Why rfave is a lean startup

The folks at AppSumo have issued a challenge they call the Lean Startup Challenge. They want us to tell you why rfave is a lean startup. In return, we might win some awesome prizes that will help us build a better experience for our users. Below are our answers to their questions: 

Demonstrate a way your startup is a “Lean Startup”.

We are a husband-and-wife team. We run our own web development company, building custom apps for clients. We have a one-year-old daughter and a 104-year-old fixer upper.

You’d think we have enough on our plates.

But one of us is an irrepressible entrepreneur, and we’re always coming up with good ideas for web apps. We’ve been building “side projects” since Rails was at 0.9. (You probably haven’t heard of any of them. That’s okay. Edison failed a lot before he built the lightbulb, right?)

When we were young, childless and renting, it didn’t matter that we were staying up until 1 am and taking five months to release version 1.0 of our apps.

But now that we have a kid, a house, and a business to run, we can’t sit around and code our side projects all the time, like we used to. Plus, we don’t want to be coding all the time. There’s just too much else to do. We either want to succeed quickly or move on to the next project.

So with rfave, we have learned to be lean. We iterate quickly. Before we add functionality, we make sure it’s really going to give our users something valuable on the front end. (There are a whole lot of items tagged “optimize” in our Pivotal Tracker, and they are all at the bottom of our icebox.) We are test-driven development freaks, so we don’t waste valuable time manually testing. We can run the test suite, deploy, and go blow bubbles in the front yard, knowing that our app is just fine.

So, even though we’re working nights, weekends and naptimes on our side project, we still have time for each other and for our kid. (The house, not so much. Sorry, neighbors. A lean startup’s gotta have its priorities, and painting the soffit and fascia is pretty low in the backlog.)

Ya think you need some funding?  Tell us why.

Yes. We will answer this question below, under “Are you a shameless self-promoter?”

Show us how you’ve used the Lean Startup Bundle (or one of the companies in it) for your business.

O, PivotalTracker, we love it so. We would be adrift without it. We organize our whole process around it, both for our web dev company and for our own internal projects.

Whenever we have a great idea for new rfave functionality, whether we’re at our desks or at dinner, we can just throw a story in the icebox and forget about it until our weekly planning session. At that point, we evaluate all the stories in the icebox, determine what’s highest priority, and go for it. It helps us evaluate where our energy would be best spent, so we’re delivering maximum value at every iteration.

How viable is your product or business?

A couple of years ago, we realized there was a problem with Yelp, Citysearch, and other city indexes. Every time we visited Yelp for recommendations, we had to wade through dozens of reviews before making a decision. It was time-consuming and it felt like a crapshoot. How can we be sure other reviewers really share our tastes? Do they buy Macs or PCs? Do they like gin and tonics and Modern Family, or do they crack a Bud and watch WWE on the weekends?

We realized that it’d be better if these sites displayed reviews tailored to each user’s tastes, so that different people—for example, a college kid who lists Tool as his favorite band, and a wealthy businessman who prefers Kenny G—will see different recommendations for the best sandwich in town.

We aren’t the only ones who’ve had this idea. There are several competitors who have entered the market, including one from Google.

All of these apps need to determine each user’s tastes. The other guys do it by asking you about your favorite books or movies, or just by comparing the recommendations you’ve already made with ones from other users.

We think rfave is superior because it integrates with Facebook to generate its similarity index. When you first visit rfave, there’s no need to answer a bunch of questions about yourself, because you’ve already provided a wealth of information through your Facebook profile—favorite bands, books, links, etc. Users see personalized content from the get-go, and the algorithm just continues to improve as they make recommendations.

Because other, larger businesses are also building apps in this space, we feel we’ve hit on a really good idea. Those bigger businesses must have number-crunchers who say “Hey, I think there’s money to be made here.” Even before there were big fish in this pool, we thought it was a good pool to be in. But now that there’s competition, we are even more certain. And we think we have the best implementation, too.

Are you a shameless self-promoter? Show us!

No, not really. Self-promotion feels very unnatural, and that’s the hard part. We have a tiny company, we live in Salt Lake City, and we are self-funded. We suffer from the fear that all outsiders hold: because we aren’t part of the group, we are somehow illegitimate or unable to succeed. But just because we are small and live in a flyover state, that doesn’t mean we can’t build as good an app as a big VC-funded startup in Silicon Valley, right?

We’re hustling as much as we can, trying to be marketers instead of engineers, but we know we could probably use some help in this department. That’s where funding comes in—we’d like someone to help us get the word out about rfave, or at least to give us some pointers.

Another way is to completely ignore our suggestions and show us what you got in your own unique way!

We’d would love to, because it sounds fun, but we’re really busy trying to build our startup. Answering this questionnaire is leaner.

Four reasons rfave rocks your hometown.

Utah Capitol Building

SLC, the town I love.

