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Please Steal My Startup Idea (techiferous.com)
57 points by techiferous on June 20, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

It depends but I can say that for allergies, it isn't so sure it would be helpful.

First, with severe allergies, you very rarely go to the restaurant at all. Second, just checking the ingredients is not enough, you have to worry about cross contamination, or the origin of certain ingredients or the oil used to cook them. Sometimes, they seasonings, sauces or other preparation from an outside supplier whose content is not always known. Going after the suppliers often lead to yet more suppliers to check.

It may prove very useful for people with food intolerances, vegan or even diabetic people if you add glycemic information for the dishes.

Not only that, but any service that is relied upon to say whether some dish has nuts in it or not could get themselves wrapped up in a phat liability case in the odd case that it causes a problem.

Liability issues are the first thing I thought of when I read this idea.

With the small market of dietary-limited and the complete exposure this puts on the restaurant (open to both litigation and copycats), why would any restaurant go for this?

I consider this one of the biggest challenges of the idea.

A Google search for "kosher restaurants" suggests the kosher SEO winners are not very aggressive.

Result 1 (http://www.shamash.org/kosher/) requires that you know the name of the restaurant ahead of time.

Result 2 (http://www.greatrestaurantsmag.com/KOSHER/restaurant_az.php?...) is not bad. It lets you search by city, but the design is pretty old and cluttered.

Result 3 (http://www.nachas.org/BethYehuda/kosher.html) is just a static html list/table of kosher restaurants in NYC. Could be a good source to scrape for seed data.

A search for "kosher" in the Android Market lead me to the http://KosherNear.me app, and its web-based equivalent http://locatekosher.com. This seems to be the most modern offering.

"The Idea: Every restaurant menu item in the world is searchable by its ingredients."

I'd settle for accomplishing the first, most basic, step. As Rick Emerson said on Twitter a week or two ago "Would someone please tell all the god damn restaurants out there to stop only putting their menus online in PDF format?!"

A good portion of restaurants in my area don't have any sort of menu online. As far as I'm concerned, a restaurant's website doesn't need to be anything but a menu.

;) We're working on it (and it seems like others are too).

The amount of resistance from small business owners even for a free product can be staggering.

Would there not be issues in which restaurants don't want to reveal all the ingredients in their food? I can imagine some places would want to keep `secret` recipes from competitors.

Assume that is a non-issue, I think that a mobile app would also be a good source of revenue. If you have a food allergy you could find which dishes are `safe` without having to consult the waiter (who may not know). I could see people spending $5 for an app that did this.

"Secret" recipes should be fine, as you point out, if they it can just be marked as "secret" yet still contain flags (i.e. contains: gluten, nut, dairy, etc.).

I don't see this is too much of a problem, especially for higher-end restaurants because most of what you're paying for in said locations is the experience of the cooks and the quality of ingredients.

Cool, I didn't think about mobile monetization.

Perhaps it's a better idea for restaurants to list what ingredients are not in the menu item, since most people are trying to avoid ingredients instead of seek them out. That would solve the secret recipe problem.

Though it looks like there is at least one app that does this already: http://allergyfreepassport.com/mobile-apps/

When I did the slow carb diet earlier this year, all I wanted my phone to tell me was where I could get some meat, nuts or veggies.

Starting with one local niche (like vegan) sounds like a good idea, but I'm not sure if there is one food niche in particular where the users are both unfamiliar with the current restaurant offerings, and also would be passionate enough to build a habit of the app.

Being the company who indexes the long-tail of all restaurant niches for consumers might be the better way to service user need. I've worked in this area before, and menu entry is kind of a solved problem through vendor incentive, mechanical turk and outsourcing - but you definitely have to be clever about it.

In any case, aspects of this idea are serviced by several businesses - menu services, mobile startups, food delivery, deals, etc. However, what I see missing from this particular proposal a no brainer value proposition for the restaurants - I believe this is a requisite for scale.

"what I see missing from this particular proposal a no brainer value proposition for the restaurants - I believe this is a requisite for scale"

Yes, I think this is a critical part of the business model. Once the product has critical mass it's much easier to offer an attractive value proposition to businesses, because you've engaged this large mass of potential customers. Before that, though, it's trickier.

I posted this on the blog too, but keep an eye on my startup, http://forkly.com

We just might solve your problem ;)

good luck with your beta lunch!

While I love the big thinking behind the idea, as someone who tried to launch a similar, restaurant related, Web startup, there are at least two major issues:

1) High restaurant turnover - Approximately 60% of restaurants either close or change owners within the first three years of existence (http://www.whitehutchinson.com/blog/2011/02/the-truth-about-...). This can make it incredibly frustrating to try to build lasting business relationships.

2) Scalability - If the growth of the startup is limited to how fast you can build relationships with restaurants (see above for problems), it will be a long slog and likely an unappealing investment.

