A Q&A with Craig Walker, founder and CEO of Google Ventures-backed product accelerator Firespotter Labs, creator of the Nosh restaurant reviews mobile app. The Mountain View–based company was founded in April of this year.
SUB: Please explain what Nosh is, and the value proposition you offer in the local business/restaurant discovery market.
Walker: Nosh is a free iPhone and Android app that allows users to rate, review, and share photos of restaurant dishes with friends and followers on Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter. With Nosh, we are turning restaurant customers into social media marketing teams and share customer analytics with restaurant owners for free.
Nosh is taking dining recommendations to the next level by shifting the review from the entire restaurant to individual menu items. Our vision for Nosh is to improve the dining experience for both restaurant customers and restaurant owners. While Nosh helps people find the best dish to order, we eventually aim to use the feedback we gather to help restaurants.
We have over 12 million menu items preloaded into the app to make rating and reviewing dishes really easy, and have accumulated over a million dish ratings since our launch three months ago. We’ve also integrated with Google Places to include international restaurants.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Walker: There is immense opportunity to innovate the food and restaurant space, so of course there are many players doing something similar. However, our goal to improve the overall dining experience for both restaurant customers and owners is what makes us unique in this space.
There have been a number of apps that have come out in the past year with different angles on the restaurant space or sharing food experiences. We don’t look at any of them however as direct competitors.
SUB: What differentiates Nosh from your competitors?
Walker: First, Nosh was built to answer the question of “what’s good here?” which is exactly what every diner asks when seated in a restaurant. Rather than having to rely on the paper menu or the waiter, we felt it would be more valuable to show the diner what the most—and least—popular menu items are and then make it easy for the diner to add their own feedback which creates a perpetual cycle of greater and greater information about the dishes at that restaurant. We went out and built a database of over 200,000 menus and 12 million menu items to make this process easier on the diner and to improve the user experience. None of the other food rating apps that we’ve seen have done anything similar.
Second, we think our team is a big differentiator. Firespotter Labs is a Google Ventures backed product accelerator started by Craig Walker, the founder of Google Voice and Yahoo Voice. We are a team of primarily ex-Googlers who are passionate about building web and mobile applications to innovate large antiquated industries. As a product accelerator, we incubate our own ideas and believe by bringing brilliant and passionate people together in the right environment, revolutionary ideas can take shape and transform industries. We are currently focusing on two industries, telephony, and the food and restaurant industry, simultaneously working on multiple products, including Nosh.
SUB: How many users do you currently have/how many users have downloaded the app to this point?
Walker: Nosh was launched July 14th in the U.S., and although we don’t share our figures, we’ve been very happy with traction we’ve had so far and are continuing to add new and exciting features.
SUB: How are you getting the word out about Nosh?
Walker: We have been using our own blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed to update users about contests, promotions and other news about Nosh. We’ve been fortunate to have received a lot of media attention from outlets like the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, GigaOm, and a number of other publications that have increased users’ awareness of Nosh. We believe that by continuing to innovate great product features we will continue to generate awareness of Nosh both through traditional media and by word of mouth of our users.
SUB: When was the Firespotter Labs founded, and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Walker: Firespotter Labs was founded in April 2011 and the first steps were to put together an all-star team to execute on the ideas we were formulating.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind Nosh in particular? Was there an “aha” moment, or was in longer in developing?
Walker: The “aha” moment for Nosh was when I was looking into investing in a friend’s restaurant. I was stunned by the state of technology in the restaurant space, both for the restaurants themselves and for their customers. The restaurants had little to no information about their customers and the customers had little to no information about the dishes at the restaurant other than what is printed on the menu. With customers now having smart phones in their pockets it became obvious that a better solution existed.
SUB: What’s your business model? How does (or how will) Nosh generate revenue?
Walker: Our number one goal is to build a great product and to build a large following of happy users. If we succeed at this, we’ll have plenty of revenue opportunities down the road.
SUB: What have the biggest obstacles been so far to building Nosh?
Walker: The biggest challenge to our approach was to develop a streamlined system to acquire menu data for restaurants and to cost effectively build a large database of menus. We spent a lot of time developing tools that allow our teams around the world to quick find a restaurant’s menu page and to then properly normalize that information into our menu display for the application. With over 200,000 menus in the system, and growing, this is also a great competitive advantage and differentiator over other restaurant rating apps.
SUB: Please explain your relationship with Google and Nosh’s integration into Google Places.
Walker: Google Places has a vast and growing database of businesses and locations worldwide. Through their API they’ve enabled a filtering ability for us to access that database and only display restaurants in the results. By integrating with the Google Places API, this now gives us a nearly 100 percent coverage of all U.S. restaurants overnight, but it also gives us data on most international restaurants as well.
SUB: What goals do you have for Nosh over the next year or so?
Walker: We look forward to evolving Nosh over the year to include more functionality for the diner and the restaurant. We believe that Nosh should be the only app you would ever need to find a great meal, to rate that meal and to share that experience with your friends.
Nosh – www.nosh.com