Wisconsin Beertech: Savvo Adding Features to BeerMapper App

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Not all cool ideas make good businesses. And sometimes an intriguing technology might have business potential, but the creators aren’t interested in commercializing it.

The latter situation is the case with BeerMapper, the subject of the fourth installment in our ongoing Wisconsin beertech series.

The app was created as a side project by former University of Wisconsin-Madison electrical and computer engineering PhD student Kevin Jamieson and his advisor, UW-Madison engineering professor Rob Nowak. After a user answers a few questions about his or her beer preferences, the app forms a heat map depicting his or her personal beer palate. (See above for an example.) Not only can it steer the user toward preferred types of beer, such as an IPA or stout, but it also recommends specific beer brands that fall under those categories, thanks to integration with the RateBeer database.

“Kevin and I weren’t thinking that seriously about trying to commercially develop it,” Nowak says. “We thought maybe if works, we’d throw it up in the app store for fun.”

“I would consider myself to be more interested in the mathematics and the theory, rather than the application,” says Jamieson, who is now a postdoctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, researching machine learning. “Apps interest me, but the day-to-day of writing software is not that fun to me.”

But the app started generating some buzz, and the pair decided to license the technology to a company that would develop and market it. They ended up inking a deal with Chicago-based Savvo Digital Sommelier Solutions last year. The five-person company’s main business involves a network of software-powered kiosks installed in grocery and liquor stores that make recommendations for wine shoppers.

Licensing the BeerMapper app sped up Savvo’s plans for branching out into beer and mobile apps, Savvo co-founder and CEO Joe Sheahan says. “We know that the underlying technology is amazing and a huge differentiator,” he says of BeerMapper. “Now, how do we compile a number of different features that make the experience quick, fun, and powerful?”

Savvo released an iPad version of the app late last year and an iPhone app this past spring. Some of the additional features being considered include giving users the ability to add beers to the BeerMapper database, directing them to stores that carry the desired beers, and placing delivery orders, Sheahan says. Savvo also wants to add beer-searching capabilities to its in-store kiosks, he says.

BeerMapper has been downloaded more than 3,000 times, but Savvo is holding off on a marketing push until it further develops the app, Sheahan says. “By adding some of these additional features, we think it’ll be stickier for the masses,” he says. For now, he adds in an e-mail, “we are really looking for the early adopters (beer enthusiasts) who will be eager to get the core functionality and ideally to give feedback on what features are most important to them. We can learn a lot by monitoring how the app is being used, but nothing is more helpful than direct user feedback.”