Interview with Qloo founder, Alex Elias
Qloo is a cultural discovery platform that offers recommendations based on your curated tastes—for music, film, TV, dining, nightlife, fashion, books, and travel. As you add more of your tastes to each category, Qloo delivers more personalized recommendations. The curation of each category has the addictive, user-friendly ease of Pinterest, while the recommendations makes it easy to discover new things to watch, listen, read, wear, and eat.
I recently created an account with Qloo and love it. In the near future, I can see many users looking at friends’ restaurant and nightlife preferences when considering their options in a new city, as opposed to reading the opinions of strangers on review sites such as Yelp.
A couple of weeks ago, we named the New York-based entertainment startup Qloo (pronounced clue) as one of the top companies that may disrupt the way we experience entertainment. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with founder Alex Elias about Qloo’s development and where it intends to go in the future.
Read the full interview below:
What brought about the idea of Qloo?
I have always had a deep passion for culture, in particular music and very specifically jazz. This passion lead me to start thinking about how it affected other areas of interest I have like dining, travel, fashion, books, etc. I started Qloo based on my assumption that the whole is greater than its parts and to be able to explore this relationship that exists between tastes across different areas of culture.
Qloo is backed by a number of celebrities. Was this part of the marketing strategy for Qloo, or did celebrities just gravitate to you based on the overall concept?
Jay and I have been friends with Danny Masterson for a while now and this was just something he was really passionate about and wanted to be a part of. The same went for Cedric the Entertainer. It’s exciting now to see actors like Ashton Kutcher, Ethan Suplee, Bijou Phillips, Adam Busch, musicians Steve Aoki and Sonny Rollins, fashion designer Duncan Quinn and stylist Ilaria Urbinati have also caught on and created accounts.
How did you guys develop the algorithm that considers one’s taste in music, shows, movies, etc. in order to cross recommend within different verticals?
We started by considering the human aspect of culture, and how it ostensibly interacts in each of our lives. We had an inkling that people’s taste in films and literature were related, or nightlife and fashion, but we wanted to see how far reaching these relationship between different areas of culture could be. We surveyed a lot of people early on, and were surprised to find that while all of them expressed some degree of interrelation between their tastes in different areas of culture, those relationships played out differently for everyone. This was a foundational insight for us. Today’s Qloo’s algorithm is built on the idea that the best source of suggestions come from the most culturally like-minded people. And that users should be empowered to decide which areas of culture they want to be considered. The starting point is the gallery. Everyone curates a gallery of what they love across cultural categories. Based on that, Qloo finds the most culturally likeminded people at that moment in time, and will serve you inspiration from that group. The algorithm is very human in that way, rather than purely relying on objective tags of items, or any other dry math to relate objects. Qloo always sources suggestions from other culturally like-minded human beings.
You were a hedge fund manager prior to launching Qloo. What inspired the leap into founding a startup?
I was driven primarily by the vision that there could be a source of structured cultural intelligence that could help connect people to new things they would enjoy. All while avoiding all the social fatigue that is proliferating online. Once I had the vision, I couldn’t let it go, and kept elaborating on it. And at that point it was all over. The passion, combined with the opportunity to build a game-changing product that made an impact on people’s lives was all it took to dive into Qloo.
How many users does Qloo currently have?
Qloo currently has thousands of members, and we are adding new people every day. We wanted to be thoughtful about the way we grow the community.
Back in November, Qloo went from a 6 month phase in private alpha and somewhat opened itself up to the masses (invitation only). When does Qloo intend to open itself up to the masses completely?
We’d really like to be able to thoughtfully expand Qloo and study the connection between cultural interests rather than opening the flood gates. This being said, we are working on making some part of Qloo completely public so that people can use its search functionality.
What has been the biggest hurdle Qloo has faced? How did you guys overcome it?
Biggest hurdle Qloo has faced was convincing a critical mass of interesting individuals to join when Qloo purely in a contributory mode. We overcame it the old fashioned way. Carefully explained our mission to people in person at cultural events like Sundance, and get them to see how their collective action could bring about a whole new form of cultural discovery. Through a lot of heavy lifting and evangelizing, we got an amazing hand selected group of early contributors that set the tone for the “qloos” to come. We were also amazed at the uptake; that even before we were offering our discovery side of the equation; people across the board would go to great lengths to curate their galleries. The per-capita number of Qloos we got during the contribution only period, exceeded our estimates by more than 10 times. In retrospect, I think it is because building your Qloo gallery is a fundamentally happy and introspective task, that people really took to.
Qloo’s revenue model does not depend on ads but rather your company gets a cut of sales from recommendations. Did Qloo always intend to go this route, or was it a decision that developed based on feedback?
We always thought that ads were somewhat antithetical to the service, especially at an early stage. Qloo exists to empower you to discover new things across culture, based on your taste. Every “qloo” we present stems from that core offering. If we instead presented content that is there purely by virtue of being sponsored, there’s an inherent risk.
The affiliate revenue we generate comes purely as a result of consumer satisfaction with the suggestions. It also provides the convenience of acting on that suggestion. In that sense, it is not a hindrance to the value we deliver, but actually enhances it all around.
It wasn’t developed on feedback per se, but was instead something we all just sort of understood early on. The vision becomes even clearer with the mobile proposition.
What aspect of Qloo are you most excited about right now?
I’m very excited about fully taking the proposition mobile. We currently have a beautiful mobile web presence. And we are now dreaming up a very conceptual and stunning native application that will be a tipping factor for Qloo’s usefulness in people’s lives.
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