Apps / Business / Business development / Data

How Drunk Mode, an app for the inebriated, became data location company X-Mode Social

The Reston, Virginia-based company pivoted from an earlier app known as a "condom for your phone" and is now working to drive data collection to be "a more transparent, privacy-conscious industry."

The X-Mode Social team. (Courtesy photo)

Jake Ellenburg was just the third person hired to work on Reston, Virginia-based Drunk Mode, an app that, when it was founded by University of Virginia students in 2013, had a mission to provide safety precautions for anyone going out drinking.

More specifically, it did these things:

  • Kept users from making drunk calls during pre-set partying hours
  • Helped them find their inebriated friends
  • Kept track of the different places they waddled to throughout the night
  • Allowed them to order an Uber in a drunk-friendly manner

But it soon became clear that the biz had a key asset unrelated to booze boosting its value: location data collection technology.

Ellenburg has since been propelled to CMO status, and Drunk Mode has rebranded as X-Mode Social.

“We were always revenue-driven, so we had been approached about the data our app was collecting and how valuable it was,” Ellenburg said. “We then found out that the location industry was sort of sketchy. A lot of companies in the space were just trying to give us pennies to the dollar for what we had. That’s when we really started to hone in on our technology, which we branded as the XDK.”

App developers can input the XDK code within their app in order to install the data collection tech, and X-Mode pays them to use the XDK exclusively. Since 2017, X-Mode Social has onboarded over 200 apps to its platform, according to Ellenburg.

This technology is also valuable for advertisers, X-Mode’s primary customers, as they look to identify consumers to target and retain consumers who use their respective products.

“We collect the location data and assign it to a device ID, then we assign that to points of interest,” Ellenburg said. “If I walked by a McDonald’s but walk into a Starbucks, my device knows with the XDK that I passed a McDonald’s but I actually went into Starbucks.”

The X-Mode Social team. (Courtesy photo)

X-Mode was in prime position to make the transition from Drunk Mode with funding, data deals, revenue and the necessary technology already secured to transform into a data company, he said. The primary struggle in the transition was shifting mindsets from being an app developer to a data collector.

And, let’s be clear: This was an app previously referred to as a “condom for your phone.”

“I was the CMO of Drunk Mode and now they’re like, ‘Can you be a B2B marketer for a data company?’” Ellenburg said. “Internally, it was a huge undertaking. We had to completely change mindsets. It was a bit of work, especially in the beginning, to get everyone on board with what it means to be X-Mode rather than Drunk Mode.”

The rebranding started with recruiting knowledgeable peers in the data industry who were struggling to develop their own projects to work exclusively for X-Mode.

“We started to reach out to app developers who we were friends who we knew had dealt with data monetization, but were having a really hard time at it,” Ellenburg said. “A lot of people don’t want people to know that they’re collecting data. They don’t want people to know where the data’s going. We as app developers did not like that, and we knew other app developers probably wouldn’t like it either.”

X-Mode focuses on working with apps that have location use cases such as weather and fitness apps as opposed to random gaming apps that have no need for such information, the CMO said.

The current Drunk Mode website.

Rebranding as X-Mode led to Drunk Mode being put on hold for nearly two years, but this year there are plans to revamp the app that started this all.

“Unfortunately, Drunk Mode took a backseat but it’s definitely something that we have in our product plan to redevelop,” Ellenburg said. “We look at it as our legacy app. We’re hoping by the end of 2020, we’ll have a completely newly developed and better-working Drunk Mode app back on the store.”

This summer, X-Mode looks to launch a full consent dialogue for users in the U.S. that will disclose exactly what data is being collected off them and how that data can be used. Though it’s commonplace for companies to disclose to users the terms of agreeing to allowing data collection, Ellenburg stressed X-Mode’s form will go into more extreme detail than the industry standard.

X-Mode is also in early discussions with varying industry professionals, exploring how XDK could potentially assist EMTs and help uncover human trafficking efforts.

“We’ve been fighting an uphill battle in terms of trying to change the perception of an industry, but that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Ellenburg said.”We want to help continue to drive the industry into a more transparent, privacy-conscious industry. It’s not as nefarious if you just tell people what you’re using it for.”


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