Ever fancied going out but decided against it because you’re unsure how good the venue might be? The new Nightset app could solve all your problems, as Steve Dyson finds out from the entrepreneur behind it, Anna Frankowska.
Anna Frankowska had always been a party girl. Even as a child at school in Warsaw, Poland, she was the first one to suggest get-togethers, then outings to social gatherings and discos.
When she arrived in London to study for her degree in economics as a 19 year old, she was soon known as the person to be with if you enjoyed your night life. “I love going out and went out a lot when I was studying at University College London,” says Frankowska. “And I quickly spotted a gap in the market – communications.
“I was partying five nights a week, but I soon realised that people didn’t know where to go out, or what’s happening tonight, or which clubs had the best scene. Here was the great, vibrant city of London and there was no immediate way to find out what’s happening in the city right now.
“Communications were fragmented, time-consuming and old-fashioned, like bill-boards, adverts and listings. This meant people didn’t know about who was enjoying what and where.
“They didn’t know about each other, so were often missing a great night out. What people wanted was instant information – both ahead of the night and then on the night out itself. Like when they’re in queues in front of a club – should they go in or not? What’s the party like? Is it any good in there?”
On graduation in 2012, Frankowska first focused on earning some money. She turned an internship at Royal Bank of Scotland into a graduate job in the bank’s capital portfolio management division, spending two years working in the financial City by day, then partying across London by night.
But the continued lack of real-time information on London’s nightlife inspired her to start thinking about a business solution. Once her brother, Andrzej Frankowski, graduated in computer science, they combined their skills to come up with a prototype app, initially called Party Hype, now called Nightset.
Frankowska knew she needed some real data on which to base the business, so went undercover for six months working as a club promoter for some of London’s biggest nightclubs, gathering intelligence from venues and partygoers. Meanwhile, her brother put together the technical side of the app.
“The app tells us in real time where the best parties are,” says Frankowska, now aged 26. “Other start-ups had looked into this but they’d approached it from the wrong angle. They started with bookings, whereas we based our app on people, engaging that community and then connecting them with business owners. A marketplace based on a social network.”
The app’s trick is being “dynamic”, she says, because the night life sector changes day to day, and year to year. Therefore, the app is based on real-time communications, using comments, pictures and videos, serving the audience by helping them find out what’s going on, what clubs are like inside right now, booking tickets and getting into the right venues. And once partygoers are inside, the app continues with a dating feature, using heart, drink, dance and discard emoticons to indicate “Do you want to meet?”, “Can I buy you a drink?”, “Let’s dance” or “I’m not interested”.
“People today can be more and more secluded,” says Frankowska, “Nightset allows them to enjoy the moment. And there’s an element of safety, as you’re able to see who the person you’re about to meet is on their app history.”
After much design and testing, the app had a beta test launch in autumn 2015 during London’s Freshers’ Week, when tens of thousands of students were out every night. It hit a problem with the London School of Economics, which banned the app for “promoting too much of a laddish culture”.
“Every failure presents you with an opportunity for success,” recalls Frankowska, who told the “crazy” story on Facebook and was then spotted by Adrian Clarke, one of the many family members of the Bacardi drinks business. In March 2016, after bidding meetings with a number of potential investors, Frankowska and her brother accepted a seed investment offer of £500,000 from Clarke, and the real business development began.
Clarke is now the main investor and part-owner of Nightset, bringing the start-up real credibility, and helping the Polish-born siblings to build a company that they hope will “revolutionise and disrupt” the nightlife industry.
“Thousands were involved in the test, which was excellent,” says Frankowska. “Now, after the angel investor deal, we’re working with top performers on branding and marketing to take Nightset to the next level.”
She says the app has been welcomed by the Night Time Industries Association, which sees its “huge potential” to create a new community for its sector. “It’s going to be disrupted by technology,” she says. “Club owners were always very old school, focusing on leaflets or at best targeted social media for communications. But Nightset is a one-stop shop.”
The app’s revenues are set to come from the likes of nightclubs, both through specific promotions and a subscription model. Nightset will take commissions on bookings, triggered by push notifications for events like happy hours. Then there will be sponsorships and brand partnerships from lifestyle brands and drinks businesses.
“But, at all times, the app will be free to users,” Frankowska says, “because it’s genuine content still curated by real people, improving the whole ecosystem for people who want to socialise. You simply download the Nightset app to find the best places to party, to meet party people like yourself and to instantly share your experiences.”
The potential is huge, according to her figures. She tells me that the nightlife sector is estimated to be worth some £50bn a year across the UK, with London alone worth around £24bn. And more than 250,000 people pass through Leicester Square every weekend, with nearly every adult in London going out at least once a week.
“We’re now focusing on aggressive growth, brand propulsion and identity,” she says. “In 2017, it’s London, then potentially Barcelona, Paris, New York – because it’s easily replicated in any party city.
“In five years’ time, my vision is that if you’re in a city anywhere in the world and want to go out, you use Nightset to discover where to go. It makes sense that everyone is connected with one platform wherever you can travel.
“Our priority is a global expansion to become the de facto guide to the world’s nightlife, but we will include cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and Brighton. Basically, anywhere where the good vibes are happening.”
Nightset currently has a staff of ten people – five full-time, five part-time – and a revenue target of up to £1m for year one, after which it plans to seek more seed-funding for faster growth.
“We will be making profit in year one,” says Frankowska, “but this app will take investment to enter new markets and sell quicker. It’s a balance between time and equity – proving the concept, getting the investment and scaling the product.
“Choosing your investors is one of the most important parts of a deal – it’s like a marriage. My background in investment banking has helped to give me a really good understanding and experience of the finance world, which is a real advantage.”
Frankowska comes from a business family. Her parents, Teresa and Marek, are architects and property developers, working together as entrepreneurs, so it felt natural to set up a business with her brother. It’s a partnership that she feels will withstand competition: “It’s all in the execution, developing the brand partnerships, and our teamwork. It’s difficult to replicate me and my brother. I am the people person but I also love maths, and Andrzej is the technical genius. Plus, now we have Bacardi involved, and so Nightset’s a very powerful brand.
“And it’s about people, not just finance and tickets. The colours, the identity, the lifestyle brands. Life is a party. I am the brand ambassador. This company and brand is the only life I have. I want to help people celebrate their moment.”
Life certainly is a party for Frankowska. She and her brother live in a four-floor apartment near Marble Arch, where they recently hosted 120 people for her birthday bash. The guests ranged from 18 to 80 years old.
“I’m into my people, my music and my dancing,” she says. “I like many different clubs depending on what my mood is, what the buzz is that particular night and many other factors. The people also make a night and that can vary from day to day, and that’s why I love Nightset. I can see what the mood is in a particular venue on a particular day, which often influences my choice.”
But Frankowska insists that regular clubbing doesn’t mean too much alcohol: “I know who I want to be with, I might have one drink, and then I dance, for four hours a night. That makes it affordable, and there’s no hangover.
“Life is a party and drink is part of the culture. But it can be about tasting, maybe getting a little bit loose but not getting absolutely wasted. Nightset distances itself from too much alcohol. But live for the moment. Let’s enjoy. Explore. Let’s experience but not abuse alcohol.”
Drinks or no drinks, Frankowska must be exhausted if she’s still going out five nights a week, but she quickly corrects the assumption. “No, these days I party just twice a week, although if you’re talking about restaurants then yes, if that’s going out then I’m out every night.”
With thanks to The Jazz Cafe, Camden, for hosting the photo shoot www.thejazzcafelondon.com