Recently-launched Hoppit is bringing deep personalization to the restaurant and bar discovery process by employing a Pandora-like recommendation engine
A Q&A with Hoppit founder and CEO Steve Dziedzic. The New York City–based company was founded in early 2011 and recently had its public launch.
SUB: Please describe what Hoppit is, and the value proposition you bring to local restaurant and bar discovery.
Dziedzic: Hoppit is an ambience search engine for restaurants and bars. Whereas other applications enable you to search only by cuisine and food, Hoppit enables you to search by ambience. You can select atmospheres such as ‘Cozy & Quaint’, ‘Classy & Upscale’, ‘Swanky & Posh’, ‘Hipster’, ‘Romantic’, and, my personal favorite, ‘Mad Men’. You can also search for places that accommodate your guests, including business colleagues, friends, family, or your ‘two-year-old’. You can even specify various details such as ‘Exposed Brick’, or ‘Fireplace’. You can’t do that on any other site.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Dziedzic: Anyone with an appetite, really. The consumers who are consistently delighted with the site are those that have struggled to find a fitting atmosphere for themselves and their guests. In that regard, we view Hoppit as a scenario planner. And, of course, anyone who really values ambience loves our site.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Dziedzic: Hoppit’s competitors are applications that personalize the restaurant search experience, and there are some other startups out there attempting that. The most well-known restaurant search companies are Yelp, UrbanSpoon and Foursquare.
SUB: What differentiates Hoppit from the competition?
Dziedzic: No other competitor focuses on ambience, and therefore misses a market opportunity. Ambience is such an important factor in the proverbial ‘where do we go’ question. Hoppit’s Natural Language Processing-based technology has enabled us to provide a unique value to our consumers in that regard. Hoppit’s team also has a unique skill set in machine learning and ontology-based technologies, which will allow us to provide deep personalization for our users.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Dziedzic: The company was founded in early 2011. The first step was to put together a rockstar team. I begged my friend and now CTO, Emad Saghir, to run our development because he’s the most talented technologist I’ve ever met. We were fortunate enough to recruit several more developers and designers, as well as advisors from executives at Pandora and Google. With the team in place, it was only a matter of time before we developed an innovative solution.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Hoppit? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Dziedzic: It was a true ‘aha’ moment. I realized that no one had really tried to break down restaurants and bars into sets of ‘genes’ yet. Pandora had developed such a dynamic recommendation engine by breaking down songs into genes, and we could apply this same logic to places. As we began to break down restaurants by cuisine, by price, and by type, we took note that there were tons of ambience genes, too, and no player in the space was taking advantage of that. In order to develop a strategic foothold in the market, it made sense to start by offering a robust ambience search engine, and then add a layer of personalization for our users.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Dziedzic: We’ve faced a few major obstacles. Technologically speaking, learning how to parse through millions of pieces of data and make sense of all the chaos took months and months of work. We’re very proud that a single click on Hoppit will start generating relevant recommendations for our consumers. That was not easy. And, as a feather in our cap, we recently won ‘Best Big Data Startup’ at NY Tech Day.
Secondly, as most startups will say, capital has been a major obstacle for us. We are never short of ideas, and yet have been short of capital to build them out.
SUB: You recently officially launched. Why was this a particularly good time to launch the site?
Dziedzic: The space is heating up, and it’s receiving a lot of notable attention. More and more apps are coming out with recommendations for cuisines, dishes, and ‘friend favorites’, and more investment dollars are flowing into the space. Therefore, a company with something truly different would stand out among the rest. We believe that Hoppit is truly different, and so it was the perfect time to launch publicly.
SUB: Do you plan to raise funding in the near future?
Dziedzic: Yes, we do. We’ve had excellent momentum and user growth since launch, and we’ve recently started our Series A capital raise to expedite our product and customer growth.
SUB: What are your goals for Hoppit over the next year or so?
Dziedzic: Our goal is simple: to become the go-to scenario-based search engine for dining and drinking. There are still market gaps in restaurant search: namely, a lack of trust in reviews and a lack of relevancy in search results. We believe we can fill these gaps through the creative use of data and technology, and we’ll be adding several enhancements to our core technology stack in the next several months. These include data improvements, Pandora-esque social features, machine learning personalization, and one that we’re particularly excited about—mobile exploration functionality.
Hoppit – www.hoppit.com