We go online for restaurant recommendations, recipes, dating, networking, and finding activity or interest groups, among other things. As our world becomes increasingly social, a growing number of startups are attempting to bridge the divide between digital and real life interactions. Sites such as Meetup.com have been extremely successful in leveraging technology as a tool for helping people organize online and meet offline.
Gruwithus, a new site to this scene, is using technology to help people find good food at affordable prices online and new friends and connections offline. The site allows you to search for and book price-fixed, family-style meals at restaurants. It also offers social networking tools to help you continue conversations and further develop relationships with fellow diners.
Co-founders Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano started Grubwithus after their own daunting experience trying to make new friends when they moved to Chicago to start a cream puff business. My prediction: this Y Combinator backed duo(congratulations guys on the $150k offer!) is on their way to serious success. Their approach combines the best of networking and group deal sites, such as LinkedIn and Groupon, while providing both restaurants and diners with opportunities for more valuable interactions.
I got a chance to catch-up with Eddy Lu to learn more about their business model and the interesting social interactions that emerge when people meet offline for a meal.
Oh and for all my fellow food-loving New Yorkers- not to worry, they’ve assured me their New York launch is only a few weeks away!
Eddie Lu: We moved to Chicago to open up our third cream puff store and quickly realized that we didn’t know too many people in the city! We tried meeting people at bars and random events, but it’s pretty hard to have meaningful conversations at noisy places and everyone was there for a different reason. We wanted to go somewhere where people specifically wanted to meet new people and build friendships. Since we couldn’t find it anywhere, we decided to build it ourselves. We help solve the problem of meeting new people and making people happy, using food as the facilitator. Everyone needs to eat right?
DG: How does your business model differ from Groupon?
EL: We’ve done a Groupon for our cream puff stores before. While we were generally happy with the increased awareness, it’s definitely not something we could sustainably do, because we have to discount our product by 50%, and then give groupon 50% of the remainder. We’re technically not a discount site. We try to provide good value at the restaurants, but the restaurants really dictate the amount of value to provide for the customers. We tell each restaurant we want to do these meals thousands of times at their restaurant, so they need to be making money to ensure a sustainable relationship. It’s up to the individual restaurant to decide how attractive they want their menu to be.
DG: What do you think was most compelling about your business model to Y Combinator?
EL: Meeting new people is pretty hard. We had already started Grubwithus in Chicago and clearly people were really into the product. A ton of friendships were being made, job offers, dates, etc. We were doing this successfully in one city, and wanted to expand to every city. We needed their help to do that and I think they understood our vision.
DG: You mentioned that more than anything, Grubwithus is about meeting new people. What kind of social features does your site offer? Are there any interesting kinds of interactions emerging that you didn’t anticipate?
EL: The most interesting thing that we didn’t anticipate the success of is our ‘interesting facts’ section that other people write about you. After each meal, we ask everyone at the meals to write any interesting things they learned about their new friends. Profiles are generally pretty bland because you’re writing them for yourself, but when other people write about you on your profile, you really get to learn a lot about the person. We’ve learned that we have 5-time Jeopardy champions on the site, people that have climbed tons of mountains in multiple countries, bestselling authors, etc.
DG: Have you faced any major challenge while launching the site? If so, what?
EL: Publicity is always the number one hurdle. (Thanks Danielle for writing about us!) With any site, you need eyeballs to grow, and with so many millions of web pages out there, the challenge is to make sure your site is one of the few sites that people look at everyday.
DG: When are you coming to New York?
EL: Real soon! We’ll be privately testing New York meals in a few weeks, so sign up for the beta if you want to be a part of it. Publicly, we’ll launch a couple weeks after that.
DG: Do you think tech will change the way we relate to and think about food? If so, how?
EL: I think it already has and will continue to innovate the food scene. With apps like foodspotting, you get to see all the wonderful dishes you could be eating. I go to Yelp all the time to figure out where to eat. With Grubwithus, we’re bringing people offline to meet over food, and it’s something that would’ve been super hard to do if people couldn’t first connect through technology to find out about the meals.