Four UT students create SocialToast app to maximize the Sixth Street experience

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Ethan Oblak

The creators of SocialToast show off their iOS application at Capital Factory, an Austin startup incubator. The app helps friends maximize their sixth street experience. 

Kat Sampson

When four UT computer engineering students met last spring during a computer software lab, none of them knew they would eventually build an application based on Austin’s Sixth Street. CEOs Rachel Peters, Mochi Li, Jaclyn Coleman and Austin Ewing, along with their classmates, were challenged to create a software product that interested them. After discussing potential products, they all agreed to work on a way to maximize their downtown experience. Thus, SocialToast — an iOS application allowing you to “check into” bars — was created.  

“It originated from us going downtown then the next morning, when everyone shares their stories, realizing you missed out on all the fun spots,” said Coleman, an electrical engineering senior. “So now you’re able to know where all of your friends are at one time, without all the miscommunication over text.”  

After logging into the app via Facebook, users can check into a bar based on their location.

“We tried to make it like a really focused Yelp or Foursquare,” said Peters, an electrical engineering senior.

Taking notes from Yelp’s software programming, they focused on targeting the best geographically oriented searches for each phone. But the app, as of now, doesn’t change bar location automatically. The user has to manually check into the bar they are in. 

“It’s a little bit hard, especially on Sixth Street, where the bars are so close to each other,” Peters said in response to the difficulty of a GPS tracking system. “You have to check into every bar you’re at.”

The team said one of the app’s greatest assets is the simplicity of letting your friends know where you are without having to send a text under the influence, making the downtown experience safer and more efficient. 

Some people have expressed concern over the fact that SocialToast is only accessible if the user is willing to sign in with their Facebook account, but Peters and her co-founders said the decision was made deliberately.

“We wanted to make sure they could automatically upload a huge, extended group of friends without having to send individual friend requests,” Coleman said

But, before the team was even worrying about GPS tracking and app design, they were learning about the foundation of business strategy and entrepreneurship in a seminar course called Longhorn Startup. The course is led by professors who have extensive experience with building businesses from the ground up. Their particular seminar course has three different instructors: engineering professor Bob Metcalfe, entrepreneur in residence Benny Dyer and Josh Baer — who runs Capital Factory, an incubator for Austin startups. 

Metcalfe said guest lecturers frequent the course and offer advice on topics ranging from customer validation to raising money.  

“We are encouraging students to prepare for startups,” Metcalfe said. “Be enthusiastic about something. If not about startups, then something else.”

When the team isn’t participating in Sixth Street field research, they can usually be found on the 16th floor of the Omni Hotel at Capital Factory. At the office, the students are given the technological resources they need to create and maintain a successful tech business.

Right now, the four creators of SocialToast are focused on the development of the app and will be pushing for two updates before South By Southwest. As far as long-term goals, they plan to target college campuses across the country to make the bar scene safer and more efficient for all.