Qloo, Now Out of Beta, Wants to Learn Your Different Cultural Tastes

11/14/13Follow @jpruth

Lots of apps try to tell people where to find stuff they like. New York’s Qloo came out of private beta Thursday promising deeply personal recommendations for multiple interests.

The company already has $3 million in seed funding in pocket from backers including Kindler Capital, as well as individual investors such as comedian Cedric the Entertainer, actor Danny Masterson from “That ’70s Show,” and movie producer Tommy Thompson. Unlike discovery platforms that focus on one topic, such as food, Qloo covers eight categories. The idea, says CEO Alex Elias, is to feed some clues to the system and let it learn about users’ tastes in books, dining, movies, music, travel, TV shows, fashion, and nightlife.

By absorbing multiple data points, Qloo’s founders Elias and COO Jay Alger believe their platform offers a more complete picture of what appeals to each person.

Elias says Qloo was born from his frustration at making decisions on vacations. Picking a travel destination, hotels to stay in, and restaurants to dine at, he says, can be a hassle. “I found myself wishing there was a tool that understood my tastes,” he says.

Wanting something to offer him intelligent, personalized suggestions, Elias says such information was available, but across different sources and channels. “Goodreads can suggest books based on my taste in books,” he says. “Pandora does music.”

Tying those different aspects together, he says, can lead to more useful recommendations. So Qloo takes a holistic view of various points of appeal. The engine compares personal preferences with what appeals to others with similar tastes, Elias says, to offer suggestions. Nearly 30,000 folks—including artists, musicians, and chefs—contributed their tastes during the platform’s beta phase, he says, to form the foundation for Qloo’s public launch.

Alger says the app needs just five points of preference to start forming a picture of each person’s tastes. “It could be one of your favorite movies, favorite music artists, or restaurants, or books,” he says. Users can also offer additional layers of detail, such as subcategories in dining. That could be favorite places to eat brunch or take the family, he says.

The startup put in extra sweat structuring data, Alger says, on such content as every film ever made, every book in print, restaurants across the country, and hotels around the world. “We’re wrestling an enormous amount of data,” he says.

The platform’s algorithm processes that data, Elias says, in relation to responses from the Qloo community to make recommendations. The suggestions can be tailored to reflect one’s mood or specific occasion as well. “You can find movies to watch with the kids or with a date,” he says. As users express opinions on the recommendations, giving thumbs up or thumbs down, Elias says the engine develops a more detailed picture of their tastes.

Armed with their curated suggestions, users can then click through to content channels, he says, such as Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes. “We’re going to be integrating Rdio and Spotify very soon,” Elias says. The platform also connects users to the suggested restaurants and hotels to book reservations.

Though Qloo covers diverse areas of culture and entertainment, Elias says it is focused enough to not glut users with too many ideas. “We could have gone broader and included things like wine and cars,” he says. The company decided to stick to things that have some correlation to each other. “There’s a plausible connection between people’s preferences within music and their preferences within fashion,” Elias says. Literature and film choices can be mutually informative, he says, as well as dining and nightlife interests.

Before Qloo was founded in 2012, Elias was a principal with private investment fund APE Capital; Alger ran a New York-based a digital design agency. They drafted staff from Alger’s agency to be Qloo’s CTO, design director, and fill other roles.

Now that Qloo has opened up to the public, Elias has grander plans in mind. He believes the startup’s big play will be the creation of a new ecosystem that other apps can be built on top of. “Our goal is to open this up for personalization, the same way Google Maps works,” Elias 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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