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Dulles-based Pombe hoping to connect people and the beer they love

Derek Smeds, Mike Firestone and Matt Topper at Savor Week in Washington D.C. in May. - Courtesy/Pombe
On nights and weekends when he wasn't working to build Dulles software consultancy company Uberether, Matt Topper began building an app for last month's Savor Beer Festival in Washington D.C.

When the event was over, Topper decided to "dust off the app" and expand it into a full-blown beer experience for mobile devices called Pombe, pronounced like Bombay.

Topper started Uberether three years ago after leaving Oracle, a global software company. Almost immediately thereafter he met Derek Smeds, who helped found Pombe with the help of friend Michael Samblanet.
Ultimately, the plan for the app is ambitious.

"We certainly have a very well thought out road map of delivery on things over the next 12 months I would say," Smeds said.

Through bi-monthly releases, Smeds says hopes are to provide support for photo sharing, the ability to link to Facebook, Foursquare and Untapped, as well as alerting members to new beers in their area.

"The real vision for this is a one stop shop for beer enthusiasts," said Smeds, explaining just one of the many functions he hopes Pombe will have in the next year.

Enthusiasts with the app will also be able to make a wish list of their favorite beers. If the beer is rarely available in the user's area, the application might alert them to the nearest restaurant or grocery store with the beer in stock.
The app could also allow a user who is out of town to know if their favorite beer is locally available, Smeds said.

Topper, who has family in Michigan, decided to move back to Loudoun about a year ago, and now commutes bi-weekly to oversee projects, including Pombe, in the area.

Samblanet, Topper and Smeds started the application because they like beer, know how to code and were not satisfied with the apps that were already available for discerning beer drinkers.

When asked about competition, Smeds said social media brew app Untapped is really all that is out there. Untapped allows users to check in at bars and comment on their experience.

Pombe, which is privately funded, mostly by Uberether employees or external consultants, has two different models for monetizing the app.

For events there would be a per-event fee.

"A five-day beer week would be more expensive than a one-day event obviously," said Smeds.

With the application Smeds says there would be a lot of functionality for event organizers like built in ticketing or a mapped layout of the venue.

The other way Pombe hopes to make money is through restaurants via a subscription- based model.

Pombe would provide a target marketing opportunity to these restaurants, said Smeds. Also it could deliver direct feedback from customers about the selection of beers and quality. Smeds also said he could envision the app being used to curate beer lists.

Most importantly for Pombe would be the user experience, said Smeds.

In order to gain a core group of passionate users, the group at Pombe hope to start by building the app to work at events and have beer lovers download it as a supplement to their traditional beer festival experience.

Smeds says the events will hopefully help Pombe extend its user base, which is essential as a way to grow the database of information the application can access.

Like Wikipedia, which grew out of the basic idea that people would open source their knowledge to create an encyclopedia, Pombe hopes to grow a living, breathing encyclopedia of beer.

Developers are hoping Pombe can use a status-based rewards system to incentivize interaction between users.

Smeds envisions a tiered approach where users could be placed in the top 10 percent or top 1 percent of all the beer connoisseurs on Pombe as bragging rights.

Pombe is working with about four or five event management companies that are interested in using the app for events, a number Smeds says exceeds the goal they had at the beginning of the year.

"We just want to take data analytics from defense contracting and bring it to the people," said Smeds, who explains that the company's largest obstacle will be getting the features to the point where Pombe can get people to use the app after an event.

Visit pombe.com/enjoy to check out the app store on your Android or Apple device.


In other words, another free app trying to make money by selling us to somebody else….

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