Daniel Link and Ralph Lopez met in Austin in 1998 when Link was a singer/songwriter and Lopez worked in the nonprofit world.
When they moved to Santa Fe—Lopez' hometown—in 2010, "we were like, 'Now what are we going to do?'" Link says, relating the origin story of how he met his husband and business partner.
What they did was found Poster Boyz, a guerrilla marketing boutique, as Link describes it. "We wanted to distribute posters and postcard stacks and information for our clients to all the hotels and visitor centers, and we also had an element of website and graphic design folded into our business."
Posters, brochures, postcards—they were all part of the distribution mix for clients such as the Lensic Performing Arts Center, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Santa Fe Indian Market.
If you're not sure what happens next in this story, you probably haven't worked in print media anytime over the last decade.
"In about 2014, we started to notice this dramatic drop in what people were spending in terms of print materials," Link says. "People weren't putting their money into brochures and posters; it was a huge drop-off."
Link and Lopez began holding in-depth focus groups with their clients and others in related industries. They envisioned an interface combining the needs they heard with a desire to showcase the city in a holistic way.
CitySwivel was born. The app has been in beta with numerous organizations since last June and launches officially with a party on Wednesday Feb. 13, with other events to follow.
The multifaceted platform includes an events calendar with direct links to tickets and personal calendars; curated self-guided tours from food to culture to the outdoors created by the participating businesses; a cohesive rewards program ("Keys to the City"); and built-in navigation, among other features. While different aspects of the app exist in various other places, Link notes, on CitySwivel, "it's all in one place." And, he adds, it's all accurate.
For businesses and nonprofits, the app has tiered pricing and the content is curated. "The qualifiers are they have to have an incredible business, personal accountability, a deep understanding for business-to-business collaboration and zero tolerance for discrimination," Link says.
Some of the feedback driving CitySwivel came from businesses' experiences in navigating crowdsourced review sites, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor.
"Someone gets mad about something while they are in their store … leaves and goes and vents on Yelp because they can, rather than taking the time to walk up to a manager … when nine times out of 10, that situation is going to be taken care of," Link says. For smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts, TripAdvisor keeps them in a stronghold. "We just met with one yesterday … who said, 'We're at the mercy of TripAdvisor.' They literally can't breathe without them."
Such user-based sites, Link says, "affect [rankings] on Google; it's not sustainable, and it can have severe impacts on small businesses and the local economy. … We had a lot of discussions about this, the pros and cons, and at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do. We want CitySwivel to be a place where people can find recommendations that actually come from Santa Fe. I don't need someone from Florida telling me where to find the best green chile cheeseburger in Santa Fe; I want somebody in Santa Fe to tell me where to find that."
The name was derived "after months and months and months" of discussion, he says. "We landed on CitySwivel [because] the app and the platform does revolve around [the businesses]. They control the content, they get to leverage the power of CitySwivel, rather than Yelp or TripAdvisor leveraging them. From the end user perspective, for a visitor or people who live here, CitySwivel revolves around you, because it's based on your interests."
While the app is robust and designed with aesthetics in mind, Link says he wants people to understand the intention. "It's not about the app, it's about the experience you get out of the app. We've gotten away from face-to-face interaction with people. … It's an app that encourages you to put your phone back in your pocket. If you want to interact with a business, don't do it online—go see them face-to-face."