Having said that, I too look forward to someone making this happen. I've already got my scars from attempting it, so I hope someone better than I takes a crack at it. I just tend to think it will be an OpenTable, Yelp, or Eats.com who finally solves the problem (although biggestmenu.com looks pretty sweet).

Great idea. I don't eat or drink things that contain gelatin. It makes me dizzy. If i was able to check whether a product has gelatin or not from smartphone app, without bothering to read through all the ingredients that would be great.

Moreover, i don't eat meat. This makes my life in "Here" extremely difficult. I would be very very happy to find local restaurants which serve food without meat.

This is an awesome idea! However, it's for a very specific type of entrepreneur: The non-vc backed lone-gun or family business. Or a small group that is 100% committed to building a moderately sized profitable company for the long haul without funding. My gut says it has the potential to grow to low 8 figure revenue per year in 5 to 10 years.

The online restaurant space is not as lucrative as many other sectors because restaurants tend not to spend much money advertising online. So it fails the classic VC test of "Is it huge and getting bigger". You'll probably have a hard time raising money for this biz, but if you can go it alone, it could be a great long-term play.

Friends have started companies in the restaurant space and one of my siblings is a chef.

My startup's infrastructure (still in development, could use funding ;) ) would be perfect for executing, in a comprehensive way, your idea. I've spent a couple years refining the back end and just starting into a development centric front end.

So, interesting question...what's better? Tagged as "contains gluten" or "gluten-free"?

I think "gluten free".

For the record, my startup to be, looks to be tackling the same "problem" as you are with Forkly (great name btw). That is, personalized food and drink recommendations.

Although based on what little I've seen of your product, we might be taking two different approaches to it.

Best of luck to ya!

In what respect? For the average person, its likely irrelevant (its a micro-detail you simply don't need to care about: you would be more interested in "made from oats" or "made from rice" (irrespective of the products gluten content)).

I think this idea definitely has some legs, but unless you incorporate it somehow with a pre-existing social networking framework or product, it's not really something that can turn into a fully defined product I think.

I'm 42 years old and have yet to meet a vegetarian or anyone who suffers from a real "food allergy" (meaning someone who would get actually sick by eating something that most other people find edible).

Therefore this idea seems very "American" to me -- which doesn't make it bad, just local. Fish not knowing they're in water, etc.

Of course some people have preferences, but if you're just looking after some kind of food vs. another, the name of the dish, or the name of the restaurant, will tell you enough...?

I'm Australian, and a friend of mine gets very sick when exposed to carrot, mint or nuts. It's not just an "American" thing.

(I'm just lactose intolerant, which means I just want to avoid food that is going to make me feel a bit unwell. Nothing critical, but it'd be nice to know if the restaurant's chef is dumping butter into something, or if the "Fetta" is actually cow's milk.)

I'm not saying food allergies don't exist; I'm not even saying they don't exist where I live (Paris).

But I am saying that where I live they're uncommon enough that nobody ever talks about it.

My daughter is going to school next year for the first time; on the form (which I filled this morning) the question is in fact asked: does your child suffer from food allergies?

But while the rest of the form is typed, this question has been added by hand at the very end of the form...

I know a guy suffers from red meat allergy. It's not that it would kill him, but it causes a reaction in headaches, soreness, tiredness, etc.

The joking expression goes "How do you know if one of your customers is a vegetarian? They'll let you know."

I'm probably going to get downvoted for this, but in honesty, I can't see this idea working, the problem for me is lack of coverage, and lack of users too - it's a standard chicken-egg thing ... Also, you can search menus by ingredients they have, but searching by ingredients they don't have could prove problematic ...

I think I just prefer the hands-on, word of mouth approach in general ...

relevant link, google has microformat-powered Recipe View to search for recipe http://www.google.com/landing/recipes/

edit: recipe markup: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answe...

Here's the text of my article, in case you can't get to my swamped web server:

The Idea

Every restaurant menu item in the world is searchable by its ingredients.

Why It’s a Good Idea

It’s easy to sell water to someone with their hair on fire. So I get excited about startup ideas that involve "hair on fire" problems.

Think about all of the people with strong dietary restrictions: vegans, people with peanut allergies, people eating a kosher diet, etc. These people have strong feelings about what they eat and always check the ingredients. They have a “hair on fire” problem. They would certainly use a web application that allowed them to search menu items by ingredient. There are also a lot more people who may not be so strict about what they eat but still have preferences. They would also use this web application. Probably one of the best use cases is a group of friends going out to eat, each having their own set of dietary preferences. This web application would make it easy to find a restaurant with the most options for the group as a whole.

One reason this is a great startup idea is that it adds real value to the economy. For example, I used to live in Davis Square and buy vegan cupcakes from Kickass Cupcakes and vegan muffins from Diesel Cafe. When I moved to Harvard Square, I did not know of any place to get a good vegan treat, so I would always travel to Davis Square. After about half a year, I discovered that Tealuxe in Harvard Square sold yummy vegan muffins and cookies. I would practically walk right past them on my way to Davis Square! This is what gave me the idea for this startup.

