meatball parm sandwich – and I’ve gone often enough even as a non-local that they recognize me.
Name an app you love.

I love the Chill app. It’s sleep noises, which come in handy when you sleep as little as I do but really need to catch up after a trip or two.

You live in Austin, but what’s your favorite bar and/or restaurant in Brooklyn?

I absolutely love Char No. 4. It’s a great place for brunch, their Shrimp & Grits are awesome, and the whiskey selection is hard to beat in all of Brooklyn.

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