Now he wants to help them find new friends — and, potentially, soulmates — with his new venture: Spot, a mobile social-networking app that lets users create, find and join local events to meet other people with similar interests.
Peli got the idea for Spot several years ago after ending a long-term relationship, frustrated that he couldn’t find a service that offered a low-pressure way to meet new people in a group setting. “I was doing the standard internet dating, going on dates. But it became a little bit monotonous,” he said. “I just wanted to do fun stuff, get out of the house and meet new friends.” (Peli, 47, said he’s been “happily married” for the last eight years and has two kids.)
There are already apps like Meetup for organizing get-togethers, while players like Facebook and Tinder have features that let friends plan outings and events. Peli thinks Spot can stand out with its simple design and focus on small group activities. The free Spot app can be used to create any kind of small-scale event “to go bowling, have a movie night, go running in the canyon, whatever,” Peli said. “It’s a bunch of people hanging out, and maybe you make a romantic connection or just make new friends.”
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Peli founded Spot last year with Oren Zbeda, a software project manager, with whom he’s been friends with since they were teenagers in Israel. The two co-founders are the sole owners of the company, with no outside investors.
Actually, Spot represents a return to the world of software programming for Peli. At 16, he dropped out of high school to write the Photon Paint graphics and animation application for the Commodore Amiga, then became a full-time software programmer to create animation and video-game software. “‘Paranormal Activity,’ that was a break from coding for me, and that did better than my wildest dreams,” he said.
“Paranormal Activity,” written and directed by Peli, was produced with Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions. The supernatural thriller — made on a $15,000 budget — was released widely by Paramount Pictures in the fall of 2009 and ended up grossing $108 million at the domestic box office, with a total of $193 million worldwide.
Peli went on to produce five sequels in the “Paranormal Activity” series, and is also the producer of the “Insidious” movies and the horror films “The Bay” from director Barry Levinson and “Lords of Salem” by writer-director Rob Zombie. Among other credits, he co-created and executive produced ABC’s “The River,” from executive producer Steven Spielberg.
Asked whether he’s done with Hollywood, Peli said, “At the moment, I’m focusing on Spot 100%. I’m calling myself as being on sabbatical from movies, for now.”
Spot’s headquarters are in Peli’s house outside of L.A. (he declined to say exactly where). He’s enlisted a team of programmers and designers who are based in Romania.
The Spot app’s homepage provides a map view and list of social events taking place in a user’s area, which can be searched by keyword, or browsed by categories including sports, hobbies, community and singles, by location, gender, age range, or date range.
It also features in-app messaging so users can share more details about the event by chatting one-on-one or via group chat. Spot users can share events on Facebook and Twitter or invite friends via SMS and email.
Of course, to some people the idea of issuing an open invite to total strangers for meetups around town might seem more than a bit creepy. (Maybe not “Paranormal Activity”-level creepy, but still.) Peli said Spot has several tools to provide safety assurances: Users can get a verified check-mark on their profile if their validate their phone number by SMS. Organizers can choose who to invite to an event by making it private, and they can block annoying or disruptive users.
Also, said Peli, “hopefully people will be on their best behavior in a group event.” He added, “Twenty years ago, it would have seemed insane to meet someone on the internet for a date.” Today, with services like Uber and Lyft, “you get in somebody’s car to drive across town.”
As for Spot’s business model, Peli said he’s not focused on generating revenue initially, following the classic startup strategy of building a user base before turning to monetization. In the future, he said, the company could create a new event category with deals sponsored by local businesses, or allow users to pay a premium to have their event featured in a “spotlight” section.
Unlike dating apps, the focus is on meeting people — not necessarily dating: “It’s for, ‘I want someone to play tennis with,'” Peli said. “Our emphasis is on very small-scale, local, intimate events.”