Saturday, August 18

UCLA students create Scene Shot, an app with live photo streams of local hot spots

UCLA undergraduates Chase Hallerberg and Alvin Hsia created "Scene Shot," a free app that lets students follow local hot spots through real-time photo streams, allowing them to check out how places like Westwood Brewing Company or Maloney's are doing at that very moment.

UCLA undergraduates Chase Hallerberg and Alvin Hsia created "Scene Shot," a free app that lets students follow local hot spots through real-time photo streams, allowing them to check out how places like Westwood Brewing Company or Maloney's are doing at that very moment.

Michael Haley

It’s already 11 p.m. on Tuesday night. The line at Maloney’s is probably running across the parking lot. Karaoke night at BrewCo is always unpredictable. Everyone wants to go somewhere different, but no one can decide which is the best place to go. And this is where Scene Shot comes in.

Scene Shot, set to launch in two weeks, is a free iPhone application created by UCLA undergraduates Alvin Hsia and Chase Hallerberg. The app follows places instead of people, allowing users to take pictures at selected hot spot locations which are then instantly displayed on a public photo stream for everyone in the community to see. For instance, you could click on the location “BrewCo,” and photos that people have taken there that night will show up, giving you an instant peek into the bar’s current atmosphere.

The app also includes the ability to follow, retweet and like (or “thanks” as they call it) friends’ photos, and at launch will include locations from major college campuses in California and Boston.

The idea for Scene Shot first came to Hsia, a fourth-year business economics student with a specialization in computing, while he and Hallerberg were working in San Francisco in the summer of 2011.He realized there was a desire to check out places without actually having to go there, and after returning to UCLA that fall, he saw that the need was still there.

“We noticed that our friends at frat parties and apartment parties would ask to see how it (was going), and we found that it was easier to respond with a picture,” he said.

Hsia shared his idea with friend Hallerberg, a fourth-year economics student, who later approached Hsia about making the app an actual reality. The pair jumped into the process immediately.

“The funniest thing was we bought the domain,, for $1,800 dollars. That was the plunge,” Hallerberg said. “And then a week later we sold it back, realizing we needed this money to make the app.”

Scene Shot’s start was a slow one. In their quest to find developers to build the app, the pair tried to find cheap international options, even attempting to teach themselves Russian in order to communicate.

“We tried to outsource it with a team in Russia; we wanted to do it as cheap as possible with money out of our own pockets,” Hsia said. “It ended up being a big mess.”

Although language barriers and the outsourcers’ inexperience pushed the duo back four months, Hsia and Hallerberg finally gained traction after selecting two developers in Toronto from a site called “,” where they interviewed and got estimates from 15 different teams. But the duo hoped to speed up the process, intending to promote the app while they were still in college, and fearing they’d be beat out by competitors.

“Everyone in the industry is trying to move to local businesses and driving traffic to those businesses,” Hallerberg said. “Foursquare tried it, Google’s trying it. We knew that it was close, and even Instagram was moving towards it. “¦ It’s something where a bigger competitor could have easily ousted us.”

The real magic happened the next summer, when Hallerberg and Hsia returned to their Bay Area roots to work in Silicon Valley at the start-up hub Plug and Play Tech Center. This effect, said Hallerberg, helped stimulate their business.

“It really helped motivate us, going to work every day, to actually work on (Scene Shot),” said Hsia. “And being able to go to tech events and meet-ups and network opportunities, we got to meet multiple successful entrepreneurs. Being in the midst of it kind of showed us that we were doing something real.”

And it was the possibility of creating something that was their own that the duo was most excited about.

“Even if you’re not working on something at a certain time, you would be thinking about it on the car ride home or while eating because it’s yours,” Hallerberg said. “Technically you don’t have to work on it, but you want to work on it, as opposed to school or working at a company for someone else.”

Hsia and Hallerberg credit UCLA alumni Charles Bergmann, founder of PROnoise, and Alex Korchinski, founder of Brass Check Marketing, as inspiration for taking the risk with Scene Shot and a career in the start-up tech world.

“They both started business their senior years and they’re both still self-employed with their own companies two years out,” Hsia said. “That kind of showed us that this is a totally viable path to take after graduation.”

Bergmann said Hsia and Hallerberg’s initial passion was reminiscent of how he was when he was starting out. Calling the duo a pair of hustlers and fighters, he said he’s excited to see how Scene Shot’s usage evolves and develops.

“I’m most interested to see whether people (use the app to) see what their friends are doing at the bar ahead of time “¦ or (if it’ll be more about) a voyeuristic instinct that all human beings have to just watch other human beings, and cruise like we do on Instagram to see what other people are doing.”

As for Hsia and Hallerberg, they hope it becomes the ultimate night out app.

“We both want it to be the app that (people are) using every night they go out,” Hallerberg said. “When they’re deciding where to go it’s like “˜Okay, we’re gonna use Scene Shot.’”

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