RunPee App Tells You When It’s Safe to Take Potty Breaks at Movies

4/26/13Follow @jpruth

With summer fast approaching, chances are many people will cram into movie theaters for a couple hours to watch superheroes and spaceships streak across the screen, and drink gallons of sugary beverages. The RunPee app suggests to users the optimal times between explosions and plot points for the resulting dash to the restroom.

That may not seem like a big deal when watching a movie at home with a remote control at the ready. Theaters, however, do not let one pause the action when Iron Man fires his repulsor beams or the U.S.S. Enterprise launches photon torpedoes.

Dan Florio, who calls himself the chief pee officer of RunPee, created his app to solve this delicate problem. He came to Thursday’s NY Tech Day show in Manhattan alongside technology companies from the city and afar. Florio, who is based in Orlando, FL, developed the app for Android, iPhone, and Windows Mobile smartphones. Feature phones and other mobile devices with Web browsers can use RunPee’s mobile website to access information about the movies, but not all the other features.

The app sounds wacky, he admits, but Florio says he currently makes enough money to support himself through purchases of the app. “I never expected it to become popular,” he says.

RunPee lets users check in when their movies start to receive vibration alerts during the showing when potential break times come up. The app is populated with movies Florio has watched and taken notes on. He does not get any advance screenings of movies, so users have to wait at least until opening day for details on new releases.

RunPee offers users cues they can read in advance.

RunPee includes information such as scene cues that users can read in advance. That way the users don’t have to wait for their smartphones to buzz to know they can slip away. Users can also pull up reviews from Rotten Tomatoes and connect with social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to discuss the movies.

Florio, a freelance developer, says the idea for the app came to him after watching Peter Jackon’s “King Kong” remake in 2005. “At the end of the movie, I was desperate to pee but I didn’t go so I couldn’t enjoy the ending,” he says. Putting on his developer’s hat, he thought about creating a website that would point out noncritical points in movies when people could go to the bathroom or grab a snack. He set the idea aside then revived it as a project to develop his skills with database management system MySQL. He released the Web app version of RunPee in 2008 and the mobile app debuted in 2009.

“It sounds like such a stupid thing,” Florio says. “You’d have to be an idiot to build something like this thinking you’re actually going to make money.” In fact he initially lost money—$4,000 to $5,000 annually on movie tickets—on the then-free app.

Last October Florio started charging 99 cents for RunPee, and he says the app has been downloaded between 50,000 and 60,000 times since. He has also licensed his data to AMC Theatres. “They are going to build this into their mobile app as well,” he says.

Now RunPee generates enough sales for Florio to stop taking on other work from clients. “I’m recouping the money I lost for a few years,” he says. “I have minor needs. I don’t have investors to feed or children.”

RunPee rarely crowdsources its information, but Florio says he drafted his mother and sister to also watch movies and create notes on each feature. “It is a time-consuming thing to do,” he says. “You really have to focus.” Even an astute movie viewer, he says, may not have the awareness to pick out the right times to go pee. The app also lets users know if there are post-credit scenes at the end of the movie.

Florio says he builds apps for fun and, at least for now, has few aspirations of cranking out something else to make money. “I pretty much blew my best idea on this one,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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