Foodspotting Founder Alexa Andrzejewski: Designing The Experience Is The First Step In Designing The App

The young entrepreneur is building the first experience design team at Open Table. Here, she shares some of her guiding principles for building a killer app.

In January, Alexa Andrzejewski, 28, sold food discovery app Foodspotting to restaurant reservation platform Open Table for $10 million—enough to buy a lot of dumplings and macaroons.

The secret ingredient in Foodspotting's recipe for success? Andrzejewski believes much of Foodspotting's triumph can be attributed to its ability to "extend beyond the screen" and help make real-world experiences better by fostering live experiences that would not be possible without mobile tools.

In fact, the catalyst for Foodspotting's conception was Andrzejewski's personal need to improve her real-life dining experiences. In 2009, Andrzejewski visited Japan, where she discovered a whole range of dishes she had never seen before. When she returned to the States, she found it difficult to find restaurants that served the Japanese dishes that she had just discovered and enjoyed. "I thought it would be a cool idea to develop something, in, like, a side project, that would allow you to search for a specific dish rather than a type of restaurant." Thus, Foodspotting was born.

After pitching Foodspotting at a Women 2.0 and Startup Weekend event in May of 2010, Andrzejewski attracted her first investor, Dan Martel, and a cofounder, Ted Grubb, who signed on that same day. By the end of 2010, Foodspotting raised $3.75 million in VC funding. In 2011, Soraya Darabi stepped in as Foodspotting's community manager. By 2012, foodies had uploaded millions of photos via the Foodspotting app.

Now, as lead user-experience designer at Open Table, Andrzejewski is "reimagining how dining can be made better through mobile and other technologies." She is applying the lessons she learned while developing Foodspotting as she builds the first experience design team at Open Table. Andrzejewski took some time out to share those guiding lessons with Fast Company:

Build An App That Solves Your Own Problems.

"I was first driven more by the 'idea' than the want to start a company. I wasn't one of those people who thought of myself as an entrepreneur," says Andrzejewski.

From the inception of Foodspotting, Andrzejewski set out to create an app that would provide a solution to a real problem she herself struggled with: finding and sharing dishes, rather than restaurants. Andrzejewski was able to recognize how a solution to that problem should look and feel for a consumer because she was her own target audience, a would-be customer grappling with the problem of not knowing at which restaurants she could find her favorite foods.

If You Can Picture The Experience You Want To Create, You Just Might Have A Viable Plan.

"So, one of the first things I did was create a vision poster," a series of sketches that illustrated what Foodspotting would look like and how it would be used. Andrzejewski believes that your ability to actually picture the experience you are trying to create will signify whether you have a viable plan. In a blog post for 500 Startups Andrzejewski wrote, "If I can’t picture something, chances are it won’t happen."

Andrzejewski says it was that clear vision of the app experience that helped the Foodspotting team secure funding. "Investors wanted to see 'proof points,' that we would be able to keep growing users and that we could get partnerships, but we also had to tell a great story about the experience—that we saw this as the best discovery app, the best way to find food around you."

Design A User Experience That Mimics The Way People Behave In The Real World.

In her former life as a user-experience designer, Andrzejewski helped companies think about their Web and mobile products from the user's perspective. "I did that mostly through design research, which means going out in the world and seeing how people do things, then taking that research and turning it into guidelines for designs, then taking those guidelines to create wireframes and flows of things like how a product would work and operate."

At one point, while working for Adapative Path, Andrzejewski helped a client design a "to-do" app by first studying the way people handled their tasks and constructed their reminders. Andrzejewski personally observed participants in their work environments and researched common ways people organize task reminders. "We took elements of the idea behind, say, leaving your shoes in the doorway as not to forget where they are, to make the design of the app more adaptive to the real world, less intrusive."

Design An App That Fades Into The Background.

"What I hope mobile becomes, especially in the context of dining, is that the phone will begin to fade into the background and the things that it enables will happen more through the people. That mobile will enable human interactions to happen better," says Andrzejewski.

Andrzejewski points out that successful apps like mobile taxi-hailing utility Uber and short-term lodging site Airbnb do just that, "enable real-world experiences that otherwise would not be possible." The apps themselves aren't the focus; the experience is. "Uber enables you to jump into a cab and jump back out without ever having to think about the transaction, without ever having to look at the app again. And I've had so many amazing experiences with Airbnb that have nothing to do with the app itself; it just enabled those experiences to happen," says Andrzejewski.

"So don't think about what your app does, and what your features are, and what the interface is, think about what kind of experience you want to enable and maybe the app is not even a big part of the picture, maybe it just fades into the background."

[Image: Flickr user Victor Bezrukov]

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  • jodibeuder

    I am a foodie and a customer experience advocate so this was a fun read. Congrats to Alexa for coming up with a super-cool app! And for having the wherewithal to ensure that the experience of the user was a premium touch-point of the business model. Customer Experience #custexp #cx is where it's at right now! Companies from small and local to huge and global are all discussing how they can understand and utilize customer insight better to retain loyalty and satisfaction. Glad to see that Open Table is on board!