Have you ever had a tough time finding a good restaurant? Instead of sifting through thousands of online reviews on traditional platforms like Yelp or Google, you may want to start your next search at Phoodieur: a visual media platform that turns your mobile device or web browser into a fly on the wall at the best restaurants in the world. Phoodieur helps users to evaluate restaurants by showcasing photos of the different dishes offered on the menu and the ambiance they can expect when dining there. With Phoodieur, you can also access traditional user reviews, pricing data, restaurant operating information, and much more. All information is uploaded by customers or restaurants to give you a full understanding of which restaurants look the most appetizing!
Phoodieur was co-founded by Cornell graduate Sara Yun (’13) with Stanford and MIT graduate Kenneth Yun to help navigate the food landscape of New York City. With fellow Cornellians Patrick Choi (’14) and Ariel Hsu (’17) now on the Phoodieur team, the business is primed for long-term success. As Sara puts it, “You don’t need to speak a particular language to understand a photo, so the power of our platform has the potential to go global.”
Throughout it all, Sara has placed an emphasis on giving back to the Cornell community. As a frequent guest lecturer in the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at Cornell, Sara also recently started a campus ambassador program to further connect Phoodieur with the Cornell community.
The Phoodieur team provided even more insight into their business and the value of entrepreneurship below:
What motivated you to come up with the idea for Phoodieur?
Sara: When I was working in New York, I wanted to try all of the amazing restaurants in the City. Every time I wanted to look for new places, I went to the traditional review platforms like Yelp, Google, and Instagram, and tried to put together all of the data from the different platforms. I was spending a lot of time trying to visualize what a restaurant offered by matching a particular dish on the menu with a photo I had seen on Google or Instagram. I was shocked by how much time and energy it would actually take me to choose a restaurant to try when I realized that I wasn’t the only one having this problem. When I sat down with my coworkers to find a place to have a work event, they were doing the exact same thing. I realized there had to be a better way for people to visualize and understand the details of a restaurant’s offerings so that they could make better and more informed dining decisions.
What’s the story behind the name?
Sara: Phoodieur stands for photographer, foodie, and connoisseur. The letters come from each of the different words, and the name reflects the integration of those three perspectives on our platform.
What has the feedback on Phoodieur been like so far?
Patrick: We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from restaurants and investors. They love the concept, particularly because they believe images are much more helpful than anecdotal reviews. Images are also a lot more fun. People enjoy seeing pictures, and the Internet is moving towards more visual and stimulating content.
What does Phoodieur mean to you?
Ariel: From a student’s perspective, in the hotel school, there’s been a push for entrepreneurship, particularly in the hospitality industry. Tech integration in the hospitality industry is very lagging, and many are skeptical about pursuing different kinds of digital innovation and integration. That said, I think it’s interesting to work for a company like Phoodieur, which strives to build a product that is beneficial for both the customer and the restaurant owner. That’s what makes our product more sustainably designed relative to something like Yelp which is heavily focused on customers. Phoodieur allows restaurants to have a chair at the table and have an equal say.
Are you concerned that because restaurants have the ability to post content, your users would perceive certain photos to be inauthentic?
Sara: I’m not worried about that at all. We strive to get equal contributions from restaurants and consumers, so with each different photo that you look at, we let you see all of the different iterations of that photo, taken by both restaurants and users. You’re going to see photos in bad lighting, good lighting, during the day, at night, at a big table, and at a small table. That will give you a full perspective on what that dish would be.
What would it take for you to define Phoodieur as a success?
Sara: I would say we’re already successful. We’re building a product, we’ve raised funding, we’ve gotten feedback, and we’re constantly growing as a team and developing relationships with new restaurants. We certainly have several goals in target, but what we’ve been doing and how things are working is what helps me to define us as already successful. Moving forward, we’re going to add more functionality, activity, and coverage on the app, which will only add to the success we’re already cultivating.
Patrick: One milestone I’m looking forward to is having full coverage of one major food city. I think we’re closest to achieving that in the New York City area right now. Once that first community becomes filled with users and content, it’ll be exciting for both locals and visitors to have a more efficient medium to see their restaurant options.
Ken: Of course, we would like to hear Phoodieur being mentioned in the same breath as Instagram, Yelp, and Facebook. Realistically, we would consider our effort as a success if Phoodieur becomes the go-to app in the New York restaurant scene.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Sara: At Cornell, there are so many resources for students to learn about entrepreneurship, create business plans, and enter competitions to get funding for their ideas. For students, I would advise to take classes and participate in different competitions. I know there are also different accelerators on campus, so that’s a very easy way for you to get funding and advice along the way as you develop the product. For people who have graduated, there are a lot of meetups throughout the city and other resources to take advantage of.
Patrick: It’s very important for young entrepreneurs to carry the mindset that they already possess what it takes to solve big problems. Additionally, entrepreneurs can greatly benefit from networking in communities that echo similar interests and passions. This form of networking can be powerful because discussions are inspired and organic.
Ken: Do not lose hope. Stay passionate. Keep digging. There will be a rainbow at the end of the horizon, as long as you believe in your product and are constantly working hard to instill your dream in people around you. Finally, I would say it’s really the journey that matters in the end.
Is there anything you did at Cornell that ignited your interest in entrepreneurship?
Ariel: I haven’t taken any entrepreneurship classes at Cornell, but I would say involvement with clubs on campus that work with real world clients has been a huge game changer for me. In my time at Cornell University Sustainable Design, we’re working with a lot of real life clients and need to discern how to influence the community around us. Thinking about how our product influences our peers has given me a sense of the bigger picture, which is really applicable to entrepreneurship.
Patrick: I took a decent number of entrepreneurship courses at Cornell, including a Hotel School business plan writing class that was very helpful for organizing ideas. My favorites were the lecture series: the Dean’s Lecture Series in the Hotel School and the Entrepreneurship Lecture Series in AEM. Those lectures are inspiring because you get to hear real entrepreneurs talk about their struggles, and I think the best thing to do is to go talk to them after the lecture. A lot of them are alumni and want to help and connect with students who are engaged and passionate. Cornell’s really rich with entrepreneurial organizations, and one that particularly helped me was my business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi. It helped me diversify my views on business and let me interact with people interested in different fields.
Sara: The biggest organization for me was Hotel Ezra Cornell. I did that for a few years, and it allowed me to channel creative energy and take a leadership role. Outside of classes and clubs, something that really helped me in pursuing entrepreneurship was going abroad. Going abroad is a great opportunity for students to be really independent, think for themselves, and see different cultures. It opens your mind to so many ideas, and so many different kinds of people. Part of entrepreneurship is being open to things and not conforming to any one idea. It helped me to think on my own.