Slice of Life

Add a slap to your face as part of your new gym routine

Ally Moreo | Photo Editor

Sarah Grosz, a sophomore information management and technology major at Syracuse University, went from being a campus representative for X Mode to head of college outreach.

Sarah Grosz sent an email exactly one year ago — little did she know that one email to a tech startup would land her a real-life job.

Grosz, a sophomore information management and technology major at Syracuse University, jumped from being a campus representative for the Virginia-based tech startup X Mode to being its head of college outreach.

“I’m an opportunist,” she said.

The Boston native promoted Drunk Mode, X Mode’s first and flagship application that uses location-based services to help partiers find their lost, drunk friends. After her stint as a brand representative, she decided to get more involved. She works for the startup now in its Virginia office during school breaks.

“I don’t get how lucky I am,” she said about having a job with a great atmosphere.

Her main duties involve testing and marketing their one-month old app Walk Against Humanity, an alternative fitness app that uses negative feedback to motivate fitness fiends to get moving. She also manages the new brand representatives at SU.

“It’s what your personal trainer is really thinking,” said Jake Ellenburg, recent graduate of the University of Alabama and chief marketing officer of Drunk Mode, LLC.

The fitness community has developed plenty of subcultures, especially recently – there are runners, CrossFitters, hikers, weightlifters, yoga nuts and everything in between. But Ellenburg and Grosz said they all have one thing in common.

“Fitness apps are usually so nice and smiley,” Grosz said.

“It’s very peppy, and I don’t like it,” Ellenburg said.

That’s why they wanted to develop an app that gives you a “slap in the face,” as Grosz put it. Other fitness apps out there send reinforcing, motivational messages that ultimately don’t help some people exercise better. Walk Against Humanity is different. At its core, Walk Against Humanity has the same step-counting and run-tracking features typical fitness apps have, but Ellenburg wanted to infuse it with a dark, sarcastic, Louis C.K.-type of humor.

For example, when users walk one mile, the app awards the user a badge that says, “Congrats on finishing your first mile! Did you know that Adolf Hitler only had one testicle?” Each time users earn badges, they are rewarded with an offbeat, cynically humorous factoid like this one.

“It’s all in good fun though,” Ellenburg said, explicitly stating that the app doesn’t intend to offend anyone.

Overall, the app came together in about one month. After X Mode developed Drunk Mode, its first app, the company received an investment, and its investors wanted them to create a fitness tracking app. Everyone was on board to get started, but it was Ellenburg’s idea to make it playfully mean.

Ellenburg said the app met some initial resistance because of its alternative format, but the success and ingenuity of his idea manifested the first day the app was available in the App Store. He said 7,000 users downloaded Walk Against Humanity in its first day.

“That made everyone shut up,” he joked.

Now, after one month of being on the market, the app has 50,000 downloads. The company’s flagship app, Drunk Mode, has over 1.5 million downloads.

As a company, X Mode is into creating content that users want and need. It checks social media commentary from users and takes note of the most popular features, ultimately deciding on features to roll out next based on what people actually want.

X Mode is also into creating content that college students need, especially with Drunk Mode. Drunk Mode started when Chief Executive Officer Josh Anton received a drunk call from a girl he had a crush on in college. Anton said he has never been into partying, and after conducting some research on his campus at University of Virginia, he realized lots of students like him were having the same problem.

He originally rolled out Drunk Mode with just a dial-blocking feature that prevented users from drunk-calling people, but as the company grew, it added more features to the original app. Now, its main feature is “find my drunk,” which allows partiers to find their friends if they happen to get separated on a night out.

It’s hard to market safety to crazy college kids, said Ellenburg.

“We know people are going to drink,” he said. “It’s just one of those things, even if you don’t think you need it, you might need it.”

It’s better to have insurance, he said, recalling how distraught his mother was when she watched Natalee Holloway’s disappearance in 2005 — she went to Aruba for spring break and never came home.

Grosz also agrees with the need for a safety app on campus. Besides the fact that it helps make sure drunk students are okay while under the influence, it’s also a good tool for the person actually getting drunk.

“Drunk Mode is for students who go out and party, but don’t want to wake up the next morning not knowing where they dropped their ID cards, and checking their phone and seeing they had a drunken three-hour conversation with their ex and have no clue what they talked about,” she said.

She has used the app outside of her work duties to find her friends and make sure they were okay.

Grosz has been a valuable asset to the company. Ellenburg said she “killed it” as a brand rep and is glad she’s brought that same drive and initiative to her more involved role with X Mode.

“She’s really creative,” he said. “It’s kind of a breath of fresh air.”

In its three years of operation, X Mode has evolved from being just a tool to help find drunk friends or get in shape. Its name plays off finding “x” in an algebra equation. Now that the company has created two apps that definitely serve a necessary function, Ellenburg is excited for the future.

“What other issues can we solve for?” he said.



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