Elan Kotz has always loved helping people, “sometimes to the fault of spreading myself too thin,” he said. But the 32-year-old Mount Vernon resident is now, along with business partner Jeffrey Dobin, about to spread out that dedication to helping people — way out — with a new app called Blikkee that connects people looking for travel and restaurant advice with those that have advice to give.
Kotz grew up in Northern Virginia and landed in Baltimore to attend Towson University, where he majored in advertising and public relations with a minor in business marketing. His first post-college job was in online advertising in the early days of search-engine optimization. But Kotz said he also always worked as a restaurant server.
“It was something that I loved to do. I love interacting with people,” he said.
While working at City Café, after a particularly bad week in his ad job, he decided to make a switch. “I realized that I really had a passion for what I was doing in hospitality, not as much in that entry-level advertising,” he said.
So he and executive chef Chad Gauss partnered on The Food Market, opening it in Hampden in 2012. But Kotz moved on again in 2015, reconnecting with college friend Dobin who was working on a “pay-it-forward” networking project. And it was with Dobin, doing market research, that their new app Blikkee was born.
What is Blikkee?
We started to do a ton of market research, and what we learned was people really wanted advice and they wanted help when they were traveling. So, our goal was to connect people to chat about food recommendations and other local advice. And we knew that we had to have a way to do it that was unique and offered something new to the user. So Jeff and I read this study that focused on the shared economy. We wanted to create a platform with Blikkee where someone could make some money and earn some cash for giving advice.
How does it work?
You download Blikkee, open it up and there’s two ways that you can interact with the app. First, with the app opened up to “Rush,” you can scroll through different cuisine types and say you’re looking for people. There’s a call to action that says “get a recommendation” and when you hit that, it actually pings everybody around you that is capable of giving you that advice. And the first person to claim it, gets into a chat window with you and gives advice. The other way that you can interact with Blikkee is called “Discover” [where the user is] presented with user profiles and can send a message and connect with them. The goal is to always get better, always get smarter and always be improving. And that way, the platform can help you get the advice quicker and connect the people that are best suited for you.
Does this connect with your Jewishness?
Yes. I’ve always loved people, connecting people, helping whenever I can. My father is Israeli. I feel a super-strong connection to Israel. We grew up going there. Since I left the restaurant I’ve actually been more, now that I have a little more free time. With Blikkee I can work from my laptop. I went over in September. When I’m there I’m always asking locals for advice. It’s like a fully integrated part of my life.
How do you connect with others?
I’m a big music aficionado. I’m obsessed with it. I play the drums; I love going out to see live music and jazz. I really enjoy a relaxing read, and I also love to go out for a great meal. That’s one of the ways I really decompress. My favorite thing is to cook a big Israeli dinner and have a bunch of friends over and just hang out and relax.
For more information, visit blikkee.com. The app is available now for iPhone and soon for Android devices.