The world was already going digital before COVID-19.
Passing up physical time conversing with friends to stare at your computer or phone screen is so subtly prevailing that most people don’t realize how addicted to their phones they truly are.
The average time spent on smartphones or tablets is over four hours per day. Gen Z, as a generation, kills over 10 hours per day browsing Internet content. Most people are only awake for 16 to 17 hours per day. Lockdowns around the world from COVID-19 only accelerated the transition to even more screen time.
For the opportunistic entrepreneur, COVID-19 may have produced the spark that changes user behavior in a distinct way that may last for years. Fusing interactive social media, digital conferencing, and events, Bernardo de la Vega, the founder of Fiesta App, believes he has found the answer.
“We wanted to combine video conferencing with a marketplace of events and the social media components of TikTok or Instagram,” says de la Vega. “Listening to our early users, we discovered what was engaging, and then COVID-19 forced us to make changes we hadn’t really prepared for at first.”
Fiesta had a soft launch in Feb 2020, as a party and event finding app for Miami’s club scene with most of the events that were first available catering to young music and party enthusiasts.
As COVID-19 arrived in the US and shutdowns swept the country, the newly birthed Fiesta needed to evolve if it was going to survive. COVID-19 may have forced Fiesta’s hand in its current iteration and created a dynamic shift in user consumption habits with social media.
COVID-19 Forced Fiesta to Pivot, and it Worked
de la Vega initially got his start as an entrepreneur with the founding of his first company in July 2014, a beauty company called Radha that leaned heavily on Amazon sales. The company rapidly climbed the Amazon skincare charts, eventually becoming the number one seller in under nine months, but the problem of relying so much on Amazon inspired de la Vega to make a change.
Years later, in 2017, de la Vega moved onto Mealthy, a home cooking brand that wielded a multi-platform channel approach. The Mealthy team even created an app, which exposed de la Vega to his first experience with the nuances of app building in the competitive tech landscape — something he derived some important lessons from that would have implications later with Fiesta. Put simply, going against the grain of mainstream entrepreneurial thought.
“There are so many different ways to grow a company,” says de la Vega. “When I first started Fiesta, I had a co-founder and when we talked about ways to grow (he was sort of a marketing expert), he said we’re just gonna do Facebook and Instagram ads. I’m like, yeah, everyone is doing those ads. Ninety-nine percent of the industry across every single brand is already doing that right now.”
de la Vega continues:
“If you want the company to succeed, you need to do something else. I actually ended up cutting ties with that co-founder and we’ve come up with some really cool ways of marketing the app.”
That experience was de la Vega’s salient lesson in what would later define Fiesta — the ability to pivot.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that everything can change in an instant. Empty streets in large cities like New York, a frozen economy, and the resulting social unrest all within a matter of months.
It pays to remain nimble in such situations, and for startups, that means being willing to pivot — even if the result is different than the original vision of your business.
“One of the things in the tech and social media landscape that I don’t see discussed very often is the ability to pivot on a whim,” says de la Vega. “You have to ask yourself: is this company turning out the way I want it to? Is this the best business model? Is this what I want to do with my life?”
For Fiesta App, an online event and conferencing app rolled into a social media platform; those questions arose in the immediate aftermath of lockdowns. Originally designed as a social platform for engaging with other people at live events (e.g., music concerts, shows, etc.) in Miami, de la Vega and the Fiesta team were faced with a choice — continue down their current path or make a sizeable change to the app and focus more on virtual events.
“Initially, the concept for Fiesta was kind of a fusion between Event Brite and a social component that enabled users to discover social and live events all in one platform,” continues de la Vega. “Then COVID-19 happened, and immediately after our February  launch, we were forced to pivot into a virtual event platform.”
The pieces began to fall into place naturally after the onset of lockdowns. Fiesta incorporated a video conferencing feature along with scheduled events like friend and celebrity hangouts, fitness classes, and more — all with a dash of TikTok’s engagement.
“The good thing is that we already had five or six of the elements ready to go to an entirely virtual platform,” says de la Vega. “We were able to move pretty fast, and within five or six weeks of the beginning of lockdowns, we already had a pretty good beta with some beneficial feedback from our early users.”
And the feedback from the users is precisely what told de la Vega and the Fiesta team that they might have stumbled upon something special.
Listening to Users Makes the Difference
One of the advantages that Fiesta used from the outset of lockdowns was the realization that there were masses of young people languishing at home with nothing to do. College kids and high school students, the bulk of Gen Z, were waiting for the next opportunity to come knocking.
“Initial users really liked the idea of hangouts paired with live events and a social aspect, and whereas many users didn’t come back repeatedly to use the original version, the ‘Fiesta 2.0’ (lockdown edition) pulled in repeat users looking to host their own virtual events and join others at an impressive rate,” says de la Vega.
Fiesta tapped into the reservoir of idle Gen Z’ers by employing interns and brand ambassadors to use the app, provide feedback, and promote it to their peers. After all, it’s young people that drive digital trends, and it’s why TikTok is becoming a social media monster.
“Once we had the repeat users, it became a matter of exploring what type of events users wanted the most, and how we could scale those,” continues de la Vega. “As we continue to add more events, we realize that finding hosts that want to set up multiple events is critical — people want to follow household names and influencers that host recurring events with large audiences.”
For de la Vega, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the current Fiesta app, which pivoted from the original Miami-based idea is more appealing to its target audience. Rather than being a hindrance, COVID-19 has provided Fiesta with an opportunity to improve its business model, and it’s been paying dividends ever since.
The question becomes whether or not the type of virtual-heavy preferences among users will have the kind of staying power necessary to catapult apps like TikTok and Fiesta beyond the Mt. Rushmore of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Social media is cyclical, and kids are always looking for the coolest, shiniest new app to join.
COVID-19 may have induced a fundamental change in Fiesta’s design, but its broader implications may be the progressively blurred line of social interaction between the physical and digital worlds.