It was hard to know what to expect as I sat and waited for my four interviewees to arrive in a modest Derwent seminar room. The word “Zentry” has been something cropping up sporadically in conversations on campus and online since the start of term, and a distinctive “Z” logo was starting to appear watermarked in nightclub photos. I had once purchased tickets to an event in York via their website. But I lacked a clear vision of what Zentry really was. I suppose I thought it was a promotional tool for clubs, and little more. I am pleased to say, however, that my assumptions were wide of the mark.
Zentry is made up of four guys who are all students at York. In front of me sit Callam Poynter and Ali Zogheib, both seemingly the tech brains behind the app and web design. Joining them is Saam Zonoozi, an established presence in the York nightlife scene, and Richard Osho, CEO of Zentry, and the man with the initial idea. Immediately, I ask them to define exactly what Zentry is right now, and what it hopes to be in the future. After a moment’s thought, Richard answers: “At the moment, if we had to sum it up concisely, it’s a clubbing companion to make your night smoother from start to finish. Zentry at the moment is dealing with event discovery.”
“It’s an events management tool that helps you organise and choose what events you go to”, Saam adds. Richard explains: “When I started out, I wanted to take all the negatives of nightlife and try to negate them. There were so many things that were stressful about nightlife, and we thought, ‘how can we get things to move smoothly, and get to the experience quicker?’”
Given the huge number of disposable apps churned out into the smartphone market each week, the four guys at Zentry would have been forgiven for worrying that their project might flop. As it turns out, Zentry has been very successful, with over 500 downloads since it went live in September – which, Richard is quick to remind me, is considerably more than the 27 downloads that Snapchat received when it was first released. A recent victory in a Facebook entrepreneurship competition promises to take the app to new horizons. A widespread awareness of Zentry has spread around campus, be it through Zentry’s own selective nightclub photography, or through handling sales of tickets to events such as Nightvision – from which Zentry is starting to generate profit. Student feedback has been positive. Their ambition is clear, though, when Richard says there is room for improvement. “Without a real marketing budget, we just put it out there in the blue. We’ve been received relatively well. I think the quality needs to get higher, but I think the idea has been enough to wet people’s tongues.”
The “idea” that Richard is referring to was hatched last summer, when he submitted an idea to the York Plan ENVY competition for young entrepreneurs. “When I was outlining my idea, I was thinking how stupid I was; that it was never even possible to do half this stuff.” Richard explains how Ali chanced upon his Zentry plans when he left them on the table, and Ali convinced him to go through with it. They didn’t win the ENVY prize, but that did not stop them from following through with their ideas for Zentry. Since then, Richard has learnt a lot. “Don’t limit yourself. Find the people with the strengths you are missing, and don’t let failure hold you back”, he advises me.
From there, he and Ali recruited Callam and Saam, and the four of them spent a huge part of their summer break working on the app. “Each member of the team has a very clearly defined role”, Callam says. The passion of all four co-founders is abundantly clear – they are all clearly invested in the process emotionally, but not hugely financially. The four of them spent most of their summer designing and coding the app, but when I asked them about costings and the initial investment needed to fund the app, Richard answers: “This is the beauty. I’m very proud to say that the initial investment is virtually zero. All you need is a developer’s license, which Callam already had. The software comes with a Mac. I could have paid the other three if I wanted to, or made it an external project, but these guys took it as their own. They’re part of the company.”
Ali agrees, telling me: “The fact that we are all university students on different courses makes it ideal. We all have different sets of tools to help the project, without having to pay for external help.”
Recently, Zentry has received a place on the highly coveted FB Start scheme, run by none other than social media giants Facebook. The group were selected from thousands of other applicants onto the programme designed specifically with bright young startups like Zentry in mind. Facebook gives the team support, software and “creative coupons” to then invest in the app, and the scheme also entitles them to free sponsorship and advertising on Facebook, and free credit card transactions of up to $50,000. Things are certainly looking bright for arguably the most exciting product to emerge from York University’s entrepreneurial scene in a long time. The story of Richard and Ali’s disappointment in the ENVY competition last summer makes their recent success all the sweeter.
“When we first started”, Ali continues, “we originally wanted to spend no money at all. That’s why we use Facebook, which hosts the events, the pictures, the information. We host nothing. All we’re doing is downloading the data using the users’ mobile network, through WiFi, and displaying in on the screen.
Their stance on investment soon changed when they realised the scale of what they could achieve, however, as Callam tells me: “We realised we could make a better product if we did store some information within the app.” This leads on to what the quartet are brimming with anticipation for: the forthcoming release of Zentry 2.0, an app update set for the new year – what the team call their “real” launch. “The update will be in three parts”, Callam says. “An app, a website, and an Application Program Interface (API) – what’s going to link up the website and app from the same source.” A big difference will be the presence of advertising on the app – for which Facebook has given them software to ensure ads do not encroach on the app’s accessibility or user-friendliness.
As for expansion? The group were certainly inspired by their visit to Facebook’s London headquarters earlier this year – “Like Disneyland”, Richard laughs. Callam firmly believes that, for the moment, York is their “sandbox,” where, having no competitors in this field, there is space to experiment. Whilst Zentry is naturally very York-centric in its current infancy, the app already offers information from a number of British cities. Richard admits that despite the presence of other cities’ nightlife information on the app’s home screen, “At the moment, the app is basically just in York. But what it shows is that it’s scaleable for us. In London there are several events apps, like YPlan. But they are more events management apps. We want to move in the direction of event discovery and event experience – and beyond the realm of just students too.”
Ali and Saam, who is also a co-founder at On & On events in York, tell me of their plans to expand beyond clubbing. “We are trying to expand to other events outside nightlife – festivals, for example. We have a planned selection of exclusive tickets to events such as YO1 Festival next summer. Having said that, we’re going to be launching at quite a few other universities soon, so watch this space.”
With several new features designed to take the app into new social media territory already in the pipeline for next year, there is certainly a feeling that the best is yet to come from these four. The group say they can see themselves doing this job full-time after graduating. Zentry’s homepage bears the slogan “Tonight is in your hands”. After what I’ve seen and heard this evening, the night, and beyond, seems instead to be very much in theirs.