Global Observer

In Germany, a social app for exchanging cold beverages

Posting in Cities

BERLIN -- Buddy Labs founder Travis Todd is demonstrating the ways in which generosity can power an app -- and even a fledgling start-up scene.

BERLIN -- Owe your buddy a beer, but can’t be there to buy him one? There’s an app for that.

It’s simple: you just enter a few details about the person upon whom a free beer should be bestowed, including the place and the drink – and voila: as long as the recipient is the owner of an iPhone or Android device, they can redeem their beer at the specified location at their leisure.

It’s called Buddy Beers, and it’s one of the brainchildren of American-born, Berlin-based entrepreneur Travis Todd. He developed the idea together with Benedikt Bingler and Min-Sung Sean Kim, who form a loose entrepreneurial triad under the name BuddyLabs.

It’s mission? “Empower generosity."

“My little brother was turning 21 in Florida,” Todd explained to Berlin’s tip magazine, “and I wanted to buy him a beer for his birthday, but it wasn’t possible.”

“The best idea for a start-up is something people can actually use.”

The concept falls under the category of social gifting – something Todd says was born of the problems associated with deal-of-the-day business models like Groupon and similar ventures.

“The reality of crowd discounts is that they’re not sustainable,” Todd told SmartPlanet. “Merchants have to deeply discount their products in hopes that customers return.”

“When that bubble burst, gifting was seen as a sustainable way to have the same sort of repeat customers and the same kind of value as these deals, but in a more peer-to-peer kind of way.”

Todd admits that social gifting activity isn’t as day-to-day as when users are shopping for themselves – but he says he thinks it makes a difference that two people are involved in the purchase rather than one.

And what better place to empower beer-related generosity than in Germany?

Growth has been steady since the idea was launched in 2010, according to Todd, particularly since the BuddyLabs secured a deal with German beer brewer Carlsberg a year ago. But aside from Germany, the website’s map also shows bars registered in the U.S., Italy and the U.K. – not to mention places like El Salvador, Thailand and Romania – speaking for the ease with which the concept can be scaled.

Like other expat entrepreneurs in the city though, Todd says he decided to launch Buddy Beers in Berlin and not New York or Silicon Valley not least due to the creative and experimental nature of the city.

“Everyone talks about the cost of living, but that’s changing,” he says. “There’s an influx of foreign entrepreneurs because they can do things here that they can’t do elsewhere.”

In fact, it turns out that Todd’s connections to Berlin's entrepreneurial scene run deeper than BuddyLabs. He also co-founded the English-language Berlin start-up blog Silicon Allee with Schuyler Deerman of Moped – a decision he says has allowed him to interact with the community in interesting ways.

“It was important to us that Silicon Allee be written in English because so many young people are coming from all over the world to found start-ups here,” Todd explained to tip.

“How would Silicon Valley investors ever know what’s going on in here otherwise?”

Todd, who’s been coding since he was 14 years old, also holds a degree in graphic design, as well as having spent time in the advertising industry in Florida. But he says diverse professional backgrounds are becoming the norm, especially in a younger start-up scenes.

“When I see a problem and it needs a solution,” he explains, “and I can’t find someone to do it, I may do it myself… and I may become a developer to do that.”

Todd also told tip he was able to return from five months in Silicon Valley with a better idea of what Berlin's start-up scene was missing, e.g. meetups, which he has since successfully injected into the mix.

"Germans are always afraid to share their ideas, fearing that someone will steal them," he told tip. "Silicon Valley learned a long time ago that you have to share your ideas: you need the network."

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Shannon Smith

Correspondent (Berlin)

Shannon N. Smith has written for WNYC's The Takeaway and TheLocal.de. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She is based in Berlin, Germany. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure