Live from #SMWF: Josh Williams’ movie tastes and Group Buying secrets

There are still more great sessions still taking place all over Day One of Social Media World Forum Europe.

Would you believe that the inspiration for Texas-based check-in service Gowalla’s wallaby mascot was that recent film, Australia? You know, that terrible one with Nicole Kidman.

Josh, Williams, CEO and founder of Gowalla, admitted that the film was pretty rubbish, but added that the admittedly impressive way it was shot gave him the idea for creating amazing stories through peoples’ journeys. He also got inspiration from a charm bracelet that his mother put together when she was on a university trip to Europe, adding a charm from each city she visited. “She had a story about every city and every charm,” he said.

With a rapidly growing international user-base and a team nearing 30 people, he said that if any talented web-engineers fancied moving to Texas, to get in touch. Gowalla currently has around one million users in Europe, and although its main user-base in in the US, he said it wouldn’t surprise him in the very near future if 50% of users were outside America.

He also made an interesting point about how people in Saudi Arabia are using his service. “You see check-ins happen in a mosque during prayer time,” he said. “Then, the same person will check in later to a Chillies or TGI Fridays, or some other westernised place. There’s a weird dichotomy and a window into a world that I didn’t know about.

That’s the interesting thing, he added. Gowalla allows you to see what the world looks like through other peoples’ eyes. “We can give you a new perspective on the world around you.”

Later on, we were in the Group Buying discussion, where famous daytime TV pin-up and entrepreneur Kate Garraway met Peter Briffett, UK MD of Living Social, for a good natured debate about the various aspects of group buying and daily deals.

With the market for local advertising in the UK currently somewhere around the £20bn mark, services like Living Social and its rival Groupon are all about driving off line transactions in an online world, said Peter. There’s nothing currently around for new customer acquisition than these services, and 90% of businesses want to do it again after their first experience.

They talked about how the model was not only scalable, but almost dependent on being hyper-local, people want the right deals and they want them in their immediate area.

“If you don’t have quality deals, it doesn’t work,” said Peter. “We vet every deal that comes through. If it goes badly then word spreads fast. But great deals also get talked about massively online. It’s a local model, so have people on the ground so they can check it out.”

So how do companies ensure they get repeat business after the deal runs out?

The merchant has to provide a service that makes people want to come back,” says Peter. “Our subscribers are key to what we do and we want to put them in the right places. It’s something you want to plan into your marketing budget two or three times a year.