Alexa Andrzejewski – Foodspotting 2 of 2

“Communicating a concrete vision is the most powerful thing a founder can do.” Foodspotting enables people to find and share food recommendations.

Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the biggest obstacle in starting Foodspotting, and how did you overcome it?
Alexa: I think for us, you know, starting the company wasn’t the hardest part because, you know, we both had… I had experience in creating products, you know, doing products from research to design, and my cofounder had things from design to implementation, so, you know, getting a prototype off the ground was pretty easy, and finding our initial users was even pretty easy because of social media, like people were sharing it on Twitter and everyone was like, “Whoa, what is this Foodspotting thing?” But I think one of the challenges, you know, in raising money for Foodspotting was just being an unproven team. And we had to prove a lot to raise that first round of money, you know, we had to prove that we had (unintelligible – 0:00:55.3) we had to prove that, you know, that it was continuing to go (unintelligible – 0:00:59.3) and it took us a good six months to raise that first round of funding, but then we raised the next round, you know, six months later, really easily. And so like just getting over that first hump we had a lot to prove, but so we just basically, you know, paid out of our own pockets, dumped our savings accounts into Foodspotting, and just proved that we could get there bootstrapping six months of the way, and that was really cool.
Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business or your users that you didn’t realize before launching?
Alexa: I think one of the biggest surprises about our users is how many people just go to Foodspotting to browse the pictures of food. We don’t think of ourselves as a photo sharing app primarily, because we just think of the photos as the means to an end, like they’re just a way of recommending something and we really like to focus on the utility of Foodspotting, it’s for finding food. But we did, you know, kind of a structured survey of our users, interviewed our users, and we looked at the data and we realized that a lot of people are just watching this and looking at foods all around the world that they obviously can’t go out and eat it, you know, on the spot or anything like that. And some people are bookmarking things they wanna try later when they travel they wanna eat there, which is cool because it’s like bookmarking things in the real world you wanna try, but a lot of people are just browsing pictures of food ’cause they’re, I guess, curious about things that are out there, and so that’s something we want to support a lot more, like we, you know, didn’t originally have like a very good following stream, for example, you know, because we thought, you know, why would people just go look at pictures of food? But we’re realizing that that’s very interesting to people, and it’s interesting to me too because, I mean, I learn about new foods through other people’s sightings, so it’s been, you know, kinda eye opening to see what’s all out there.
Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult, so we want to dispel some myths here. My question for you is, what talents or skills come intuitively or easy for you, and what’s been difficult and how have you managed that?
Alexa: Well, I mean, I think I’m definitely in my happy place when I’m doing product design, and I’m just like sitting there diving into the (unintelligible – 0:03:05.0) and analyzing these problems and, you know, trying to, you know, solve a side problem and whatever. When I first started with the idea that’s all I was doing and that was pretty cool. Of course, since becoming a CEO, you know, the types of things I have to do every day become crazier and harder to manage, you know. I’ve been checking in with our nine-person team, different aspects of the nine-person team and all their projects and I find myself, you know, overseeing other things people are doing and responding to email requests and doing PR and just like there’s so… sometimes I feel like I’m the, not just the founder but also like the intern of Foodspotting, because I have to do everything from, you know, high-level strategy to, you know, scanning a legal document, reviewing legal terms, and, you know, I think I’ve had to definitely step up my game in terms of management, time management, and you know I’ve gotten into the getting things done model of (unintelligible – 0:03:59.2) and I think that… you know, it’s been pretty good just trying to get on top of all that. But I think, you know, it definitely is stretching in just that little bit… every day I’m doing something I’ve never done before, I mean, raising money for Foodspotting was something I’d never done before and, you know, reviewing legal documents I hadn’t really done before, and so I think one of the things for me is I tend to be really analytical. I used to like to take a lot of time to do everything, so I love to like spend, you know, an entire week focusing on one page of the design, or I wanted to, you know, spend a lot of time, you know, hashing out the perfect strategy or making the perfect decision about which investors to take money from and, you know, just overanalyzing decisions. And I think, you know, one of my biggest struggles is just to have to make a lot of decisions quickly and on the fly increasingly more and more, ’cause there’s so much going on. And becoming more intuition driven is something that’s been a challenge; that’s something that, you know, I’ve been shifting towards as well, just making decisions faster and then living with them and not having regrets and looking back.
Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Foodspotting?