Last week, I explained why rfave is invaluable for people who are traveling or who are new to town. Here are three ways rfave is useful even if you already know your town really well:

  1. “Once in a while” services. You’ve lived in your town for a while, and you know a good doctor, dentist, etc. But every once in a while, you need a new professional in your life. Maybe your water heater conks and you need a good HVAC installer. Maybe you’re about to have a kid and need to find a pediatrician. Or the SATs are coming up and you’d like to give your teen some test prep. You could close your eyes and point at a listing in the phone book, you could ask all your friends for suggestions, or you can just come to rfave and see what’s recommended near you, for you.
  2. “I don’t get out there very often.” Salt Lake City has lots of outlying suburbs that I’m unfamiliar with. Mainly, those suburbs are full of chain stores or dodgy-looking teriyaki joints, which is why I remain unfamiliar with them. But I’m totally going to try the Philadelphian’s cheesesteak, because I just logged on to rfave and saw it recommended there. None of my friends have ever mentioned this place. I follow a bunch of foodie blogs here, and I haven’t heard of it. Thanks, rfave, for the tip!
  3. “Where should we go?” “I dunno. Where do you want to go?” We’ve all been there. You want to go out to eat, but you’re in a rut. You always haunt the same four or five restaurants, but when you try to think of another place to go, you can’t. This happened to us two weeks ago. It was late on a Friday afternoon, we were hungry, and starting to get that glazed look that leads straight to Rut-town. Then I looked at rfave, saw that a friend had recommended Red Rock Brewery, and I realized it was the perfect break from our regular choices. And rfave really shines here, because it only offers you a few options off the top. You’re not seeing every single brewpub or every single Thai joint in your city. You’re just seeing the best ones for you. When you’re tired and hungry on a Friday night, that really helps you make a choice—and you know it’ll be a good choice!
  4. The new place. You might be dialed in to the scene in your town, but maybe there’s a new place you haven’t heard about yet. Rfave is a good way to learn about those new places. We plan to implement email messages that alert you when folks who are similar to you start raving about a new place. For now, you’ll just have to check in on the site every so often.


Doesn’t Yelp already do this?

Greasy hamburger, yum!
When we tell people about rfave, some of them ask, “Doesn’t Yelp already do this?”.

Kind of.

If you mean “local recommendations,” then yes, Yelp already does this. Yelp has lots and lots of local recommendations.

But are they useful local recommendations? Well, let’s take hamburgers as our example. When I searched Yelp for the best hamburger in Salt Lake City, Iceberg Drive Inn was one of the top results.

For the non-SLC-based crowd, let me tell you about Iceberg. At the Iceberg, you’re going to get a pre-formed patty, shredded iceberg lettuce and a pallid tomato. It’s cheap, tasteless, and if you’re 16, yes, that probably is one of the best hamburgers in Salt Lake.

In my opinion, the best burger in Salt Lake City is at a bar called Fiddler’s Elbow. There, the burger is hand-formed, full of garlic, beefy, juicy and delicious.

Fiddler’s Elbow is #55 on Yelp’s list.

To me, a local, this isn’t a big deal. I already have an idea of what’s good in SLC, so if Yelp’s listings are a little off, it’s no big deal.

But to a newcomer or an out-of-towner, it’s a very big deal. If you’re looking for a good burger and end up with something you could’ve bought at Mickey D’s, that’s a very bad experience.

Of course, if you’re an out-of-towner, you could wade through all the reviews for all the restaurants Yelp lists, try to determine whether you can trust a reviewer named “Steve S.” more than the grumpy “Jasmine B.,” and make your pick from there. I’ve done that. It took me half an hour. And I still wasn’t sure if I’d made the right pick.

So yes, Yelp already does local recommendations. It tells you every single place you could possibly get a hamburger in Salt Lake.

Rfave just gives you the ones you need.

Bonus question: Why is rfave useful to me in my hometown, since I already know my favorite things here?

We’ll answer that question next week.


New rfave release!

We just pushed a bunch of changes based on feedback we’ve received since we launched rfave, just a little over a week ago.  Thanks so much for the support.

Here’s some of the new features you’ll notice in rfave:

  • Faster recommendations: Now, when you see someone’s recommendation on the site and you think “Oh, yeah, that’s totally the best milkshake in San Francisco”, you can simply click the orange icon and it will add your recommendation.  Adding recommendations can now be as simple as pushing a button.  We still think adding testimonials and prioritizing your lists are important, but sometimes you want to add something to your list quickly, so you can fill in the details later.
  • Location URLs:  Originally, if you wanted to link a friend to the “Best burrito in Salt Lake City,” you couldn’t link directly to that list.  You’d have to tell your friend to change her location to Salt Lake City, then navigate to the “Best burrito” list.  That’s changed now; all you need to do is copy the URL and go!  All URLs have the location built in, so feel free to share.  And if you’re a business owner, you can link directly to the page that shows you’re one of the best.

Those are the big improvements in this release.  There are also a slew of small improvements and bug fixes.  As always, if you have any problems or ideas on how to make rfave better, share them with us at http://getsatisfaction.com/rfave.

We’re already starting to work on the next release!