There is a genuine inefficiency in the market in that people don’t buy a restaurant’s menu items simply because they do not know about them. They can easily search for restaurants, but this is a sloppy heuristic for what they really want.

So I think people would definitely use this product. But users are not customers, and any business requires customers. And the rules of the game say that search engines shouldn’t charge users directly, so how do you monetize?

This is another reason I think this is a great startup idea. It seems like it would be easy to monetize. For one, advertising would actually work. Whereas most advertisements are poorly targeted and buzz around users like pesky mosquitoes, a person with Coeliac disease would gladly welcome ads promoting gluten-free products. This means that ads would not detract from the positive user experience and users would actually click on the ads.

Another way to monetize is to charge restaurant owners for services. This web application would basically allow restaurants to easily publish their menu online to an eager audience. You would be driving business to the restaurants, so it’s easy to add enough value to restaurant owners that they would be willing to pay for your services.

Finally, there is room to grow more products and offerings. For example, users could review and comment on individual dishes. They could also get alerts when new menu items appear in their neighborhood.

How to Pull It Off

Web applications like this face a chicken-and-egg problem: without any data, who would use your service? That’s why I think the best way to execute on an idea like this is to start with a very small, local niche. For example, you could start the product off as a way for vegans in Cambridge, Massachusetts to search for vegan dishes. Starting small makes the first step much less daunting. As you gain traction, you can expand geographically and broaden the dietary preferences.

It’s also not hard to think of companies who may be interested in acquisition, so exit shouldn’t be hard.

However, there is a big challenge in assembling accurate data about menu items, which can be especially tricky with potentially life-and-death issues like allergies. So this idea still presents some interesting challenges.

Why I’m Giving My Idea Away

When I came up with this idea I didn’t think I had the right business skills and domain knowledge to execute it well so I set it aside and moved on. But this idea really stuck with me and is one of my favorite startup ideas so I hate to see it end up in my dead pool. I think the world would be a better place with this product so somebody please steal this idea!

I don't actually like the idea, but I liked the article very much. I kept thinking things like "great, but how are you going to monetize it?" only to see that the next section talks about that. "What about the chicken-and-egg problem?" next section, there it is.

You answered all my questions as I was thinking them, so props for a well-rounded plan.

No ideas original, I guess.

I'm working on something very similar (although it's part of a larger product) with a a couple of co-founders.

Hoping to launch this October.

Fabulous! I would actually be very surprised if no one else had already thought of this idea. I think it's all about executing well, because an opportunity certainly exists. I wish you all the best!

I have to say I have a similar idea with this and how to execute it too but I haven't started on this as I'm doing something else to start off with.

The restaurants giving out menu ingredients is quite idealistic though but possible using GroupOn-mentality (eg Everyone's doing it so I should too).

Having worked in the restaurant business for several years, this will certainly be a key problem.

I work at a fine dining establishment right now for extra money, and I can tell you no matter how many other restaurants were doing it, our head chefs would be unwilling to share ingredients.

What about just major allergens? Peanuts, soy, wheat, etc, etc? Information that would be given to anyone dining at the restaurant if they asked.

yes, they have no problem with giving out that info

Thank you.

The challenges you outlined definitely put an idea like this in a "sink or swim" scenario.

Very nice writeup. Curious to see if anyone will take this idea any further.

I am working on something like this. www.dietmanager.com. I also tied it in w/ the usda food database web service to break things down even further and tied in a feedback loop so that people know what ingredients trigger their conditions etc...

Wow! Don't be shy about promoting this in the comments of my blog, if you'd like.

I'm curious, if you don't mind sharing, how does it know what restaurants to recommend to you?

There are 3 meal delivery methods

1. Local Chefs

To get this info local chefs can upload their menu's. Their food items are run against the USDA food database then categorized against which dits allow those things and which do not. I currently have support for 455 diets

2. Restaurants

Some of this menu info from the restaurants uploading their menu's and some comes from info that I can get from online sources; as with the local chef menu's I use the USDA food database here to know what meals qualify for what diets

3. Recipes

This one I have not quite figured out yet.

My app does not work like others in that it does not recommend "Places" it instead allows you to search for what food you want and it finds meals based on that food item that also match your dietary preferences (which may or may not be a pre-defined diet)

This is a problem where technology is actually a very huge obstacle, probably a huger one than marketing. How are you gonna get all that data? It's not structured on the web so you can't easily crawl it. You have to rely on people uploading it to you, but why would they do that when you don't have a huge user-base yet? Think about the friction a restaurant has to overcome: they have to hire someone to create XML files (don't expect regular owners to know how to do this)... then they have to regularly update it...

Ingredients is great but combined with nutritional info (calories, fat, etc) it would be awesome.

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