WiGo aspires to be the app that coordinates social life on campus

WiGo founder and CEO Ben Kaplan, left, with co-founder and CTO Giuliano Giacaglia. (Photo by Scott Kirsner / BetaBoston.)
WiGo founder and CEO Ben Kaplan, left, with co-founder and CTO Giuliano Giacaglia. (Photo by Scott Kirsner / BetaBoston.)

It’s one of the enduring questions of campus life: What’s everyone doing tonight?

An app born on the campus of Holy Cross in Worcester, WiGo, wants to provide a visual answer, showing you photos of friends who plan to go out, and letting you “tap” others you’d like to encourage to come along.

Ben Kaplan started cultivating the concept for WiGo during his freshman year, when he won $100 in a “Shark Tank”-style competition. (He says he promptly spent the money on Amazon’s cloud hosting services.) An early version of the app launched at Holy Cross in January and quickly attracted hundreds of users; Kaplan expanded it to the University of Vermont and Saint Michael’s College, where he had friends, before meeting with Paul English, a co-founder of the startup factory Blade, this spring. English agreed to supply some seed funding to WiGo, and he was later joined by other investors, including Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots, James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ben Fischman, the founder and former CEO of Rue La La.

Wilfork even provided his voice for the app; when a friend “taps” you to nudge you to go out tonight, you hear the Patriots defensive tackle say “WiGo.”

Kaplan says that as soon as he arrived at Holy Cross, “I kept hearing the same questions: Who’s going out tonight, or what’s going on?” But Facebook or text messages weren’t ideal for making plans without seeming a little desperate, or requiring one person to be the ringleader. So Kaplan designed WiGo with the subtleties of 21st century campus social life in mind. You go out with groups, not on dates. And a mobile app can relay a number of different signals — from just “following” someone to “favoriting” them to “tapping” them — that you’re interested in spending time together. The app also shares Snapchat’s short-term memory: At 5 a.m. each morning, Kaplan explains, it forgets everything that happened the previous night, including where people went and all of the chats they had. Rather than keeping a permanent record, the app simply shows you the message “Every day on WiGo is a new day.”

wigo2The name WiGo stands for “who is going out?” The app provides “this non-awkward way of saying, I’m going out,” Kaplan says. You can see a list of the places everyone is planning to go (perhaps restaurants, parties, or shows), or suggest your own destination. And you can chat within the app to coordinate timing, ask how long the line is, or whether the bouncer is letting any guys in. Right now, at least 100 students at a school must download the app and sign in with their university e-mail address and Facebook credentials before the app gets “unlocked” for that campus.

Eventually, Kaplan says that WiGo may grow beyond campuses, and let students connect with friends locally when they’re back home for the summer, or after they graduate. The iPhone version of the app is already available; an Android version is coming in early September.

Kaplan is taking a leave from Holy Cross this year to work on WiGo full-time. His co-founder and CTO, Giuliano Giacaglia, recently earned his master’s at MIT, with a focus on artificial intelligence. English, a part-time lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, initially introduced the two. Kaplan says there are five people working on WiGo in Blade’s Fort Point Channel space.

Blade makes small investments in a handful of startups each year, and supplies operational support to help them build and launch their product. It has $20 million in funding from the venture capital firms General Catalyst and Accel Partners. Last week, I wrote about Blade’s first startup project, Classy, which also focuses on the college market.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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