Originally aired on March 5 @ 9:00 AM - 9:30 AM EDT
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Joshua I. Lewis, Founder/CEO of Updown App Inc. Joshua has spent a decade collecting knowledge and experience in both the nightlife industry and startup tech world. The combination of the two have led to the recent release of the social media app designed to change to way we view nightlife. Currently closing their $500k Seed Round, Lewis and company will be gearing up to secure investors for their Series A round in the 1st quarter of 2022.
Lewis has made waves within the Kansas City entrepreneurial/startup world with his candid conversations about being Black in Tech and the struggles that come with it; most notably his recent interview with Startland News discussing VC funding. With a sleek branding style, unique marketing tactics, and magnetic personality, Lewis is far from your average founder and that’s exactly how he likes it.
to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more! Founder Spotlight hub Hello Cloudflare TV and welcome back to another Founder Spotlight. I'm here again, Fallon Blossom, the Senior Strategic Programs Manager on the Cloudflare TV team. And this week, as we've been doing all week, we're showcasing and spotlighting the stories of startup founders all over the world and in many industries. So I'm here again today with another founder. Do you mind introducing yourself and sharing a little bit more about your company? Yeah, I'm Joshua I. Lewis, the founder and CEO of DownApp Inc. DownApp Inc. is the social media for nightlife. And so we build communities within the nightlife industry to help the B2C and B2B side of the businesses. Oh, very cool. So again, you know, as all founders are told to think, like, what problem are you trying to solve? So what problem were you hoping to solve with creating a founding? Yeah, it's a two sided problem, man. So, you know, on the consumer side, it's always an issue of finding, you know, where to go, what you want to do each and every night based on the things that you like. And so we provide that, right, we provide the hotspot information, but we provide it based on the things that you like when you're talking about liquor and food and different things, right. So we tie in the data that we pull from you, and then connect you to the businesses that provide that thing for you, right. And then on the business side, we just improve the customer satisfaction rate, right. So the more information you can get on the people coming to your bars, or your clubs or your social events, right, the better you can serve them and we provide that. Um, and so if I'm not mistaken, this is localized in one place, right? Kansas City? Yeah, at the moment. So it's a national global issue that we plan to solve. But at the moment, yes, we just launched August 29. I'm in Kansas City. Nice. And so for folks who are not in Kansas City, I've actually never been there. Like, how would you describe the nightlife? Yeah, the nightlife in Kansas City is growing. You know, I think it's a really tight knit network, right. So everybody knows a little bit of everybody, bartenders, industry people, they kind of work within the same confines of all the establishments. So it's a really tight knit community that is growing daily. And it also provides for us a really good base to like, like beta test a lot of the things that we want to learn about our features and users. And so I'm curious, in your opinion, what is the connection between kind of tech and nightlife? Right? Especially because like nightlife is a very in person IRL type of experience. Like, how do you connect the two? How can one inform the other? No, it's crazy. People say that, right. So like, when you think about tech, you think that the first things that come to mind is your phone, right? So when you talk about home, that's the thing you're probably on the most throughout the week, right? So you got social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, all these things, right? Snapchat. What? Snapchat, right. And what that does is drive really foot traffic, right? So when you think about where people are going every day, they're really finding out on their phones, right? So the connectivity is that, right. And so when you talk about how to drive traffic, right, and most businesses want people to either see their stuff, show it to their store, or, you know, interact in some kind of way that comes from the phone, right. But nothing is actually focused on that when we talk about nightlife, right. So when we talk about Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, those are really broad spectrums, you can talk about a little bit of anything on all of those platforms, but there is nothing that's built for the community, the nightlife community, right. And so when we talk about nightlife, and how big that industry is, it's a $700 billion industry. And when we talk about how big that is, it there should be some type of social media platform that is directed towards that. And that's what we're building, just because I believe I'm a firm, strong believer that black culture really pushes everything in the world. And when you talk about that, you talk about music, you talk about art, you talk about fashion, all of that's