Andrew: I have the pleasure of interviewing Beau Mann, the Founder, President and CEO of Sober Grid which is a geosocial networking app created for the sober community: incredibly innovative technology here. Thank you so much for joining us today, Beau.
Beau: Oh, thank you for having me.
Andrew: I want to first start off with finding out a bit about your background and how you found yourself in this place today?
Beau: Yes, I am a sober person in recovery, and I entered recovery at the age of 23, and a few years ago, I was traveling. I was in Park City for the Sundance Film Festival and wanted to connect with other sober people in recovery, and that’s where the idea of Sober Grid came to be.
There were lots of parties and things going on, and I just wanted another sober person, guy or girl, to go skiing, grab a cup of coffee, or see some of the screenings. So I came up with the idea. At the time I was an art dealer, so the next year I left the art business and started working in software to get a good understanding of the business. And then, last year, I started developing Sober Grid and we officially launch this summer.
Andrew: Fantastic, and I want to talk to you more about Sober Grid, but before I do can we skip back just a moment, because so many of our listeners are going to be very interested in how it is that a 23 year old can lock on to a recovery program that’s going to work for him.
Beau: Absolutely. So I think one of the one of the thing that is challenging when you’re any age, particularly when you’re younger, is finding a group of peers that are sober and in recovery, and I did that. And it’s been many years, I’m now 33.
When I entered into recovery at the age of 23, that was one of the challenges I had, and I used 12 step programs that helped me find a fellowship, and to this day I still use that method. With today’s younger people being a very mobile culture, and we spend an average three and a half hours a day on our cell phone, it made sense to provide a mobile solution to a social network that’s catered to sober people in recovery.
Andrew: Now that support system you were speaking about when you were 23 years old, reaching out to the 12 step community as your support system, that’s a pretty invaluable component to a young man that’s out there, fairly successful in business life already and struggling to hang on to that recovery. You can’t really do it on your own, can you?
Beau: I sure couldn’t, and I think many can’t. And it was absolutely the fellowship of other people that helped me get sober and maintain sobriety, then and even to this day.
Andrew: So you became involved in the recovery community then as a participant within the community, but your position today is a little different. So how do you balance that shift?
Beau: It’s challenging; it’s challenging and it’s so rewarding at the same time. I think that being someone that’s sober and in recovery gives me the perspective I need to translate that in a business and in technology that’ll help people. I think if I weren’t a sober person in recovery, I think it would have been challenging to launch a sober network for people in recovery.
Andrew: You mentioned being at the film festival and trying to reach out to others in the sober community and not being able to find them. So, it must be an important aspect of your recovery program even today. Can you talk about how important it is for you to socialize and connect on that human level to other people, to peers that are in the recovery community?
Beau: That’s a great question, Andrew, and connectivity for me is absolutely paramount. It’s so important I rely on that day in and day out. The ability for me to relate to others, to get support and encouragement from others, and whenever I’m going off course, the ability for the connection with others to help me correct myself and stay on course. I think that that’s really the premise in my view, behind even 12 step programs, and other programs. And I think on the contrary, if I didn’t have that, and I was connecting with people that were drinking and even using drugs, I think I would certainly participate in that activity with them, so that connectivity with sober people in recovery, to me, is crucial.
Andrew: What do you think makes it special? That connection that we have with other people that also have gone through some of the same struggles and are continuing to go through some of those struggles that are long-lived after the drinking and the using have stopped.
Beau: I think the identification. I think that the ability to be amongst people that understand you, and I think that for me I know that all human connection is helpful to me, particularly if it’s healthy. It’s helpful to me. And I think when it comes to others that are in recovery, they can offer me guidance more those that are not in recovery. So there’s certain things that someone may recommend to me, and they could be sober but not necessarily in recovery, and their recommendation may not work for me. More than likely, if the recommendation is coming from someone in recovery, that recommendation would work better for me. So I think it’s the identification.
Andrew: Let’s talk about Sober Grid now, and how Sober Grid technology works. Let’s take the average user. How would the average user download Sober Grid and then use it for their benefit?