Alexa: I think one of the things is just how important it is to find people that you love to work with and share your vision. I mean, I think one of the best parts of Foodspotting so far has been the team and just pulling in the right people. And I think that there, along the way, you know, there was a lot of times when, you know, we talked to so many people along the way that we could have brought in, and sometimes there was kind of like easier routes we could have taken towards, like, you know, bootstrapping the team or just, you know, working with whoever, but really find people who get the vision. You know, even investors, like, you know, there were people who offered us money right away and it could’ve been kinda the easy way to get money to fund the project, but they weren’t necessarily the right people, the right fit, and so there is an aspect of just taking the time to make sure the people… that people you work with get it and not just take the easy route because in the long run, like, if you pick people who are out of line with your vision they’re gonna be pushing you in directions you don’t wanna go. So I guess that’s (unintelligible – 0:06:10.3) but then the most important thing I’ve learned as a founder is that the number one thing that I can do is communicate a concrete vision to my team, and so I’ve always said like some of the best things that have happened to Foodspotting are when I gave one of my cofounders or one of my team members a really concrete directive that was memorable, that was, you know, resonant, and that people really got. So for example I always tell the story about my cofounder, Soraya, she’s really connected in the New York media scene and so one day I went up to her and said, “Soraya, you know, I’ve always wanted to have Anthony Bourdain’s recommendations on Foodspotting. You know, I’d love to launch Foodspotting and see the nearest things Anthony Bourdain has eaten on a show near me.” And just by telling her that really concrete vision that she totally got, she was able to take that to the Travel Channel, which of course they totally got, and literally in a week she was having dinner with the president of the Travel Channel and in a month we had the Travel Channel as our first major media, national media partner. And all that happened because it was really driven by this statement of a vision, which was, you know, let’s get Anthony Bourdain’s recommendations on Foodspotting. But in the same way, like, you know, I’ve said things like, you know, I wanna find a cofounder who’s, like, you know (unintelligible – 0:07:20.4) or I want to find… or I want to create a Pandora for food, like we wanna be like Pandora for food. And when you can encapsulate a vision like that in a really concrete way, it will happen, and, you know, it’s something everybody can look towards and, you know, rally around, and I think that was the number one thing I’ve learned as a founder is that communicating that vision is the most effective, powerful thing you can do.
Matthew: What bit of advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a start-up? If you have to distill it to the key elements, what are they?
Alexa: I would say first share your idea. I think I’ve met a lot of people that are first-time founders that are just like learning about start-up and then the first thing they wanna do is like hide their idea and, you know, make sure no one hears it because they might start it before them. And no matter what there’s gonna be competition, like, once you launch, you know, it’s easy to copy an early-stage start-up because, you know, this is a couple weeks into it and anybody could do the same thing. But there’s a lot more to starting a company than, you know, just that idea, and if you share that idea you could find team members who get it. If you share the idea you could find people who are investors or people who know investors that are like, “Oh, I know someone who’d be interested in this idea.” You can get feedback from users by sharing it, so, you know, even in the really early stages I had a series of sketches I did of what it would be like to use Foodspotting, and I shared those with like everybody I talked to and I made so many connections just by sharing this idea, this vision for Foodspotting with everybody that was around, and if it weren’t for that I wouldn’t have found, you know, half of our team, probably most of our team, if it wasn’t for that, you know. We wouldn’t have had the user validation that we had to make it go, we wouldn’t have been able to refine the idea and hit the ground running like we did, and so that is the number one thing I would say is share your idea with everybody you meet and don’t be stingy about it.
Matthew: Alexa, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. Before we close we’d love for you to give our audience your vision for Foodspotting and how you hope it will change the world.
Alexa: So our, you know, big mission is to catalog all the world’s foods, all the best foods and where to find them, and be the easiest way to stumble upon good things wherever you go. And so, you know, in a more concrete way I guess it’s like saying we wanna cover the earth with food sightings so that when you look at a map of the world, every corner where there’s food has been covered. And so (unintelligible – 0:09:40.2) we’re really excited about, you know, moving towards this other vision and being like Pandora for food recommendations, where you can just turn it on and see things that are around you, but then personalize that stream, just say, you know, I like this kinda thing, I don’t like that kinda thing, and eventually Foodspotting becomes like this lens on the world that lets you stumble upon good things wherever you go. And right now that’s food recommendations from our users and from your friends, from experts like the Travel Channel, but eventually it could be other things beyond food, potentially, you know, other products that might be interesting to you, you know, gifts, things like that. And it could also be things that, deals that you could go redeem or local offers or special events, you know, just for you that you could unlock, and it really becomes like this discovery tool for the real world and I’m just really excited about the possibilities there and, you know, I always say kind of our secret power, our superpower for Foodspotting is that we make people hungry, and so I think it’ll be… there’s a lot we can do with that in terms of doing things that will satisfy that hunger and encouraging them to explore things that are out there. And I see it, you know, just as this exploration tool, and just opening up new things to people. Just like I was saying, started to say earlier, Foodspotting was inspired by travel and just realizing how many foods are out there that people don’t know about and learning about cultures through those foods. Like, I went to Japan and I went to Korea, I learned about the street foods that are there you just never see, you never grew up with, you know, living in the Midwest. And I want people to know about the things that are out there, and I think it’s exciting that Foodspotting’s opening up this world of discovery to people.
Matthew: We’re rooting for your continued success at Foodspotting. For those in our audience who would like to learn more and participate as a member of the community you can visit their website at www.foodspotting.com. This is Matt Wise, FounderLY. Thanks so much, Alexa.
Alexa: Thank you.

 
 

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