directed into nightlife, right? When you like think about when you go out, you think about what you're going to wear, right, you think about your appearance, what you're going to look like, and then you're going to you're going to talk about you're going to go to the place that plays the best music, right, right. And then you're going to be with your friends, right. And so when you talk about all of that, that's what the black culture pushes, right, the things that are trending, the things that are cool, the things that are, you know, just the appearance of the world, to be honest, right. And so I'm really big on that. And I feel like nightlife affects that and impacts that in a really deep way. And so that's why we're, you know, building a social media platform for that. Very cool. So one thing that you mentioned about like, especially being localized in one certain area in Kansas City was the ability to kind of connect with the local community. Like have you been able to build any partnerships, either with businesses or other agencies that support you know, your vision or working with your business? Of course, you know, we wouldn't we wouldn't be a business without some some cool customers on the back end, right. But I call it partnerships because we work with them and they don't work for us. So we have, you know, a lot of local bars that we work with on a monthly basis, right. And what that does is, we're able to really get engaged with the consumer, right. So when we partner with these bars, we're able to really do surveys and talk to the people and figure out what they want from our features, right. And so as we build, it's like they're building the app for them, right? It's not us for them. It's like, alright, this is my app, this is what I would like to see, this is what would help me go out, right. And so that tight knit community really helps us in that area. And it's my most, it's my most, like, favorite thing about what we're doing, right. We're really engaged with the community. And I think that's where we talk about, you know, I can go a little deeper, but we talk about the people controlling the narrative, right. And so one of my favorite things that happened, and I'm going real deep now is I don't know if you remember when Dave Chappelle came out and talked about, you know, them owning his show, right. And he was like, my real boss, you guys control it. If you don't watch it, if you don't use it, then it doesn't work, right. And so I want to put that back into the consumer's hand, right. So you talk about what they want to drink, what they want to eat, what they want to hear. It's all about the consumer. And so that's why we're building it the way we are. Now, can people walk me through kind of the interaction on the app? I kind of, I downloaded it and kind of played around with it a little bit myself. But I'm curious, like, what is that user experience like? And what type of user experience are you looking for? Yeah, so, so truly, man, like, we're really early stage. But right now, we want the consumer to be able to post and talk about things that they want to talk about. So we have your typical user feed, right? When you talk about, like, Instagram and Facebook and posting pictures, and people being able to like and comment, right. So we have that user feed. But then we also have a hotspot feed that tells you the hotspots each and every single day, right. And the hotspots are dictated based on the things that you like, right. And so those are the two features that we have now. But then we have here coming in a couple months, my favorite feature, which is the tip jar feature, right. So as a consumer, you'll be able to tip your favorite bartenders, your favorite service, your favorite DJs, you know, if you're at a spot one night, he's playing some of the hits that you like, you can send them five bucks, right. And so things like that. And people do that already anyway. So you could go to a club or bar, and people are gonna give DJ $10 for no reason based on if they like them or not. But with COVID, and some of those things being such a big deal, the transaction between phone makes that really cool. And so we're building those features up, those are going to be our three main features. And then we've got some cool stuff coming, like some Twitter feed type features as well, where people are able to just discuss where they're going, some party chat rooms, where people can create a chat room about, you know, with five to 10 friends, talk about where they're going, maybe buying a bottle together, split the tab, things like that, right. And so we're working really hard at a lot of those. But that's those are the functionalities of the app, for sure. Very cool. So okay, if I'm remembering correctly, you did say you just launched this app in August, like a few months ago. So quick backstory, we launched in 2016. For the first time, we were we're at about 8,000 downloads in about 10 months, right? It was it picked up a lot faster than I thought it would. And, you know, obviously, we weren't prepared for that on the on the on the technical side, right. So our server crashed, had a lot of issues with the capability. So we took it out of market. I took some years and time to kind of learn the industry a lot more, find