Aspen entrepreneurs put twist on social media |

Aspen entrepreneurs put twist on social media

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
Ryan Sterling launched Soapbox two years ago with partner Greg Studley, and now the marketing app is live on screens in the Square Grouper, shown here, and El Rincon, with more venues coming soon.
Jeremy Wallace/Aspen Times |

While individuals and companies throughout the world are seeking more ways to connect digitally, two young Aspen entrepreneurs have created a way to use social media to get people interacting with others in the room around them.

The smartphone application Soapbox was born two years ago when bartenders Ryan Sterling and Greg Studley combined forces. Sterling, an MBA graduate who got hired at the J-Bar after his band played a gig in town four years ago, has always wanted to start his own business, and Studley had an idea leftover from his time in Los Angeles: What if he could sidestep his star-studded competition and flirt with girls by cracking jokes from his phone?

“It’s been tried in the past to do SMS text up to screens, but it was so anonymous, there was no accountability,” Sterling said. “And there was the whole bar-game thing. … But what’s never going away is this social need of being together.”

And so Soapbox was born, an app that, in a nutshell, allows users to post photos or comments of their experience to a feed that is displayed on television screens within the bar or restaurant they’re at and on the app on their phones. An access code is required so that users can only post to a venue’s feed while there, and the bar can manage the content.

Soapbox, available on the Apple App Store, is now live in El Rincon and The Square Grouper, with Whiskey Rush coming soon. It’s been used at some events in the J-Bar, and Sandman Karaoke takes it on the road.

While Soapbox is engaging and fun for its users, Sterling envisions it as much more than that.

“We are not a social-media platform,” he said. “We’re a marketing platform with a social-media component for individual, local businesses to reach their customers directly.”

For instance, a restaurant could post its daily special in the rotation of images on the feed. Right now, the second image on the Soapbox feed that users see on their phones is always an ad. But the ads aren’t brought in by Google or another third party, they’re sponsors or the venues themselves, and the venue can control which ones appear.

“We’re getting enough data that we’re beginning to see trends of increases in sales of over 100 percent of featured products,” Sterling said.

Sterling hopes to bring in some bigger clients to use and advertise on Soapbox. The app fills a niche as it markets to consumers right at the point of sale and fits into the food-and-beverage industry the way no other app does, Sterling said, and it would be cost-effective.

“We’re working on getting to the level where it makes a difference to a brand,” Sterling said.

Sterling and he and Studley are trying to grow Soapbox’s presence in bars and restaurants and are looking for investors to take the app to that next level. Studley, who just relocated from Aspen, is pursuing venue opportunities in the Denver metro area, and Sterling has backed off of his position as J-Bar manager to focus more on the app.

“It proves an entrepreneur can do this,” Sterling said. “You don’t have to be $10,000 in the hole to see if something works.”

Sterling is learning a lot about the highs and lows of launching a business, though, from the difficulties of securing a business loan to meeting positive, generous people.

He said it’s important to keep in mind that “the team you surround yourself with, how you present yourself, and that you never know who you’re talking to.”

And “be genuine. Be honest. Be moral. I’m witnessing so many people wasting more time trying to get around that than just doing it.”

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