Alumnus creates standout recommendation app

In this generation, where our likes and dislikes represent who we are as individuals, our tastes in music, film and television shows are sources of pride. When it comes to algorithm-driven platforms such as Pandora for music or Netflix for film, we tend to have strong opinions on the recommendations we’re given. We don’t choose how we like a song on a scale of 1 to 5 — either a confident thumbs up or thumbs down.

As college students in a city that’s bursting with great culture, entertainment and food, it’s only natural for us to have opinions in all of these realms. But when it comes to recommendation services, there haven’t been any stand-out platforms that cover all of these aspects. Qloo, on the other hand, a multiple-domain discovery engine, is poised to successfully fill the void in this market.

Founded by USC alumnus Alex Elias, Qloo was in part a nod to USC and how his experience as a student inspired this mobile and web application.

“I have a special fondness for ’SC, a lot of these instincts I developed … these ideas really started when I was a student there,” Elias said.

At USC, in fact, Elias majored in philosophy and economics, two polar opposite disciplines, and almost picked up a minor in jazz studies. For his interest in cross-disciplinary studies, Elias was recognized as a USC Renaissance Scholar in 2009.

“If it weren’t for that formative experience at USC, Qloo might not have happened,” Elias said. “[Qloo] sort of developed from the idea that your interests can form and shape the way you relate to other areas as well.”

Elias, however, did not start Qloo at USC. In 2012, while finishing his second year in law school at New York University, Elias thought of the idea and decided that this was something he wanted to develop.

“I kind of ran with it and raised a bit of money in our first round,” Elias said. “Fast forward, and we’re a team of 10 based in New York. It’s an exciting project we’re taking on.”

The first thing to know about Qloo is that unlike single-domain concierge services, Qloo covers a wide range of interests including fashion, books, travel destinations and food, among others. And aside from just giving recommendations, Qloo’s main goal for each user is to encourage him or her to really get out in the world and explore.

“Folks can book a restaurant reservation, watch a movie trailer or even add a film to Netflix [through Qloo],” Elias said. “We don’t just want to be the start of the discovery process. We want to actually make it easier to fully take advantage of everything we’re offering.”

Here’s how Qloo works: Within each main category, there are also subcategories, such as “Legendary Lyrics” in music and “Late Night Munchies” in food. To give the app its user information, under each subcategory users can input five “qloos,” which Elias describes as, “a play on words [that] reflects something you love or how you are culturally.” So in the previous example for food, you could say “Chano’s” or “BCD Tofu.” The more qloos in each category, the more accurate the algorithm will be. Once you’ve given enough qloos, you can also “get qloos,” or scroll through personalized recommendations based on your likes. To improve the algorithm some more, you can swipe to the left to approve these recommendations or swipe to the right to express your disapproval.

Qloo can also take all of your tastes into consideration and apply them to your recommendations.

“I can say to Qloo, ‘Find me a film based on my taste in books.’ It’s this cross-domain idea that becomes incredibly powerful, that the algorithm is looking at what movies you might enjoy based on the choice of books you like,” Elias said.

Though Qloo is not a social network where you can directly add friends, you can look up “tastebuds,” or people who share your taste across Qloo’s categories, and grab qloos from them.

Currently, Qloo serves local personalized recommendations in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, London and Chicago, and it isn’t a coincidence that these major cities also happen to be epicenters of culture. Luckily enough, Elias was already in New York City when he started Qloo, and believes that the city was the perfect place for Qloo’s headquarters.

“New York is kind of like the capital of food, publishing, restaurants and many other things,” Elias said. “And it makes sense. To a larger extent, products and companies tend to reflect the culture of where they are incubated.”

The Qloo network has 50,000 users and counting and plans to expand to more cities including Paris, Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C. The app is only available in Apple’s App Store at the moment, but will be released for Android in the next couple of months.

Sure, it may seem like Qloo is just another algorithm-driven app, but there’s more to it than just spitting out recommendation after recommendation.

“We’re bringing these different areas of culture and entertainment together,” Elias said. “Rather than going deep within one channel … we want to do better for people by taking a more complete picture.”