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Connecting the dots of the Interest Graph: Jon Vlassopulos of Tastemates

In our latest episode of Popping the Bubbl, we sat down with Jon Vlassopulos, CEO and Founder of Tastemates.

Jon has a fascinating background spanning across music, mobile, TV, advertising and digital media as an exec, founder and investor. He started his career as a DJ in Asia, playing in and opening some of the hottest clubs in China in the early 90’s. From there, Jon got into the music business full time at BMG in Asia Pacific, driving some of the first digital initiatives for the music industry and working with stars like Natalie Imbruglia, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera .He continued working for Bertelsmann, the German media company, in NYC managing their corporate M&A and investment activities. He then moved to AT&T Wireless and helped build out the first stage of the non-voice mobile ecosystem in the US, helping companies launch their first apps, enabling premium SMS and driving tens of millions of dollars in mobile content revenue. He was a founding member of the Mobile Marketing Association and launched the first mobile marketing campaign in the US for American Idol. After AT&T Wireless, Jon moved to LA to work for Endemol, the world’s largest independent TV production company, he was the SVP of Digital and Advertising and pioneered interactive TV with shows like Deal or No Deal and Take the Cake. He also created and sold some of the first online shows for Comcast and Break Media and sat on both the NATPE and the PGA board. Having such a long career working in very different but intersecting industries means he has a unique ability to contextualize our current environment and spot upcoming trends.

He’s seen the industry morph and evolve from the early days when the major Telcos were the original gatekeepers. Today gatekeeper control has shifted to the likes of Apple and Google almost exclusively. Other tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter now look and behave more like media companies (even though they are still in denial). Today consumers, with their every day actions and valuable interest data being constantly captured and harvested, have actually now become the product that is getting sold to advertisers. Google is a data company that gets smarter with every request but most of its data is implicit, Amazon on the other hand, is also a massive data company but is more transparent about how it uses its data collection (to sell you more). This means they have cleaner explicit data about consumers’ interest. There is an implicit quid pro quo relationship, while with Facebook their use of consumers’ data is less clear and transparent driving many younger users to other platforms like Snapchat.

In the beginning, Facebook used to be a place where you could find and connect with people who really were like-minded. It started out on Ivy league college campuses, where those connected to each other generally had a lot in common due to life stage and socio-economic background. Today, as the network has grown, with users adding more random friends, family members and random connections, the feed has gotten noisy and polluted. It is becoming harder, not easier to connect with people who share your interests. Facebook doesn’t immediately surface who is valuable in my network or who should be in my network because of shared interests. Jon believes that “the Interest graph” or ‘Taste graph” is the great unfinished story of the web that will finally deliver personalized advertising, content, commerce and connections.

Enter Tastemates, the new app that launched this week. Tastemates is a mobile app (android and iOS) that allows people to connect over their interests such as music, movies and books with plans to expand into travel, food and other verticals. It’s a network that helps you connect with “mates” who share the same tastes.

Jon is the ultimate connector and he has always been fascinated with personal networks, virtual relationships and interpersonal dynamics. He believes that technology hasn’t done a good enough job to date connecting people to other people and things that match their taste. Meeting people is still generally random and this means that a lot of people are not finding fulfilling relationships for friendship or romance. Tastemates plans to change this. He believes that virtual relationships can be just as fulfilling as “in real life” (IRL) connections and that younger generations are much more open to friending people that they may not have ever met in person. Now is the time, because of mobile ubiquity and evolving attitudes about digitally / mobile relationships, that it should be easier and more streamlined to find these meaningful connections to make people happier and allow them to discover the best of life.

How do you connect with someone who shares your similar interests, but whom you don’t know? That’s the pain point Tastemates aims to solve. With Tastemates, you can share your personal interests and create your “Taste DNA” through curated packs of interests in entertainment categories which help you build your profile. The Tastemates on-boarding process takes you through packs of different media options and the user can swipe right or left to add to their Taste DNA in addition to being able to search and add titles to your profile. Tastemates then uses their proprietary algorithm to match you will other mates in the community who match your taste. It even helps you make the first move by leveraging intelligent, data-driven ice breakers so that you are not stuck with all those very boring “Hey’s”

Essentially, Tastemates is recreating the experience of going to see your favorite live band and meeting new people who also love that band at the event. You can collect like minded mates in an easy and seamless manner. Additionally, on Tastemates you can also “gift” people which Jon likens to the digital equivalent of buying a someone a drink in a bar. For example, if you have a movie you have expressed interest in watching on your profile, a connection can buy it for you through the app.

So is Tastemates a dating app? Well, not exactly but given that only a tiny fraction of people that match on Tinder actually meet, perhaps neither is Tinder. What Jon feels is that the art of courtship has been lost, that people are lacking meaningful relationships and Tastemates is a way to help people explain themselves to the world through their interests, connect with others and lead better more fulfilling lives.

“Real relationships are formed over common and shared interests,” said Jon V, “we are making it easy to find the similarities between people so that they can strike up new virtual and physical relationships that add value to their everyday lives. Helping people find concert mates, drinking mates, movie mates and of course soul mates!”

Tastemates can make the world a little smaller by helping people dip into other cultures and create a global community of people whose interests overlap, increasing our connection and helping us expand our interests. Think about what it’s like to go somewhere new, move or travel - Tastemates can help you find people with whom you are compatible in terms of interests ahead of moving and connect with them upon arrival.

The mobile platform allows for more personalization, people share information about their interests and the more you give, the more you get in terms of a personalized experience.

Beyond Tastemates, Jon is an active angel investor focusing on startups in consumer lifestyle, health, art, design, travel and entertainment with involvement in a variety of new startups such as Laurel and Wolf, Vango , Outdoorsy and Vina. One common theme that Jon threads through his investment approach is a focus on female founders with a general mission to support female founders.

Big thanks to Jon for the fascinating conversation, now that Tastemates in in market, give it a whirl!

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