the right partner when it came to building an app and who I wanted to build it with long term. And then relaunched, we would have relaunched before the pandemic, but the pandemic hit, so we postponed. But we relaunched right, right as the pandemic, quote unquote, started to die down. And yeah, so that was August 29. So yeah, that was gonna be kind of the next question is like, how did the pandemic over the last year or two years, depending on how you look at it, impact your business, since it's really dependent on people, you know, leaving their houses and gathering in groups, which is not always been a good idea. Of course, so it's a few things, you know, from a strategic standpoint, man, I tell people this all the time, because I get this question every time I have an interview, or anytime I talk to anyone, they're like, man, I know you had a hard time during the pandemic. And it's like, yeah, of course, right? Business slows down. But what's new, really, when you're an entrepreneur. And so my thing was that I was able to raise money during a pandemic simply off the fact that the pandemic showed how important being social really, really was, right? When people couldn't get out the house, when people didn't have, you know, nowhere to go with their friends, people were depressed, they were down, they were like, they felt bad, like it had this big, like impact on the world, right. And so what that what I was able to do was use that to my advantage, right. And so when I'm pitching to these investors, and talking to people, it's like, when this pandemic ends, because it will, right, people are going to be ready to get back out the house, which is exactly what happened, right. And so with that, I think it gave us time to really strategize on what we wanted to do, right, to build the product that we really wanted to build, take our time, because we knew we had it. And then also come out of that and give the consumer exactly what they needed, right. And that's, you know, information on where to go every single night, because that's what you do. So it helped my business, if I'm being honest, I know people probably don't know that answer, but it truly did. And I think, I think, you know, the pandemic was, I think it was an eye opener for a lot of people. Hmm. So tell me more about that fundraising experience. I remember, in kind of preparation for this, I read something about your relationship with the OnTarget Interactive. Yeah, so OnTarget Interactive is a, a dev shop, like, basically, right. And so they've been building apps and websites for the past 15 years, right. They've worked with Dollar General, Blue Cross Blue Shield, some big time companies, right. And so my job while finding, my intent while finding somebody to build our app was to find somebody that I could also partner with, right. And so to give them some skin in the game, a lot of dev shops, usually when you work with them, it's an hourly base, right, you know, they work on your stuff when they can, it's just, it's not what you need, if you're building a social media app. So I was looking for somebody that was equipped enough to transition into actually infrastructure, like building an infrastructure within our business, right. And so we can have some real time. And so when I went to the owner of OnTarget Interactive, Terry, we met, I pitched him the idea that I was trying to do, you know, I had some, some, some mockups for him. And he loved it. He was like, man, you know, this is this is amazing. If we could do this, right, blah, blah, blah, right. And so we decided to partner, he actually invested some of his own money into what we were building. And so you know, that put me in a better position, because we always want to have somebody inside the business, and not always an independent contractor working on working on the product. That's huge when you're building anything, you know, with with an app. So especially yeah, daily usage. So yeah, so your servers are better now, you got a little crash and no more crash, we fix that problem. So I mean, obviously, you know, we've talked about the community, we've talked about your strategic relationships and partnerships. What about your culture? Right? Like, I don't know, how many employees do you have? Like, what type of culture have you built to kind of support what you're trying to do? Yeah, so you know, let's be so early stage pre CC round stage, I decided to wait on the full time employees outside of the product side, right. So the product, you know, where the full time people are, outside of that, we got we got 10 independent contractors that we work with on a day to day basis, right. But my culture is is, I would love to say this, not me, but my culture, culture is is built on independence, right. And I say that because I think, from a mental health perspective, right, if, if you are good within yourself on a day to day basis, you're able to create and work better, right. And so I really focus on that. And not only that, but also building their own brands outside of hours, right. And I say that because it gives people a sense of ownership and what they're doing, right. And so they take pride in what we're doing, right, when it comes to, you know, filling out paperwork, or, you know, doing whatever task it is