LeMarc Johnson

Rebooted Milwaukee startup, Nightstir, wants to be the ‘AIM Buddy List’ for your nightlife shenanigans

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After dissolving the company three years ago, nightlife mobile app Nightstir recently relaunched at Milwaukee and Chicago area universities. The app, available currently only in the App Store with an Android version in the works, claims to take the guesswork out of the pivotal question facing most 20-somethings come the weekend: “who’s doing what, tonight?”

At it’s core, Nightstir wants to solve the logistical problems of nightlife planning between close friends and new acquaintances. This platform offers a unique way to express your nightlife intentions and plans. The app tells you when and where your friends are “pregaming,” “going out,” or “nightcapping” (going to a party after bar close) -- all in real-time. If a user doesn’t want to be bothered because they’re staying in for the night, they can indicate that using the app, too.


The startup aims to give students a taste of the time when social platforms like pre-public Facebook and AIM were primarily used to exchange plans and availability for the night (without being judged by the prying eyes of parents, coworkers, and prospective employers) -- as opposed to the more political, media-centric Facebook of today.

“When I was in college in 2009, we utilized a combination of the then college-dominated Facebook, with AIM to figure out who, what, when and where it was going down that night,” says LeMarc Johnson, Nightstir cofounder. “Those days are long gone, but the need for a discreet, social, nightlife logistics platform is still alive and well. That’s what we’ve built. It’s like an AIM Buddy List for your nightlife. Nobody likes group texts”

Back in July 2013, Startup Milwaukee featured Johnson as Startup Milwaukeean of the Week. He and his team graduated from Vetransfer’s inaugural business accelerator program with a $20,000 seed investment.

“To put it bluntly, we failed. But we failed forward. It was my first venture and due to a couple of bad decisions, we ran out of funds when it came time to execute our user acquisition strategy. I was a novice entrepreneur, making novice business decisions,” says Johnson. “But it didn’t fail because there was no need for it -- it failed because of poor execution. This time, we know exactly what needs to happen. We’re going to be the world’s first major nightlife logistics app.”

This time around, they’re currently bootstrapping while they continue to grow their user base in Milwaukee and Chicago. There are significant changes to the core team behind the venture, which is still lead by CEO Johnson.

You can follow Nightstir at @nightstirapp.

Startup Milwaukeean of the Week: LeMarc Johnson

LeMarc Johnson is Co-Founder and CEO of Nightstir, a mobile Nightlife Communication platform that allows you to create and share nightlife plans. He’s also a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, graduating with a degree in Marketing this summer. lemarc-milwaukeean

At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?

I knew a long time ago that working my way up the “corporate ladder” wasn’t for me. It’s becoming more and more difficult to come in at an entry level position and work your way to the top. In high school, I knew that I wanted to be my own boss and build my own successes instead of working for someone to build theirs. So two years ago, I literally sat down one day and started thinking of problems I could solve. Social problems that presented themselves to me and my generation. I saw that there was no longer a platform for college students/young adults to really communicate, share and plan nightlife activities with a select group of people. That’s when I come up with the predecessor of Nightstir, which was a web-based version of the platform.

My co-founder (and roommate at the time) and I set up an LLC, hired a freelancer and started getting after it. That’s the thing about entrepreneurship—anyone can turn an idea into a reality. All it takes is the will, drive and motivation to get off your butt and do something about the problem you want to solve. NO ONE is stopping you except you.

What has been the largest difficulty you have faced as an entrepreneur?

The biggest difficulty I’ve personally run into is sourcing technical talent. There’s an abundance of tech talent on the east and west coasts, whom of which will work for sweat equity just to get their feet wet. Here in the Midwest, sourcing the technical talent required to produce quality code is a little bit more difficult. I’ve been lucky enough to put together a strong dev team, but I know some fellow entrepreneurs who struggle with this constantly.

What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?

Milwaukee is a very up-and-coming city, especially for the tech/startup space. We get all the amenities of a big city, without all of the clutter and over-crowding of cities like New York and Chicago. We’re home to national and international brands, beaches, Summerfest, professional sports teams, etc. So there are so many unique venture opportunities here that just haven’t been discovered yet. Milwaukeeans have been presented with a very unique opportunity to uncover these future businesses. It’s a very exciting time for entrepreneurs here. I can see a very big surge of venture capital firms seizing more and more opportunities in Milwaukee over the next couple of years—it’s already happening.

What piece of advice do you have for new startups?

Never give up. At times you may be feeling down on yourself, and you may even want to throw in the towel. You have to rid yourself of self doubt and keep telling yourself that the company you’re creating WILL be successful. This is the “self-fulfilling prophecy.” You may fall a few times before your rise to the top, but every great entrepreneur has experienced the same types of thoughts and kept driving on anyway. These are words that my teammates and I live by. We know it won’t be easy because nothing worth having ever is.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met since you began working on Nightstir?

I think the most interesting person I’ve met since working on Nighstir is serial entrepreneur Bob Dorf. I was given the opportunity to sit down with him and get a sort of one-on-one consultation about my business model. He was super funny and was mowing down on some fried chicken the whole time, but was still able to give me some of the most valuable feedback I’ve ever received. In the tech space, you’ll always come in contact with interesting people.

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