Alexa Andrzejewski returned to San Francisco from a vacation to Japan with an idea: a field guide to global food. To learn about bootstrapping her book project, she joined Women 2.0 and started aggressively networking, talking about her plan to catalog restaurant dishes. Tech start-up veteran programmer Ted Grubb met her at a happy hour at Adaptive Path, where Andrzejewski was a consultant, and advised she steer her 20th-Century project into the smartphone era.
The idea soon morphed into a photo-sharing location-aware app that amplified a phenomenon they'd already observed happening: "people love to photograph their food, and share their great meals with friends," Andrzejewski says. "So we put a name on that phenomenon: Foodspotting."
When he couldn’t find Andrzejewski a qualified technical co-founder, Grubb decided to learn iPhone programming himself, and he created a prototype Foodspotting app while in a decidedly un-2.0 setting: a tent in the wilderness. The duo took top honors at San Francisco's Start-up Weekend, added New York media darling Soraya Darabi—a former social media manager for The New York Times and current digital strategist for ABC News—to their founder roster, and scored $3 million in angel funding.
Darabi joined the team last June, and hasn't looked back. "I know that I'm working more than—or as much as—I have in other jobs, but it doesn't feel like work, and that's the huge emotional difference for me," she says.
Foodspotting, an iPhone application and website that allows users to post and discover nearby mouth-watering restaurant dish recommendations through photographs, launched at last year’s South by Southwest interactive festival, and has been on the forefront of the local, mobile, social app space since. With more than 600,000 foods "spotted," it's an international hit, with global "super spotters" staging "eat-ups" in hundreds of cities globally. Currently, it's developing partnerships with companies, such as The Travel Channel and Zagat, which uses Foodspotting photos on its website and has compiled guides—and created a badge users can earn—for Foodspotting. The site's prospects for revenue are fairly open, though these partnerships—as well as the possibility of pointing users toward recommended or sponsored content—play a role.
The prospects of success didn't always look so savory. When it debuted in the iTunes app store, Foodspotting was one of just six apps in the location-based category. "The space has heated up a ton since last July—today it's a crowded space, actually—but back when we were raising money it was new to everybody," Andrzejewski says.
Despite initial investor skepticism, and nine months of bootstrapping, the trio was able to raise $3 million in funding from BlueRun Ventures. That's allowed the company to expand to ten employees: two in New York City, and eight in an open-air-café-inspired office in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood. To stay connected bi-coastally, Skype and SocialCast are open constantly on everyone's computers. "It's our ambient communication, and our daily journal. Skype is definitely our virtual office," Andrzejewski, who is based in San Francisco, says. "And just as many funny things happen on Skype as in the office."
Read more recent articles by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin:
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is senior writer at Inc. @Lagorio