It’s not like we go out of our way to ruin the environment on a daily basis, but making sure that we’re constantly supporting sustainable businesses is, well, hard. Not the least of which is because we really just don’t know who to support.
For Sure founder Juraj Pal, this was just the issue he and his co-founders were facing. They were busy. Really busy. Their startup, DiscoveryCity, was helping to uncover the hidden gems and independent shops that cities had to offer, but Juraj felt they could be doing something more.
“We were doing a relaunch of the company and just having that time to step back gave us a chance to think about what we were really passionate about,” explains Juraj. “At the time it was hard to really say exactly what it was, but we knew it had to do with sustainable businesses and brands that share our values of seeking to do a bit more than just be around.”
This kernel of an idea stayed with the co-founders and as they spoke to their friends, it became apparent it was an issue that not only they were facing.
“We realized this was something we wanted to focus on and to give voices to these sustainable businesses and connect them to consumers.”
So the next question was, how?
The space for recommendation sites and apps is incredibly crowded and dominated by massive companies like Yelp and Foursquare. And while the founders had a niche focus, they knew in order to stand out they’d have to do something different.
“We all have had enough with apps and hated the fact that you need 10 apps just to find a good coffee place or something like that.”
“So we started looking for different solutions and decided on this conversational approach. Instead of creating a faceless app, we wanted to create a ‘new friend’ for our users who knows all these great places around and that they could talk to as if they were asking one of their other friends for restaurant recommendations.”
The first version of what would become Sure was built last summer and began as a humble and simple SMS service where you could text a number questions like ‘Where to eat lunch?’ and get a recommendation of a local business that was environmentally conscious.
But while their initial test group were using the service regularly, it still didn’t feel right.
“The overall vision of Sure is to make sustainable living effortless. And we realized that even with SMS there were some boundaries. So now, it’s as simple as having Sure—this friend who knows all of these places—in your Facebook Messenger.”
The way they’ve built this ‘new friend’ is pretty ingenious.
On the database side, the team at Sure uses their background and experience in highlighting the hidden gems of a city to reach out to local bloggers and influencers to build a list of the most recommended sustainable businesses.
Next, they use IBM’s Watson technology, an AI platform capable of understanding your question, analyzing the way you speak, and responding with suggestions phrased in a way that’s friendly and matches your own tone, to be the gateway between your specific needs and how it can solve them.
So when you talk to Sure it can quickly pick up where you are and give you between 1 and 3 recommendations of places to go. If you’ve already been there or don’t like it, just let Sure know and it’ll give you another suggestion.
Having a conversation with your new best friend
If you need to ask a question that the AI doesn’t understand or can’t answer, a member of the team jumps in to complete the request.
“We’re trying to have this friendly and trusted relationship with the user and don’t want your conversation to have any limitations. So we’re using what we call ‘human-assisted AI’ where the AI starts the conversation, but we’re around to jump in seamlessly and help if needed.”
We’ve got a name and a plan, now let’s build a brand
“People would tell us it was a bit stupid to spend so much time and money early on defining our visual identity, but I felt strongly that we needed to build the persona behind Sure.”
Because Juraj knew that recommendation services live and die on trust, being friendly and easy-to-use has always been at the very core of Sure’s ethos. And early on Juraj and the other founders knew they had to have a brand that quickly conveyed what they were about.
“People would tell us it was a bit of a stupid decision to spend so much time and money early on defining our visual identity, but I felt really strongly that we needed to communicate the value to users and build the persona behind Sure.”
Knowing they needed to nail the design as quickly as possible, Juraj came to Crew looking for an independent designer to work with.
“I knew that the designers at Crew had a more independent and niche style and are really on trend. And then when we got connected with Gabriel he really stuck out and we spoke at length about the project. He really understood it so well and so we were quickly able to more forward.”
Gabriel—a Canadian graphic designer and studio owner with a portfolio bursting with print, retail, and branding work—quickly got to work defining all of the elements in an initial moodboard, showing how Sure had to be:
- Bright and colorful
The team had originally been using a hacked-together logo using the iMessage bubble with “Sure.” inside of it, but after Gabriel was done with his magic, that full-stop after the company name was the only element to survive the rebranding.
With their visual identity locked in, Juraj and his co-founders are continuing to build out their database of sustainable businesses while letting their AI learn how to socialize and play well with others.
And while they’re building a business, they’re also hoping to help build a new way of life—one where all of us, regardless of how busy we are can find ways every single day to take control of our environmental impact and support businesses that have these same values as us.
“There are so many bots and apps coming out in the messaging space, but no one is really looking at it from a sustainability standpoint. The people we’ve seen using Sure are busy. They’re working. But they realize there’s something going on with the planet and they want to contribute somehow and support brands that are doing something good.”
“Most people have a willingness to improve their consumption habits and we are there to make the step easier. You shouldn’t even feel like you’re making a change. You just get recommended a lunch spot that’s better for the planet.”
Start being Sure
Right now, Sure’s ready to give you recommendations in San Francisco and Copenhagen with more cities on the way. And with integrations with AirBnB, Uber, and Stripe on the way, there will be more options than ever for making every buying decision something that helps the planet.
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