Rec'd was a social app for friends to share food & drink recommendations and was the first "startup" that I ever built. I put startup in quotation marks because I'm not sure at what stage something is considered a startup. I'm writing this because I wanted to reflect on the experience and make sure rec'd wasn't forgotten.
No More KFC
In Fall 2018, I was studying abroad in Madrid and having the time of my life. One of the best parts of the experience was the weekend trips to new cities.
One night in Budapest, we were struggling to find a place to eat dinner. Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google yielded nothing. Their websites were cluttered, there were thousands of reviews from random people and even the McDonald's down the road had a 5-star rating. By the time we found a place, it was too late. We ended up eating dinner at KFC.
The following weekend in Paris we were determined not to find ourselves at KFC again. We wanted authentic and affordable dining experiences. So we asked our friends who had already visited Paris for recommendations. We ended up having some of the most memorable dining experiences from our entire time abroad.
High off our success, we headed into Rome the following week equipped with recommendations. And we left satisfied, after some amazing meals.
Recommendations Run Supreme
After these experiences we realized two things:
We wanted to bridge this gap. Our solution? A social app that allowed people to share travel recommendations with only their friends. Basically, users could:
We sat on the idea for a while - refining it, strategizing about how we would overcome the chicken & egg problem, and making prototypes. The following semester at Duke, we continued this process until we developed the conviction we needed to proceed.
During the summer, we started using Glide (a no-code tool for apps) to build our MVP. Our goal was to target the highest-need users, and get honest feedback. For this reason, we decided to brand the MVP as a shared resource for Duke students studying abroad.
Whilst finalizing the MVP, we began seeding the app with recommendations from friends who studied abroad. Our next goal was to get the app in the hands of Duke students abroad. We posted in the Class of 2021’s Facebook group and had a really positive response, with over 100 students signing up in 2 days. We felt validated. It had taken us only a few weeks to build the MVP and launch.
This is where the problems start.
Our first mistake was not being able to track usage. All we knew was that 40% of people who signed up logged on to the app. Beyond that, we couldn't gauge activity. A few people added reviews but the majority didn't. Maybe they were using the app for recommendations but not adding places themselves? We couldn’t tell.
We tried to get in touch with users (emails & surveys) but didn't have much success. This was our second mistake. We had no way of contacting our users directly via the app.
Around the same time, we received a rejection from YC. We were disappointed but not surprised. Our video interview had gone poorly.
For the next few months, things felt stagnant. We were struggling to get user validation and as a result, weren't sure whether to proceed with the development of a real app. Ultimately, we decided to move on to another idea - something that we felt solved a bigger problem (stay tuned).
I learned a ton from this experience and whilst I still feel there is a gap in the market, I am also acutely aware of how difficult execution can be.