Q&A: Seth Harlem of Terraly, The App That Turns Happy Hour Into Clean Water

seth harlem terraly clean water

Usually drinking doesn’t directly benefit anyone except the imbiber, but that’s all about to change. Meet Terraly: a free iPhone app that allows users to share their drinking history with friends for a good cause. The difference between Terraly and, say Foursquare or Instagram, is that every time users “brag” about their drinking habits, Terraly donates money to Water.Org and Charity: Water.

We spoke with Terraly founder Seth Harlem about the inspiration behind the do-good app and how Terraly fits into the larger world of social media.

What inspired the idea behind Terraly?

 The short answer is I’ve been working in startups for a number of years and I always wanted to do my own thing and I’ve always wanted that to be related to social entrepreneurship. I just combined those interests. There’s a huge need around clean water, needless to say. We needed to pick something that really kind of was already generating a lot of buzz and clean water was a good fit.

How did you make the connection between beer, wine and liquor and clean water?

I like to think of breweries as the starting point. There’s an incredible amount of interest and awareness at breweries about having access to clean water.

Beer is mostly water, after all.

Yeah, there’s already this understanding and commitment to clean water and more generally, environmentalism with alcohol companies and honestly, distilleries are kind of the same way, especially some of the craft distilleries. They really recognize the need for clean water. They’re engaged with their communities, they’re socially progressive and it’s just taking this concept that’s crept into commerce, this one-for-one concept, and putting a twist on it. There are a couple other components as well. Going out for drinks is already this social experience and we wanted to capitalize on that. People are already sharing what they’re doing on Facebook, maybe checking in on Foursquare. That behavior is known and is common.

Exactly how much money will be donated when users log their drinks?

We’re starting at five cents per drink and we’re completely transparent about the total dollar amount. People can see their individual impact as well as their friends’ impact and the total Terraly community impact. And we translate that dollar amount into something more meaningful like the number of people you’ve raised clean water for or an amount of time. A lot of the organizations say $20 or $25 provides clean water for somebody for their entire life.

How do you think Terraly fits into the current social media atmosphere? Do you worry that it’ll lose popularity over time like Facebook or Foursquare?

 Let’s look at Foursquare. Maybe you use it once when you’re out and you forget about it. I think one differentiator is we want you to continue using this throughout your entire time out. So, if you’re out for the night and going to dinner and meeting friends at a bar and then maybe going to another bar, you’re using it throughout the night and because you’re using it, you’re doing good. Regarding social media exhaustion, it’s a fair question.  The current trends suggest that people are sharing as much as ever.  However, there is a growing preference to share content with smaller, more private groups. Terraly users can choose to broadcast information about what they are drinking to a broader social media community, if they want; however, this is not required.

To start, all early donations will come out of Terraly’s pockets, but eventually, the data people enter will be sold to participating alcohol producers, right?

 That’s exactly right. There are two revenue streams. One is exactly as you described: Consumption data that we’ll sell back to the alcohol companies. And the second revenue stream is being able to engage with you while you’re out. Let’s say you’re at a bar and you like Lagunitas IPA. We know that you’re at a bar having that beer and we also know that Brooklyn Brewery has an IPA on tap. They could send you a message based on your location and based on your drink preferences and say, “Hey, why don’t you try our beer the next round and we’ll actually double the donation to clean water for doing that.” They can then engage with you based on matching your drink preferences with what’s on the menu.

So, it’s a two-way street. You’re also filling a big gap in the current alcohol distribution system. 

Because of the three tiered  distribution system, alcohol companies can have limited access to data. Terraly can  facilitate interactions between brands and their customers.  So we can chip away at the clean water problem by solving an actual business problem and the marketing on-premise is maybe sending out free coasters, sending a brand ambassador to certain clubs or putting up a poster at some sports bars. There’s really no way for producers to reach you. So, we can’t solve the clean water problem with this app, but we can chip away at it by actually solving a business problem and that’s really our goal. We really are committed to doing as much as we can for clean water. The more we can give, the more impact we can have and our belief is that people will actually be excited.

Terraly is available for free in the iTunes App store. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk


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