When COVID-19 turned out the lights on nightlife in 2020, Joshua Lewis didn’t go into panic mode, he said. The persistent founder used the time to flesh out his app’s tech platform — and in the process found a key funder for UpDown Nightlife.
“This is our first real round of funding where we’re able to really put ourselves ahead, and we’re not just scratching the surface to fund ourselves,” Lewis added, describing the partnership that sees Ontarget Interactive sign on as lead investor for Updown Nightlife’s $500,000 seed round.
The digital marketing agency’s president, Terry Oehrke, will serve as chief technology officer for the startup, which connects consumers with entertainment and products in the local market.
“Having the opportunity to partner with Updown Nightlife App on their app is a huge opportunity,” Oehrke said in a press release. “We believe the app will change how people go out and look for a good time.”
Raising funds in the tech industry can be difficult enough, Lewis said, noting added strain for minority-led startups.
“Being a Black entrepreneur in today’s tech world, it’s really hard to get the respect you deserve from investment groups, investors [and] angels, VCs, because it’s not typical that the Black man is in the tech community,” Lewis said. “With that being said, I have to be really smart about how I raise this money and catch the interest of other investors.”
Click here to read more about Joshua Lewis’ experiences of being a Black founder in tech.
Developing a social scene
Lewis described the Ontarget Interactive partnership as “perfect timing” and expressed confidence moving forward in the platform’s funding round. He spent years building a business model through which UpDown Nightlife was generating its revenue by partnering with clubs and bars for weekly events, he said.
It all began during his college years with Lewis hosting events, he said. The budding entrepreneur realized he wanted to take what he was most passionate about — socializing — and turn it into a career.
“The app idea came about from asking, ‘How do I help people enjoy themselves and make it more efficient to figure out where to go based on the things they like?’” Lewis explained.
UpDown Nightlife launched on the App Store in 2016 and gained about 8,000 users within its eight months before funding ran out, he said.
“I had to be smart and pull it out because I didn’t want to have a technology piece out there that wasn’t feasible or user friendly,” Lewis said.
Confident in his product, Lewis spent the next three years learning the nightlife industry and the ways it makes money, he shared.
“I realized that, obviously, without people and without liquor, you don’t have nightlife — those aspects are the epitome of it,” Lewis said. “So I had to find a way to penetrate the market based on that.”
The solution: Partner with liquor brands and build the UpDown Nightlife website to collect data through liquor surveys and user interactions.
“Say Crown Royal is your favorite drink,” Lewis said. “Well we will have a feature on the app that will show you where exactly you can go to get that drink.”
Relaunch for 2021
During the first six months of 2021, Lewis plans to begin beta testing the reworked UpDown Nightlife app — with an official launch toward the end of the year (COVID-permitting, he noted).
“I want to continue to be that guy who actually helps others enjoy their social scene through technology,” Lewis said. “It’s pure bliss for me and what I love to do.”
He’s also spent more time while the app is on a hiatus building the UpDown Nightlife blog, he shared — noting it’s been a way to gain more traction in the Kansas City community.
Click here to check out UpDown Nightlife’s website.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.