Sunday, December 17, 2017
Business

Unation, a social media startup in Tampa, hopes to change the way businesses connect with fans

TAMPA — George Beardsley isn't particularly interested in what his old classmate cooked for dinner. But he does want details about a friend's party or a new menu launch at his favorite restaurant.

That's where Unation fits in.

Beardsley and John Bartoletta have started a social media network that focuses on events. An event can be anything, from a year-end sale to a kid's football game to a video explaining a business. The "U" refers to everything about you or your brand.

The site works off the premise that events, rather than random status updates and 140-character tweets, are what bring people together. And if people care about an event, they will be more inclined to view other content on the page, whether it be photos from past events, testimonials from participants or advertising for related products.

"No one has ever focused on events," said Bartoletta, Unation's founder and chairman. "The event could be the linchpin to effective advertising."

Bartoletta came up with the idea two years ago while in Michigan on the movie set for All Things Fall Apart starring 50 Cent and Mario Van Peebles. He saw the power of celebrities to attract a crowd and thought that pre-marketing a movie with videos and photos from filming events could make it more successful.

He rented a room in the back of a restaurant and, after a 12-hour brainstorming session, Unation was born. The goal is ambitious: to change the way businesses and individuals use social media to connect with fans and friends.

The Tampa-based startup spent a year developing the site and look it live in May with a small group of anchors, many of them contacts of Bartoletta and Beardsley, Unation's co-founder and chief strategy officer. Bartoletta, 48, runs the Highstreet Group, a boutique investment company in Temple Terrace; Beardsley, 45, is a former professional golfer and worked as head pro at the Cheval Golf and Country Club.

In September, the anchor members started inviting friends to join. Today, anyone can request an invitation at unation.com.

Unation officials won't say how much has been invested, except that a social network of this complexity is costly. The company has 45 full-time employees — including about a dozen code writers in Brazil — working day and night to make the vision a reality.

"People believe in it," Beardsley said. "They think we have the next big thing."

Once fully operational, the site plans to make money from pay-per-view videos, tutorials, advertisements, shopping features and premium account membership — sources of income that have been a challenge for Facebook and other sites.

Unation members range from Forbes Riley, who uses her page to promote her SpinGym Slimdown Challenges, to Lowry Park Zoo, which posts videos of baby animals and event notices.

The Tampa Police Department joined in December to promote its own events and alert officers to events in the neighborhoods they serve. The department has a strong social media presence but wanted a fast way to find events.

"It's not Facebook. It's not Twitter," said Janelle McGregor, a police spokeswoman who manages the page. "It's a site you go to when you want to know what's going on."

Unation wants to register 3.5 million "citizens" initially and 20 million in the long term, a fraction of Facebook's 1 billion users. So far, Unation has had 2.6 million page views.

Pages function like websites but can be public or private and tailored to a specific audience. Streamed content, both live and taped, is a big component. Last year, the United Soccer League streamed more than 100 games over the site.

Initial feedback from other social media and e-commerce sites has been encouraging, the founders said.

In January, Unation launched Project 1000, a campaign to register 1,000 small businesses in the Tampa Bay area for the site. Companies get help setting up branding pages and events, analyses of users, upgraded apps and webinars — services that will cost $50 to $100 a month, depending on the options. Basic membership to Unation is free.

Unation hopes to succeed where others have struggled.

"There's too much sharing," Beardsley said. "People want do-overs. They want quality over quantity."

Comments
Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

Tampa flights affected as Atlanta airport outage creates holiday chaos

ATLANTA — While power has been restored to the world’s busiest airport, the travel woes will linger for days. Thousands of people were stranded Monday morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where more than 1,000 flights were gro...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Bitcoin futures begin trading on CME, price little changed

NEW YORK — Another security based on the price of bitcoin, the digital currency that has soared in value and volatility this year, began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Sunday. The CME Group, which owns the exchange, opened up bitcoin f...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a host and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and they de...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17