they got to do on that day to day basis. And so we built a really strong culture on independence, right, everybody being independent, and not always depending on the work culture to make their life better, right. And so I'm big on that. And so I would, you know, I would, I would stick with that independent piece, being able to function on your own, feel good about yourself. And I think all of that correlates into you giving back to the business the way you should. So yeah, another question that kind of comes up for me is like, I love the idea of independence, but I guess, how do you kind of set the foundation for folks to act independently, but also kind of if they're in the boat row in the same direction? Does that make sense? Yeah, so it's, you know, yeah, um, you know, it's two things, paperwork, right. So there is, there are guidelines, there are independence guidelines within that, right. That's one, but then two, just, you know, what, what you have to realize is that you're going to have hiccups with people that you hire, no matter what, right. No matter if you are strict, and then you tell them you got, they got to work 40 hours a week, and they got to clock in, whatever the case may be. So you have to kind of get over that, like, I'm gonna have issues thing, right. And just kind of stick with what plan you want to make. And so we have hiccups, right, we have people that were, you know, I might have to check in two or three times to get something done, which is a part of the growing pains. And I'm okay, right. And I think that's what makes our culture, our work culture, so, so, so easy to do is because there's no pressure. I'm not here to like put pressure on you to do the work, right. You understand what we're building, you're embedded into the team culture, you understand what the business is going to be. Because if you wouldn't, if you didn't, you wouldn't be working with us, right. And so I don't feel like I have to, you know, micromanage anybody to get them to do the job. And we, I've gotten lucky and hired, you know, the right people this time around, because this is actually a new seven people, seven to 10 people that we have since 2016. But this time around, I've hired, you know, the right people and, and, and, you know, they work well together. Oh, that's good. That's great. I hope to hope that continues and I hope that they're watching right in and let us know if you found the truth now. So we talked a lot about the business, let's kind of talk about you as a person, right? Can you tell me a little bit more about like your experiences and how they necessarily informed your entrepreneurship journey? Yeah, man, square one is I have an older brother, like, right. So I grew up around somebody that literally did everything I wanted to do when it came to playing sports, playing collegiate sports, going, you know, getting a scholarship in that sport, the business world, sales, entrepreneurship. And so I have a, you know, older brother that owns a legit company, gig wage, and he, you know, literally, we're about to raise a Series A, he just finished his Series A, right. And so when it comes to growing up around somebody that has done everything, I've always had an insight on a lot of different things. And I'm, I'm very, very thankful for that. Because, you know, a lot of times in the black community, that's not always the case. And so I praise that often. And that, you know, I think that's what shaped me with my family, man. So even outside of my brother, my mom and pops, man, I was talking about this the other day, they're very confident, self aware people. And that rubbed off on me all my life, right. And it's gotten me where I am today. And so just from a background perspective, my family, man, they've always been there, they're very supportive. And I think that that has shaped me to be the person that I am, because I'm self aware, very confident, work really hard, I understand the entrepreneurial scene, the grind, I understand the hiccups that come with it, all of those things that most people have to learn from experience, which I did. But I knew what was coming before I got there. So I got lucky. Do you ever find yourself competing with your brother on like, who can raise the most money? He's probably gonna watch this eventually. So I'm definitely definitely always some undercover, man, I could I could do better than that type thing going on. But it's both played sports, I assume that they're full on. I call it a friendly competition. But you know, he's, he's got 10 years on me, he's 10 years older than me. So he has a big, big advantage. So I'm coming. No, but I can totally see you being a younger brother. And you're like, I always compare it like this, since him being 10 years, you know, older than me, always do it like this. I'm like, well, when you were 30, what were you doing? You know, I always do it like that, rather than what we are now. So it's love, man, it we motivate each other all the time. Oh, that's beautiful. No, I mean, I think that just because I'm a little competitive, and that's probably something I would do. But whatever. And I'm curious, you know, kind of you mentioned this a couple of times that like your racial identity is important to you, you being a black man is important to your