eHub Interviews Menuism

Posted by Emily Chang on Wednesday, February 21st, 2007. Filed under: eHub Interviews

Visit Menuism, originally added to eHub on Oct 31, 06.

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Thanks to Justin Chen and John Li of Menuism for this email interview.

eHub: What is your web application/service about?

Menuism: Menuism is a community-based restaurant guide where you can “rate what you ate” at restaurants.  You can keep track of “where” and “what” you ate while also getting daily recommendations from your friends.  On Menuism, you can find all the information you need to make a decision about a restaurant, from the user reviews and food ratings, to the menus and food photos, to links to external reviews.  And if you don’t find the information here, you can add it yourself!

In general, the users on our site enjoy eating out more than the average diner.  They appreciate good food, but aren’t snobby about it.  You’ll find that many of our reviews can be more anecdotal and authentic than other review sites.

eHub: Why did you start this project?

Menuism: (1) To scratch the ongoing itch of wanting to start and run our own business.

(2) To solve the problem of finding where and what to eat.  We wanted a way to track what restaurants our friends liked and also a way to find the best of a certain food, such as “best pancake” or “best breakfast burrito”.

eHub: How much time do you devote to its growth?  Do you have a day job?

Menuism: Nope, no day jobs – our last day was on Feb 3, 2006.  We’re both 100% on this project so we’re always trying to find ways to either grow the site or improve the experience.  Currently, we’re probably spending about 75% of our time trying to grow the site.

eHub: How large is your team and what are your backgrounds?

imageMenuism: Right now, there’s two of us – Justin Chen and John Li – that split all the roles.  We both did CS at UC Berkeley (2001) before going our separate corporate ways.

Justin worked during his senior year as a Java developer at an Internet startup called WeVest.com that flamed out with the bust.  After graduation, he worked at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto as a Technology Strategist for HP Services/IT where he honed his soft skills such as project management.  He also went to school part time to get his MS in Engineering Management from Santa Clara University.

John worked part-time at Wevest.com during his senior year where he learned that “working for equity” wasn’t as glamorous as it sounded.  After graduating, he worked at Microsoft in Redmond, WA as a Developer and Program Manager in the Mobile Devices Group.  He also went to school part time to get his MS in CS from the University of Washington.

eHub: What is your design philosophy?

Menuism: Our vision for the site is to have something that’s fun to use and pleasing to look at.  We also enjoy silly puns, but we’ve tried to stay away from too many of those since a lot of people don’t get them.

eHub: What technologies are you currently using?

Menuism: We built the site using Ruby on Rails and we use our fair share of AJAX and javascript.  Our DB runs on MySQL, we develop on RadRails (Mac and Windows) and subversion handles our version control.

eHub: If your project is live, what are the most requested features from your users/community?

Menuism: Users generally want more personalization and social networking-ness. We’re trying to address these requests thoughtfully within the context of the goals of our site.

eHub: Does your user base reside in a primary geographic location or is it distributed?

Menuism: We’re currently open to any city in the US or Canada, but most of our users are in Seattle, Chicago, California (SF, SJ, OC, SD), and NYC.  We had this distribution because John lives in Seattle, Justin lives in Chicago and we’re both from California.  However, it’s great to see growth in areas that we wouldn’t have imagined.

eHub: Where do you see the project heading in the next 6 months?  The next 2 years?

Menuism: Over the next few months we’re concentrating heavily on consumer traction through our monthly Food Contests.  Every month we’ll be picking a dish for our users to rate in the hopes of generating a “best “ list each month.  For example, for February we’re running the Pancake Food Fight where we’re asking diners to rate pancakes in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and New York with the goal of find “the best panakes” in each area.  The top reviewers and his referrer in each city will win $50 to any restaurant.

In the longer term, we’ll be expanding our services to the restaurant industry, where we’ve already been attracting some interest.

eHub: What is the greatest challenge to your success?

Menuism: Our greatest challenge is striking the right balance between inclusiveness and accuracy.  How do we grow and maintain a social network that encourages participation but also upholds a high quality of data?

eHub: What is the one thing you need to get to the next phase of the project?

Menuism: Greater marketing and publicity to increase Menuism’s brand awareness in the restaurant review space.

eHub: Do you have a business model?  If so, what is it?

Menuism: We’re currently generating revenue off of advertising. Our longer term focus is to leverage the community to provide value to everyone who eats at, operates, and deals with restaurants.

eHub: If you’re able to disclose this information, how much traffic or usage do you see on an average day?

Menuism: Traffic is good and growing – we have enough that scaling is an issue we think hard about, but we’re not complaining – it’s a good problem to have.  You can see our rough traffic trends on Alexa and Quantcast.

eHub: What is the one thing you’re most proud of about the project?

Menuism: We love to hear when people find new places to eat because of the site.  They’ll say something like “I checked out this site because of Menuism and it was good!”.  That really makes our day.

eHub: How would you describe the shift that’s occurring with the web right now to future generations?

Menuism: This is when the web really starts getting personal and useful.  Users now benefit from increased broadband access and lowered inhibitions about contributing personal information online.  On the other side, the proliferation of powerful and free development tools enables more dreamers to turn their ideas into (virtual) reality.  Sites no longer have to cater to the broader audiences – they can cater to niches and run sustainable businesses.

eHub: What site(s) do you visit everyday other than your own?

Menuism: Justin: Rocketboom, Gmail, Sitemeter (gotta check the stats!), TechCrunch, many others in the RSS reader, Slate and NPR podcasts
John: Gmail, Sitemeter, Nytimes, Slate, TechCrunch, Seattle Times, Digg, and lots of feeds via RSS.

eHub: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?

Menuism: About 6-7 hours a night.

Thanks to Justin Chen and John Li of Menuism for this email interview.

Visit Menuism
Originally added to eHub on Oct 31, 06