It’s Chow Time: Dish.fm Hits Russian App Store

Daria Alyukova's picture
It’s Chow Time: Dish.fm Hits Russian App Store

Zhanna had worked for Procter&Gamble for 5 years, launching new products in the EMEA region. In 2011 she gave up her expat package to launch her own startup – Dish.fm. After 7 months of development, it instantly hit the top of the Russian App Store in the Travel category. Dish.fm helps to find the best dishes in any restaurant, combining friends’ recommendations, pictures and general ratings. Zhanna shared with RussianMind her business experience and thoughts about the Russian start up market:

It was in the summer 2011, when my friends Dilyara, Andrey and I were having lunch at a really nice restaurant. When our dishes arrived, we were shocked to discover that while Dilyara and Andrey's dishes were really awesome, mine was an utter mess. My dish was so dry it quite literally sucked the moisture out of my mouth. And it was tasteless to boot.

We got to talking and discussed how common this situation was. Why is it that when you go to a restaurant, one person can get a perfect dish and another friend ends up with a terrible one? There’s so much variation from dish to dish right now, even within the same restaurant.

As we discussed this issue, we thought about how wonderful it would be to always know the best dishes to order at any restaurant. We joked about it.

As we talked more, we realised it was a problem we could solve ourselves. Why not really do it? We checked this idea with over 20 friends and the answer was a resounding “Yes! We have the same problem!”, we got to work. Yes, people really prefer to know more about a restaurant and what dishes to order than just the basic menu – and that’s because not all dishes are created equal.

And when you think about it, it’s pretty ridiculous that when you’re at an unfamiliar restaurant, you have to make dish decisions in the dark without pictures and just with a short, sometimes vague description.

After happily confirming that this was a problem worth solving (and after failing to see competitive products that really tackled this problem to our liking) we got stuck right in. We quit our jobs and began to work on Dish.fm. We found free office space at a university incubator and by September 2011 we were working on our prototype. We decided that we didn't need to raise money, as there was almost no smart money in Russia and we didn’t want to waste our time running after money, when we could focus on building the product instead.

Then, quite by accident, I came across a post that Igor Matsanyuk (a visionary Russian entrepreneur who made his fortune through Mail.Ru) was ready to invest in outstanding teams with global ideas in the mobile and consumer Internet space. As part of that process, he was starting an accelerator program (Farminers Academy). Typically, Russian investors tend to focus on clones, but Igor wanted original breakthrough ideas. On seeing this, I was determined to find out more about Farminers. I discovered an impressive roster of mentors and was amazed by the knowledge shared by the Farminers mentoring group. Though we had originally not planned to raise any money, we felt like this was too much of an opportunity to pass up and applied for the Academy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To our delight, we were invited to a roundtable where 30 other teams presented their ideas live. Overall, there were 10-20 roundtables like this. I made a short pitch about Dish.fm and found that I really liked the crowd. All the mentors were present to discuss the products and ask questions. The questions were hard and to the point, but the discussion was very constructive. The same day we made our presentation, Igor and his team told us that they were interested in investing.

We were in shock about how fast that happened. Even though we hadn't planned on raising money, we really liked Igor and his team, and were impressed by their entrepreneurial success. For example, Alisa (our future mentor) founded a mobile games company and reported up to $5 million revenue in the first year, and increased that to $50 million by the second year. We decided we wanted to work a place with access to experience like this. We accepted an investment in October and moved to the accelerator programme with all the other teams that made the cut.

It was like a piece of Silicon Valley, but in Moscow, Russia. There were many awesome start ups, all in the same place. We were shocked at how good the people around us were - all super professional and super passionate. Every week mentors would come in and tell their stories. Usually in Russia people keep their knowledge secret, but Igor managed to create an environment for sharing and a place for creative output.

We developed the first prototype in January 2012 and tested it in closed beta. Based on feedback, we iterated and reworked our proto type constantly. At the end of June we launched a public beta version in the App Store. Within two weeks we had our first 1,000 users and became #12 in the Russian App Store in the Travel category. All this for a beta product that we hadn't even marketed yet!

This is only the beginning. We intend to transform the restaurant experience and make every visit a real gastronomic pleasure. We believe every dish ordered should be delicious and one worth trying. We’re working hard to analyse over 15,000,000 reviews from sites like Yelp, Zagat and Foursquare to showcase the best dishes, and we are also encouraging users to dive in and give their input on the best dishes for any category (pizza, sushi et al) in any given city. We want you to visit any restaurant and order with confidence and we know we can get there. There is still so much work and learning ahead of us, but the journey so far has been absolutely worth it. And in the meantime, if you have had the same problem in restaurants, download Dish.fm and check us out!

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