business important to you as a person. So how did that kind of impact or influence your founder experience? Yeah, man, you know, I'm big on legacy, right? I have two kids, I'm big on generational wealth, and leaving something behind, right. And the thing that always sticks out to me, as I learned what legacy was, and, and how it impacts, you know, the rest of the world, I learned that, like, you know, on average, you know, white families are the ones that are passing things down to their kids and family, right, which make things a lot easier, you know, some of my friends were able to go work for family businesses that were white, right. And so seeing that growing up and understanding what it was about really pushed me to want to like, really find that entrepreneurial grind and be able to do the same for mine, right. And so just changing that trajectory that that Lewis legacy trajectory, you know, that that wasn't always a thing. That wasn't a thing growing up in my family, right? Every, mostly everybody working nine to five, all of their life. And so I just, I got lucky, I guess, mentally to be able to like, like really diagnose how impactful legacy is, and, and, and, you know, figure out how to do it in my own way. That's really insightful. And it's a part of it that you don't necessarily hear all the time, like, my grandfather was an entrepreneur as well. And while I don't have my own business, seeing what that looks like up close, definitely informed a lot of the decisions that I made, as far as my own career, right? You can't what is that that you can't be what you can't be is that idea? Like I said, I got it, I had older brother that, that paid me. And I saw from my own eyes, how impactful that was to me. And I would love to continue to push that down. So it's dope. Nice. So, you know, still thinking about you talking about you, the man behind the app. So when you're not actually doing all the entrepreneurial stuff, like what do you do? Do you have like, yeah, yeah, man, it's weird, because my hobby is going out, right? So I enjoy being social. But that's also work, right? So I'm almost I'm almost like 100% of the time working, right? If you if you count going out, I love being social and, you know, interacting with people. But then I was like that man sleep, man. I'm a big nap guy, man, I scheduled those, I make sure I get it's like, you know, like a recharge for me. So I make sure I get those as well. So what's your perfect night out? Describe your perfect night out? Depends on what day of the week, but I'm gonna go with Sunday, Sunday's my favorite week to go out. But it's actually during the day, right? So it's not always nighttime. So if I can end my day on a Sunday at about 11, so I get out, I go to a brunch, have a really nice meal, right? Link up with a few friends at the next club, try to, you know, get a bottle or two, enjoy some outside outdoor weather. And we enjoy that music. And then afterwards, go find somewhere else to eat on the way home. But that right there is like, the epitome of perfect because then it's like a meal sandwich. It's like, start with the food, drinks in the middle, more food. But exactly, exactly. So I'll give you that Sunday, Monday is pure. Okay. And then, you know, since you're an expert, like it's the holiday season, parties are being thrown all night, starting probably this weekend for the next week. Yeah, right, right, right, right now. So what advice could you give people on like, if they're thinking about planning holiday parties, or if they're thinking about going out on their friends, no matter where they might be located, what are some tips you might have just general tips? General tips is, you know, don't drink and drive, right? So Uber as much as possible, that's always the first thing. And you know, I think with with the holidays, and what everybody's been through pandemic, really be around the family, right? So if you and your family can go out, y'all do that, right? Or be around the people that you really care about. Because the holiday season kind of just gives off that vibe, no matter where you're at, right? So most bars, most restaurants, they're going to have lights up and have Christmas decorations. And being around people that you love really enhances that. And so I would say, you know, a lot of the times people go out and they meet new people kind of kind of focus on the next two weeks to to really enjoy your people. I think that would be the most important thing for real. And is there anything special going on or that you have going on for the holidays with UpDown? Yeah, so you know, we do we do events all year, right? This year, because we usually do a big, big New Year's event. This year, we're going to take a break, right? And I say take a break, because I actually want my team and the people that operate for us to enjoy their families as well. So we're going to have two days, right? People will probably go out like me anyway. But it won't be any of our events. We're going to we're going to make sure that we're charged and ready, because we're going to open up our Series A at the top of the year. So I want to make sure we're ready for that. Okay. And then when you're not, you know, when you're relaxing, right? Watching TV, listening to music, all that type