Original content by Treva Lind
(Journal of Business | May 24, 2018)

WildRide Inc., a new Spokane venture created by recent Gonzaga University graduates, serves up a twist on culinary adventures.Hope Morgan and Chloe Sabo are among five Gonzaga seniors who co-founded the business providing a free smartphone app for users to download that will send them to a mystery restaurant or bar. WildRide’s app launched in late April, and is available for download on iOS and Android devices.

Deciding on where to eat can be a challenge as people kick around ideas, Sabo says, so WildRide’s app is designed to guide them to restaurants that have positive ratings. The secret locations are usually within a 15-mile radius of app users.

“The problem we’re solving is you’re sitting around and trying to decide where to eat for the night,” Sabo says. “Usually with the conversation, it just goes back and forth. We want to make that decision-making process easier.”

Based on choices people make using the app, including menu prices, it loads up guidance to an eatery without revealing the destination.

WildRide’s other owners are Cody Lippert, Stephanie Forsyth, and Max Eckhardt. All five owners graduated May 13 with GU business degrees. Two weeks before graduation, they launched the app, after developing the business in a GU accelerator startup course last semester.

Everyone in the group is 22 years old. Passing down other job offers, Morgan and Sabo say they’ll devote full-time efforts in Spokane this summer toward WildRide. Other co-founders will work for WildRide part time around full-time jobs, Morgan says.

WildRide has about 50 Spokane restaurants among app options, and that number will expand, she adds. Most eateries are in downtown Spokane, but others are in the Perry District and north Spokane. In the first two weeks of operation, WildRide had about 500 app downloads.

“We are doing our test phase in Spokane this summer,” Morgan says. “We’re looking to expand most likely into Seattle next.”

While people use the app without charge, they separately pay for their restaurant or bar tab, as well as for Uber if they’ve used that service.

After app testing, the restaurants that want to continue using WildRide will pay $1 per person in a WildRide party coming to eateries, Morgan says. The source of business income will be total fees paid by restaurants and bars using it as a marketing tool.

“We have incorporated Yelp into WildRide,” she says.

“We’re testing the app, so the restaurants are on WildRide for free currently,” Morgan adds. “We’re hoping in six months to go to restaurants and say, ‘We’ve sent you about 100 customers. Do you want to continue using WildRide? And if so, please sign up,’ and they’ll start paying.”

Morgan says WildRide is using a business model similar to OpenTable, a reservation website and app, which charges eateries a fee per person booking at a restaurant.

Users of the app can select a bar, restaurant, or place that offers both among three top icons. People also can select a location by price ranges, starting from a single dollar sign to four dollar signs—a restaurant industry standard, Sabo says.

With confirmation of how many people are going on the ride, users then can confirm a nearby location, although they don’t see the name of the place or address at first. From the app, people can select an Uber ride or turn-by-turn navigation if driving themselves to a site. With that confirmation, app users press start to receive navigational steps.

Why the mystery? Sabo says, “Because it gives you a wild ride, an adventure. It gives you something to talk about on the way.”

Sabo says the business can’t guarantee customers haven’t previously visited a restaurant before they’ve used the app, but as people continue to use WildRide, its technology makes sure it doesn’t send people to the same place in a subsequent app-directed journey.

The group behind WildRide all studied together, although they pursued a mix of business majors. The inspiration for the business started after Morgan in an earlier entrepreneurship class picked up two random words on pieces of paper.

“We were taking an entrepreneurship class all together in fall 2017, and we were doing an in-class exercise where you’d have pieces of paper and write random words, then take pieces of those papers and put two together,” Morgan says. “I got Uber and roulette. I thought how can we make Uber roulette work? We came up with WildRide.”

Morgan adds, “After that, we worked on it for the rest of the semester just as an in-class project, and we got really excited about it, so we got invited to another class for this semester called Startup Accelerator.”

Sabo explained that in the startup course, entrepreneurship professor Todd Finkle takes mostly a hands-off approach, mainly bridging business connections and basic advice.

“We could go to him and bounce off ideas,” Sabo says.

The group also worked with another professor, Tim Krauss, who runs a business called App to Market. “He has coders in India,” Sabo says. “He watched one of our presentations and came to us and said, ‘I can help you do this for a little less.’”

This summer, Morgan and Sabo plan to add more restaurants in Spokane Valley and Coeur d’Alene. WildRide can track the number of customers sent to restaurants, because once a party arrives to within 500 feet of each mystery destination, a pop-up screen shows the restaurant’s name, phone number, photos and address.

“On the screen, there’s a button that the customer clicks that says, ‘I’m in,’ and it means you’re actually going to dine there,” Morgan says.

The co-owners have invested privately in the company and received startup funding through an entrepreneurial contest. Additionally, they recently presented to the Spokane Angel Alliance seeking investors. Any investor funds will be used for marketing, further app development, and expansion costs, Morgan says.

Morgan says, “The founders each put in $10,000 of their own money, so $50,000 has been invested into the business. We also came in second place in the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition at Whitworth University this year.”

That entrepreneurship contest secured a $3,000 award and two months of free office space at the Startup Spokane headquarters. That’s where Morgan and Sabo plan to work.

Morgan adds, “We’re determined. We figure right now is the best time in our lives to take a risk.”