This is the first in our Featured Founders series, documenting the stories of food entrepreneurs launching and growing their startup companies. Follow us while we meet with a variety of disrupters in the food + tech space.
MEALS WITH FRIENDS JUST GOT EASIER.
What can be more fun and enticing than a dinner out with friends? But, as many of us have experienced, organizing a group dinner can be onerous. Picking a cuisine, finding a restaurant, even choosing the right date and time become special challenges when trying to manage a group of 4 or more. Sometimes it feels like it takes a lot of energy to get together and by the time dinner comes around, you’re so over it!
Or instead, you could use the ForkOut app.
Disrupting the restaurant industry, Forkout was developed by the CentralSpire team and seeks to make it easy to find and book restaurants for group dinners. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the CentralSpire team last week in their coworking offices at Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) to learn a bit more about co-founders Caleb Singer and Lida Tang, and the ForkOut app.
Singer is the COO of CentralSpire, an army veteran, and an MBA graduate of Babson University. He has a full-time job in addition to his work at CentralSpire and has recently been flung into fatherhood. Lida Tang, CEO of CentralSpire, worked previously in the video gaming industry for 5 years prior to his transition full-time to CentralSpire. The duo acknowledge their continuous need for clear communication and the balance they strike between work, more work and life.
We started off the conversation with the story of how the concept came to fruition. A common learned theme among entrepreneurs is that their current project is often the second, third or sometimes fourth idea pursued. Luckily for this team, the idea they started with grew to become the product they work with today, albeit with some minor pivots. As with many startups, CentralSpire started with a question: How do you mobilize people to doing something together in a social setting?
Recognizing how much people love to gather with friends over good food, the CentralSpire team identified a need to help facilitate bringing people together around the dinner table. From here, they began refining their idea, with an eye towards monetizing within the restaurant industry.
The first iteration of the app gathered analytic data for restaurants about their customers and “digested” that data into a dashboard-style analysis. “We thought we were solving a problem they wanted,” said Singer. “Unfortunately restaurateurs didn’t have the time to review a daily dashboard or complicated analytics, they only had capacity to worry about the day-to-day operations of opening their doors.”
What did restaurants really want, if not a deeper understanding of their customers? An even more basic desire, actually: customers. They wanted customers in the door. Once again CentralSpire made another, more minor pivot based on their customers’ feedback.
Working with local partners (Double Chin, Mei Mei’s, Chicken & Rice Guys and Fuji to name a few), ForkOut has begun spreading their reach in Boston. Relying on family and friends for beta testing, ForkOut had a soft launch at the end of last year into both the Apple and Android app stores.
Using software integration with Yelp, ForkOut highlights the best rated restaurants in your area or you can search by category. Users benefit from real time voting and live messaging with their friends. Once the restaurant has been selected and your reservation schedule, ForkOut has the added ease of reviewing the cheapest ride sharing platforms near you to get you there on time.
Gearing up to launch their first round of funding, the team has been bootstrapping for the last 2 years of operating. Instead of jumping right into building decks and pitches, the team has shifted their focus to building relationships first with different VC firms and big investors, seeking advice and feedback on how best to structure their first round of institutional funding. Once they’ve those relationships with some of Boston’s top VCs, they’ll further the conversation with financial asks.
FEEDBACK FOR ENTREPRENEURS
I always like to end my interviews with an open-ended, ‘what wisdom can you bestow upon fellow entrepreneurs or dreamers’ question.
“We thought we had something we really liked until we received feedback,” says Singer. “We realized that our target market wasn’t nearly as interested as we had thought they’d be.” If nothing else, you cannot create a successful product if your target audience is uninterested. Gather as much feedback as you can, listen to consumers, and alter according to their counsel.