On a Saturday afternoon in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, Craig Vermeyen, Warren ’09, Nick Norton, Warren ’08, and Hunter Knight, Warren ’08, gathered at Waypoint Public for a beer. As is with most pubs and bars in San Diego, where craft beer flows in seemingly infinite amounts, the choices were bountiful. And as is with all situations in which options are endless, the selection process quickly became a belabored task.
“We weren’t being social. We were just staring at our phones, googling a bunch of beers,” Vermeyen says. “You spend your whole time at the bar trying to find out if you’re going to like the beer before you even order it.”
As time wore on, one in the group said offhandedly, “There really should be an app for this.”
That was October 2014. Just over a year later, the Barly mobile app is now fully available for Android phones, with an iOS version of the app in beta testing. Barly is a comprehensive beer guide for those who want a quick way to determine a beer specifically suited to their taste. Rather than having to do research or ask a bartender for arbitrary suggestions, one simply has to take a photograph of the beer menu at hand, choose their taste preferences, and let Barly sort the best options accordingly. The app offers simple settings for beer newbies and advanced settings for the more seasoned cicerones. It even remembers one’s particular palate history for future menus.
“Barly is about introducing people to beer that they will love,” Norton says. “We’re craft beer connoisseurs and we first started designing an app that we would want to use. Then we realized there are lots and lots of people who would be into craft beer if they knew what to order according to their tastes as opposed to just ratings.”
As for how the three, along with non-alumnus Mike Weil, found themselves devoting time and money to making a mobile app for beer, the reasoning is more a matter of passion and personality. The co-founders, who Norton says are “always looking for projects,” had little to no background in computer science or software, but believed in the project enough to learn as they went along. Part of this motivation comes directly from a drive they learned to foster at UC San Diego.
Norton explains that the university instilled in them a sense of real-world responsibility—to always take action, at the very least for the sake of learning. “I double [majored] in music and political theory, and in both departments, just trying stuff out was incredibly, highly encouraged,” Norton says.
Their bold venture has paid off well, as within only a year’s time the group has gone from being tech novices to putting a polished, well-reviewed app in the Google Play store. And they are aware that their startup success story has only just begun. The Barly team is currently focused on fundraising for the iOS version.
“It’s not a question whether it’s going to happen or not, it’s just the time frame,” Norton says.
As for their favorite bars or beers in San Diego? Vermeyen, the chronically indecisive one of the group, can’t help but list off numerous spots and brews. Just goes to show that making a definitive choice can be difficult. Fortunately, there’s an app for that.