Sometimes you just have to go for it. That’s the main thing I learned from my conversation with recent NYU grad Gauri Manglik, 23-year-old CEO and co-founder of the popular app, fondu. Built on top of the Foursquare platform, the program allows users to give personalized recommendations for any restaurant, bar or coffee shop in their database. It’s twitter meets yelp for foodies, or as Gauri says, “bite sized reviews from people you actually care about.”
At NYU, Gauri majored in computer science. Around the time that Foursquare was taking off, she took an entrepreneurship class where she and her collaborators developed an app called Spot On. This app allowed users to create personalized recommendations for eateries in a similar fashion to Netflix, with ratings. After launching Spot On at TechCrunch Disrupt in May of 2001, they began to notice that people were using the app more as a social network than a review site. They were more interested in telling their friends what they thought about particular places. They focused this concept, and it evolved into fondu.
Here’s how it works. You can leave a 175 character review plus a rating, and friends will see it if they are geographically near that restaurant, or, they can subscribe to your feed, sort of like following you on twitter. Bloggers, chefs and critics can use this platform to leverage their foodie brand, while novices can use it to build one!
While the first version of fondu came out in November of 2011, the main launch was only a few weeks ago, timed to coincide with South by Southwest. Even at this early stage, the app already boasts over 20,000 reviews of eating and drinking establishments located around the world, posted by their highly engaged users. So far, the main cities represented are New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, London and Amsterdam. Right now, the site is all in English, but translations are definitely in the works…
Here’s my favorite part of Gauri’s story. After graduation, she took a full time job as a developer at Blackrock. Getting to know her colleagues, she would ask them what it was they wanted to do with their lives, and repeatedly heard, “I really want to start my own company someday.” When pressed as to why they hadn’t yet done it, many of the folks who had already been working there for five years or more would reply, “I need more experience,” or “I need to learn more first.” After only six weeks of working there, Gauri realized that if she didn’t get out right away, she was going to get stuck there. That’s when she decided to jump right in and start her own company.
Launched with a half a million dollars in funding, fondu is currently a four person team, but they are about to increase their number to six. Not bad for a company that started out as a class project just two years ago. During that time, the group has learned a lot grappling with the realities of running an actual business in this highly competitive space.
Moving forward, they are working on developing a full website in addition to their app. They’re also thinking more about what Gauri describes as “frictionless sharing” – increasingly automated ways that users can convey information to one another that focus on specific aspects of their experience, such as the atmosphere of the venue, a review of the food, or the suitability of the place as a dating spot.
Despite the advantage of being part of a very diverse team with different skill sets, as far as being a woman is concerned, Gauri explained, “It’s hard to admit that it’s different. Frankly, in general, it’s obviously a white man’s world… but I love seeing women do things… hopefully [I can] inspire other people to realize that they can do it too, so it makes me happy that I can do it more than anything else.”
I’m pretty sure this young woman will inspire many other women (and men!) who are getting started with their own businesses, through the strength of her own example. “I think you just wanna get something out in front of people and start seeing what they think about it, because until you do that you have no idea, it’s all in your head.”
Hear my complete interview with Gauri Manglik below:
Interview by: Deborah Oster Pannell, a Smith College graduate, is a writer who specializes in the arts, media, holistic health, advocacy and events. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, She Says Yes. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki. On Twitter @projectmaven.