Wilsonville resident Brian Burke says launching his new app, Barrel Bound, was a little bit like dropping his daughter off at kindergarten for the first time. There were emotions of both fear and excitement when the free software app first hit the market, but the three years of sweat and hard work was well worth it.
Somewhat similar to Yelp — the website that allows customers to review and rate restaurants and other businesses — Burke's free mobile and computer app is intended to help both customers and businesses in the wine, beer and spirits industries by providing a contextualized review system. The idea first started to form when Burke noticed a need and opportunity for local wineries to better share what they have to offer patrons.
"The idea has always been there to create some kind of platform, a native environment, for wineries. A space that was theirs and theirs alone. That was the idea originally," Burke says. "I wanted to know where you can find really good tasting rooms that are right for me in my area, and I started thinking that maybe I should develop a mobile app that can do this. I'm not a tech guy or a developer, so I was trying to figure out how to convey this vision to someone, because everyone has an idea for an app and you really need to separate yourself."
Burke began talking with local brewers and winemakers to gauge their interest level in an app or service that would connect with their customers while simultaneously asking customers what information they would find useful in reviewing local businesses. He decided to extend his reach to breweries, wineries and distilleries, serving a cross section of like-minded consumers.
The information he gathered from businesses allowed him to craft his own unique rating system, which would focus on the positives of each establishment as opposed to negative criticisms. He formed various focus groups of potential users to garner feedback, eventually narrowing down the important qualities that he wanted his app to catalogue and describe.
"The question became 'How do we convey what a place is like through a rating system?' The old star system kind of sucks. It's just old and inadequate, and nobody's challenged that establishment. So I said 'Let's do it, let's challenge that establishment,'" Burke says. "I did a bunch of research and talked with a ton of people and found that there were three main things people cared about.
"One was ambience — what is the vibe like and the general setting? No.2 was a no brainer — service and how you're treated when you go to a place. Third was flavor."
Eventually Burke settled on a sliding rating system, which provides specific descriptions of tasting rooms for context.
"We wanted the rating system to go from good to great and not bad to good," Burke says. "We still wanted to celebrate everybody with a range of rewarding, so if you look at the dialogue on the app, it's all context. It might categorize a place as "A comfy dive," which isn't actually a bad thing if you're looking for that type of atmosphere. It's not such a negative picture to paint if the service is good and the taste is good."
With the idea in place, Burke got to work on the actual app. With a background in marketing and graphic design, he had a vision for what the app would look like on the screen, but he needed help with programming and system management. He added three experts to his team from parts of Wilsonville and Portland, who have worked vigorously in the hours they weren't with their day jobs.
Burke, meanwhile, made the endeavor his full-time job, self-funding the project with the help of his team. A former graphic designer and district retail manager, Burke's goal is for Barrel Bound to be financially viable, but he also wants to ensure the app looks clean and is free of irritating advertisements. But to make sure he would make money he linked up with businesses, giving them the opportunity to promote themselves in lieu of traditional advertising.
"I eventually thought about old school yellow pages and white pages, where you just have the listing of each company, and I figured out that would work for the app. So we said 'Let's do something instead of clickable ads where every tasting room gets a listing, no matter what, which looks like a white page. And if you choose to advertise with us you get a custom photo on your page, and they can promote specials, share news and list their entire product line on their page. We checked with businesses and they loved the idea."
But to launch the app Burke still needed information for every tasting room in Oregon. He obtained a comprehensive list from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and got to work Googling and calling businesses to confirm their whereabouts, hours and other relevant information.
Users of Barrel Bound make a profile after downloading,
and can favorite and rate
any establishment in Oregon. The app saves their preferen-
ces, providing updates, specials and offers for businesses who pay for the added service, which also provides valuable data Burke can share with tasting rooms to improve their operations.
"We're collecting very powerful data that could change the way businesses operate," Burke says. "Our slider system has about 1,000 different outcomes and 1,000 different stories that can be told. There's a psychological connection that shows what people are really feeling. I would love to provide that information to them and show them what's going on. That was really important for us."
Now that the app is launched, Burke is focused on working out any existing bugs while continuing to grow his user base. At the moment, his analytics show users are spending an average of five minutes on the app at a time, signaling there's strong engagement. He hopes to stretch to Washington and California in the future, with the ultimate goal of going global, but Burke says he only wants that to happen if the app maintains its intended purpose.
"It was important for us to be first to market, and we're going to have to scale our business and increase our rates eventually, but we're going to grandfather in the (businesses) that helped us get started and off the ground," Burke says. "I'm a firm believer in everything we're doing, and I believe in our team, and I believe in the landscape, the market. I believe in everything we're doing to make this ecosystem strong and powerful."
To visit Barrel Bound online, go to Barrel Bound.