Beau: Good question. Sober Grid is available on the iTunes store as well as the Google Play store so you can use it on iPhone or Android phone. They can download the app and they can they can log in, they can create an anonymous account, or they can log in with Facebook. If they log in with Facebook, it just uses their credentials but it doesn’t post anything to Facebook. One of the things that we wanted to address with the Sober Grid app is the ability for people to use a social network anonymously, and with Facebook that is not allowed, you have to use your first and last name. So someone can login and the Sober Grid has two main features: there’s the grid which shows people by distance. If I log in here in Boston, I’ll see someone as close as 100 feet away from me. And you can also search the grid by another city. I could search for Los Angeles or London, and it would populate people in those cities. So that’s the geolocation grid component. The other component of the app is the news feed, which is very similar to Facebook where people can share their status updates, post inspirational quotes and photos, like and comment on other’s individual post as well.
Andrew: So the anonymous component of Sober Grid is unique. If there’s somebody that logs in to Sober Grid and starts to abuse it for whatever reason, how is that addressed?
Beau: The community is very much self-regulated. In addition to the self-regulation, we have terms and conditions and end user license agreement where people have to follow those terms, in order to be participants in Sober Grid. And so if there’s complaints about a member, then we can deactivate their account, showing that their contribution was not appropriate.
Andrew: It takes a lot of strategic thinking and planning and laying out the map for the app to put something like this together. What caused you to go through all of that work to put this app together in such a well thought out way?
Beau: Andrew, you know I’m not sure I realized the extent of work that was involved when I first started it. I certainly started with knowing there was a need for the app, which is where I spoke about coming up with the idea when I was at Sundance.
When I started developing it, and ever since, I put a tremendous amount of work into doing that, me and everyone involved. And there’s a lot of people that have been involved in making this happen. And we work an incredible amount. Our mission is to build this global sober community, so at the touch of a button anywhere you are in any city in the world, you’ll be able to open up Sober Grid and find another sober person around you. And whether that be the airport, or even if you’re home, and you give support and that it helps people. So that drives all of us, the ability to build this technology that can connect sober people in recovery globally. And then that’s really the driving force is being able to build something that’ll help people.
Andrew: You’re talking about a global sober community and something just rang a bell in my head. When I think about sober recovery, I think about a community which is essentially geographically confined. Now, I have a certain set of meetings that I attend, I have a certain group of people that I interact with, and they’re all fairly local. This allows us to really expand that reach, doesn’t it?
Beau: Absolutely. And most things are going global, things we order online. We’re a global economy. And so this opens up from a global perspective. Now one of the things that I feel strongly about for myself personally, and I would recommend it to other people that are members of Sober Grid and it’s also what we see, is that people still maintain their local friendships and connections, and Sober Grid helps facilitate that. A lot of members meet other sober people and they meet them on Sober Grid and they go to meetings. So it helps build that. But there’s also people that I speak with, I’m in Boston, and San Diego, and London regularly on Sober Grid, so it adds another tool to expand beyond our local fellowship.
Andrew: Absolutely, and perceptions maybe different throughout the globe, and there’s going to be a lot of learning that goes on here that otherwise won’t be facilitated.
Andrew: Can you speak to some of these special features that Sober Grid has.
Beau: Yes. So, I mentioned the grid and the news feed. There’s a couple of other features that are special to Sober Grid, and one is the Burning Desire button. If you’re on the grid and you click the Burning Desire button, which puts a red box around your profile, since it’s location-based, it’ll notify others around you that you have a burning desire. And there’s also a Need A Ride button, so if you press that it’ll put a blue box around you, notifying others that you could use a ride. The types of rides that might facilitate would generally be to support meetings, such as 12 step meetings. And those are two ideas that I came up with when I was developing the app last summer.