of stuff. What are you binging? What are you listening to? Man, man, man, it depends on the day on that too, man. But I've been I've been like my top two artists that are top three that I play the most is Jay-Z and Nipsey. Gotta throw J. Cole. Right. But then I have my R&B days, right? So R&B days where I like to listen to Jack James. Blast is my favorite R&B artist. Right. And so those those five are probably the five that I listen to the most. So yeah, you're you're a music person more so than a TV watching person. Yeah, I watch TV too. So I got you know, I'm watching Insecure. I'm watching Harlem, Secession, Billions. I got a couple shows that I tap into, but I just don't get to them often because like I said, I either nap or go out. But you know, I still keep in keep in touch with a lot of those shows just because I think a lot of those impact the culture. So I like to stay in touch with that too. You're also the second founder that I've spoken with that have mentioned Secession. So I'm wondering if there's a pattern there. It's a legit pattern. Secession and Billions is probably the two most legit business shows I've watched in a very, very long time. So yeah, I mean, I'm a huge fan of both song by a hundred percent agree. Again, I'm still processing that last episode. It was very good. Yeah, it's really good. And so, I mean, I think you talked about a couple of features. You talked about the Series A at the top of the year. What else is on the roadmap for Uptown? Yeah, man. So you know, I want to raise the Series A. It's kind of going to be the focus of 2022, right? So we plan to have about 50,000 active users on the app, about 40,000 weekly, right? By the end of 2022, 2023 to 2025, we plan to get to that 10 million user range, right? Where we're really expanding the active users on that side of things, but then also about 50 B2B customers as well, right? And so I think from a goal perspective, that's what we got on the horizon. But you know, man, you know, when you raise money like we're about to raise, we're going to hire a lot of people. We're going to, you know, impact a lot of different nightlife sectors, right? And we just really, really excited for it, man. Because I think, like I said, not even think, I know it's nothing else out here like what we're building, because no one understands that nightlife is probably the sector of life that people can't really put their finger on, because it's so culturally driven, right? So a lot of the heavy hitters are, you know, white owned and majority white people running those businesses. And so I think they leave nightlife alone, because it's more culturally driven, and we're going to be able to take that the right way. Okay, and so we're asking our founders, all of our founders the same question, what advice would you give yourself back when you first started your company? So for you, I'm thinking, back in 2016, if I'm remembering correctly, when you first had this idea, given everything that you know now, what would you tell past you? Yeah, man, whatever your product is, right, whether it's an app, whether it's a website, whether it's clothes, whether it's a shirt, whatever, focus on the product first, right? A lot of people, when you think company, when you think business, you're like, I got to get a team, I got to have all these things going on. But then you forget about the product, what really matters is if the product works, if people love the product, right? And so when you're building a business, start with the product, man, if I could start over, we wouldn't have crashed in 2016, right? The product would have been working, the product would have been user friendly. And it would have been, you know, exactly what I wanted it to be. So I would say focus on whatever your product is, man, when you're starting out early. A lot of people, you know, they look at the business side and the entrepreneurial grind, and they fall in love with like the stuff that doesn't really matter. Like you said, you know, team members and who's, you know, what position is everybody and what employees you get all that stuff is, it's cool. You know, being the CEO is cool. But the if the product doesn't work, you're a CEO of something that sucks. And you don't want to be that. So the product matters. The product matters. And then anything else that you'd like to share with the audience about you, about your company, about what you're hoping to do, about why it's important? Yeah, man, the big thing is, you know, as we look to expand in every city, every country, be ready to download, man, start focusing on your nightlife and your city and town. Shoot us, you know, emails. We got a website updownnightlifeapp.com. Shoot us some emails or talk to us about what you're looking for. As we continue to build, man, we'll give it to you. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. And thank you so much for sharing your story and sharing everything about your company. Of course, man. I really appreciate you guys having me. A botnet is a network of devices that are infected by malicious software programs called bots. A botnet is controlled by an attacker known as a bot herder. Bots are made up of thousands or millions of infected devices. 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