Start-up Success Stories: Alexa Andrzejewski of Foodspotting
The idea that launched Foodspotting was really very simple. Alexa Andrzejewski wanted to find the best okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese “pancake” packed with cabbage, scallion, and egg) in San Francisco. She’d sampled it on a recent trip to Osaka—inspired by an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations—and figured she could easily find it in her food-centric hometown.
No such luck. Even in a city teeming with culinary adventure, Andrzejewski found there was no simple way to locate a specific dish. So, she decided to create Foodspotting: a “visual guide to food.” You type in your city and what you want to eat (in our case it’s often “donut” or “pork”) and a photo will pop up of the actual sweet, salty, or savory dish you’re after—and exactly where you can find it.
Foodspotting has skyrocketed since it’s 2009 launch—it was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2010 and a “Top Travel Application” by Travel + Leisure, and it’s landed partnerships with Zagat, Food & Wine magazine, and the Travel Channel (with, yes, Bourdain himself), just to name a few.
Read on for our chat with a founder whose “simple idea” has sparked a foodie frenzy.
No. Actually, when I was trying to figure things out, I was reading The Art of The Start by Guy Kawasaki. He recommends boiling your idea down to 10 PowerPoint slides.
So I made a one-page visual poster with a series of sketches and I carried it around with me all the time and would show it—that’s how I met my co-founder [Ted Grubb] at a happy hour and sold him on the idea.
Any advice on boiling your idea down so it's readily understood and pitch-ready?
I can get so caught up in my product that I forget to think about it from a user’s perspective. To remind myself about the bigger picture, sometimes I like to ask myself (or my team) to finish this sentence:
“I love this product because...”
If the answer sounds anything like “I love this product because it's location-based augmented reality!” then I probably need to try answering that question again— and keep trying until I'm confident my idea makes sense to [everyday] people.
Then I ask myself, is this something that my mom would understand? The “Mom Test” is about stepping back and thinking about your idea again from a human perspective!
Looking back to your early days, what would you do the same way—and, more importantly, what would you do differently?
Building relationships with tech blogs and the press and getting people to try out Foodspotting and write about it has been really great. We sent out versions of Foodspotting before it even launched—we reached out to MG Siegler from TechCrunch early on and gave him early previews. Robert Scoble has always been a huge champion for us. We started working with the Travel Channel and were on the Today Show—this created a larger than life perception that “Wow, Foodspotting is everywhere!”
What we could have done differently is control the message. We didn’t want to be a niche community—we wanted to be useful for anyone looking to discover great food. It’s not just about crazy foodies that take pictures of what they’re eating. Foodspotting is also a discovery tool, local guide, and travel space.
There’s a lot of competition in the foodie world these days—any advice on how a start-up should approach competition?
It's easy to get distracted or worry about competition, but the most important lesson I've learned is not worrying. Focus your energy on doing what you do well and being the best at that.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Share your idea with anyone who will listen. There is a temptation to keep it to yourself so no one will steal it. The truth is, finding someone with the time and money to do it better and faster than you is so rare, and the value of sharing your idea is so much more. I shared the idea when I first had it, and I felt validated and motivated to pursue it. That’s how I connected to Women 2.0 and that’s how I met my co-founder. Connecting really is the key to everything.
Any parting words of encouragement for would-be entrepreneurs?
Pick a compelling and differentiating idea. Think about what you can do that’s different or can encourage a new kind of behavior. Don’t do a food start-up because it's trendy. Starting a start-up shouldn’t be the motivation, either—you should be motivated by a really great idea or a problem that you want to solve.
And, a start-up is not just about overnight success and the Instagrams of the world—it’s about commitment. It’s a lot of hard work and you can never grow as fast as you want to grow. So be willing to commit for the long haul, and to adapt and learn from your mistakes.
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