I had a friend from Texas call me and he had met a young guy online who was in need of some support and had never been to 12 step meetings, and he was in the middle of Long Island. And the friend that called me knew that I lived in New York, in New York City, and in East Hampton. And so he thought that I could put him, this young guy, in touch with someone. And he happened to be in the middle of Long Island, where I knew no one, so I looked for an Inter-group office, which is a 12 step headquarters, if you will, that could help someone by reaching out to this guy and offer him support and maybe bring him to a meeting. He had no car, and someone got in touch with him a couple days later. But if he had this app, and this is while I was laying out the wire frame for the app, he could have pressed this and he could have found someone nearby. The Inter-group office happened to be a town or two away, and sometimes when you’re in need of support or waiting a day or two is not ideal. So that’s how those two features came into play.
Andrew: I have to ask you about the cost for the app, how does that work?
Beau: So the app is free for everyone to download. There is a premium membership available for $3.99 per month, which gives you saved photo albums, and if you visit other people’s pages you will not show up on their visitor list, if you select that, if you can turn on that option. So it gives you those two options. The main functionalities of the app do not require premium: it’s only if you want the saved photo albums.
Andrew: And is there an advertising component to this?
Beau: There is. So, one of the ways that we are trying to support Sober Grid is through advertising on the news feed which is very similar to Facebook. And that’s what gives us the ability to offer the app for free to everyone.
Andrew: What are the future plans for Sober Grid? Where are you going to take this from here?
Beau: We see the number one focus in building out the grid and getting more people on the grid. And we’re growing very quickly, and we’re in 40 different countries and in all the states in the US. So we’re growing rapidly. So that’s our main focus. As far as releasing new features, we have it in a road map to release features that allow people to coordinate events locally. So that’s a new feature that I think will be a big hit amongst our users.
Andrew: It is September, and it is Recovery Month, as we speak. I understand you have a Recovery Month promotion going on as well?
Beau: We do. We’re really excited we partnered with two great organizations. One organization is Facing Addiction. And the guys at Facing Addiction are wonderful. Greg Williams is one of the founders of Facing Addiction and they’re going to serve as an umbrella organization to help all of the recovery related, and certainly help with the stigma. We have developed a badge. A lot of our Sober Grid members buy the current self-reporting badge that we have for a dollar. And we’ve developed two badges. One for Facing Addiction and the other for Young People In Recovery and all proceeds will go to those organizations. So, we’re going to be rolling that out this month and for recovery month and we will have them up there indefinitely. And we hope that will be great sources of funding from our members for both Facing Addiction and Young People In Recovery.
Andrew: One of the populations that’s very difficult for clinicians to connect with is this young adult population. And I’m talking about maybe the 17 to mid-20s population. This technology is primed for them. How can you help clinicians out there connect these patients with your app? What’s the message that we can bring to them, so that they understand they should really get on this and use Sober Grid to find this peer support group that they might not otherwise find.
Beau: That’s a great point. So we are actually rolling out our alumni portal for treatment centers to allow them to stay in touch with their alumni, which is so important. It’s a form of digital aftercare, if you will. And when you’re in treatment, I went to a place in California called Promises, and they advised that I change my friends. And when I left treatment, they advised that I get a sober support group. Which as I said earlier, I did via the 12 step fellowship, and that’s one suggestion that they have for this younger audience. With this alumni portal they can stay in touch with their alumni. They can have their own private alumni portal in there, and if I’m in New York I can filter the grid which is everyone whether you went to treatment or you didn’t go to treatment. And I can filter it by Promises alone. So that’s a new feature that we’re rolling out. And seeing as how this younger demographic is a very mobile focused demographic, it’s the perfect mode for people to stay in touch with their clients after they leave. And for people who have a support group in place once they leave treatment there’s, I think it’s over 80% higher chance of success. So we’re really excited to be able to offer that.
Andrew: Yeah, that support system doubles the success rates. I’m really excited about Sober Grid. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to incorporate this into after care planning. And I would encourage those listeners out there that are paying attention to this interview to take a look at Sober Grid. What is the website?
Andrew: Well Beau, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it, and thank you for doing this important work, and keep it up. We need people like you.
Beau: Thank you so much, Andrew.