Among the many complaints leveled against national treasure Kim Kardashian-West is the fact that she is paid an awful lot to do pretty much nothing. And while we would like to argue with that — Kim K is a busy girl — the fact that she was once paid over half a million dollars to hang out at a party with a Saudi prince for a few hours doesn’t do much to help our case. Pocketing $500K to go to a club is probably as close to being paid to do nothing as one can get.
But it’s not really fair to single Kim out. In reality, paying for the certified cool kids is a time-honored tradition in promotion. The divine Ms. K’s erstwhile brother-in-law Scott Disick managed to make around $1 million in 2016 by going on a multi-city club tour. His only job? Hang out in the VIP room and look cool. Rapper Nicki Minaj was paid over $200K for an hour-long visit to a Vegas club — though that apparently was too much for her, and she is currently involved in litigation over her fee because she only stayed for half an hour.
While we all perhaps enjoy grinding our gears a bit over the profligate spending of club promoters, on some level, an awful lot of people are probably a bit jealous. Who wouldn’t want to get paid to show up and be cool?
For brands who can’t quite afford those celebrity-tier prices, wouldn’t it be nice if there were bargain basement cool kids on offer to hipster-up the joint on important nights?
Well, good news: Surkus exists to meet the needs of both groups.
Cool Kids For Rent
It’s called “crowdcasting,” and the premise is pretty simple: Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd, so rent a crowd to attract the real crowd.
If it sounds silly, we should note that various psychological experiments have indicated that the mere presence of a line will make some people stand in it — even if they don’t know what it’s for. The fact that a lot of other people seem to be waiting for it is often reason enough to also wait in line.
What Surkus does is let businesses not just rent a crowd, but rent the right crowd by using its algorithmic “casting agent” to select each person according to age, location, style and Facebook “likes.”
The players are scored on how excited they look and how engaged they seem to be by the product. Show up and glance disinterested at your phone and risk a low “reputation” score and not be ”cast” again.
Oh, and you have to stay for the whole event or you won’t be paid (the app requires that players allow access to their location data so they can track where they’re supposed to be).
The concept, according to CEO Stephen George, is pretty simple: Brands often know who they want to reach but not how to reach them. The attempt to figure it out can cost a small fortune in advertising that may or may not work.
“So many companies know their core demographic, but they don’t know how to get a hold of those people,” George said. “They hire promoters and marketers and PR agencies to connect, but it’s a one-sided interaction that involves blasting out a message to get people engaged, but they don’t necessarily know if that message is being received.”
At 30 years old, George is something of a singular CEO in the tech space. He invested $250,000 of the millions he made off Groupon stock (he was an employee there during his sophomore year of college).
Today, after two years on the market, Surkus has 175,000 members in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco. The company is open to anyone who wants to download the mobile app, which takes any age or background. The only common element among users, according to George, is that they want to be paid to be social.
How It Works
Those entrepreneurial extroverts have attended 4,200 events for 750 clients of all kinds — eateries, brand launches, hotel openings, ticketed shows, movie premiers and, in some cases, just normal people throwing a party.
Pay ranges from $5 to $100, though the average for most events is between $25 and $40. Attendees are paid via PayPal within 24 hours of attending the event. Surkus makes its money by taking a portion of its clients’ budgets.
On the technical side, Surkus’ algorithm sorts through users’ profiles using the client’s desired search criteria, which can include age, gender, interests, region, etc. Surkus then identifies attendees who match and sends them an invite to their phones. If the user goes, they get paid.
There have been some complaints about the site so far. People have noted that women, for example, are paid much better than men. Others have noted it is not ethical, because brands are essentially creating the false notion of fans, when, in fact, Surkus attendees are closer to paid employees.
But George disagrees: his company’s focus is helping brands make conections with the right consumers and finding a smart way to get them in the door.
“We want to know as much as possible about you so we can make sure we’re on target with your interests and what you love to do, so that you just can’t say no to an invitation,” he said.