A Q&A with Oomea founder and CEO Benoit Spolidor. The San Francisco–based company was founded in 2011 and launched to the public at the end of January after a private beta.
SUB: Please describe Oomea and your value proposition.
Spolidor: Oomea is a restaurant review platform that challenges diners to try new cuisines and open their palate to global flavors and original dining experiences. We want to help our users, through this culinary exploration, learn about new cultures right in their own city.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Spolidor: Our target users are adventurous eaters, those looking for a new dining experience and are curious about their city with the desire to try something new.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Spolidor: Yelp and Google, for instance, are all-purpose review applications. Other sites focusing solely on eating and drinking establishments are Urbanspoon and Foodspotting. However, restaurants are about experiencing other cultures through food, and Oomea is the only platform to offer a challenging way to discover new cuisines and original restaurants.
SUB: What differentiates Oomea from the competition?
Spolidor: There are several aspects of Oomea that differentiate it from the competition. First off, the cuisine discovery functionality: reviewers are inspired to try new cuisines in their city with a map of the world that appears on their profile. You can click on any country, region, or state to discover what restaurants in your city specialize in a specific cuisine, and do a search from there. Additionally, we have created a reputation ranking system to prevent fake reviews and help our readers cut through the noise. A reviewer’s reputation is based on various parameters, including the number of restaurants they have reviewed and the number of other users following them. The impact and prominence of a review is based on the writer’s reputation, so you know you can truly trust a restaurant’s rating and do not have to scroll through hundreds of reviews to figure out if a place is good or not. Another aspect of Oomea is the participation of well-known food bloggers. Local San Francisco food bloggers such as Grace Keh, who is a published author, are active reviewers on the site. Lastly, we have partnered with a specialty food company, a*pour toi, to offer perks such as gourmet food boxes to reviewers reaching a reputation level of ten.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Spolidor: The company was founded in June, 2011. The long story is that I grew up in Paris and my dream has always been to become an entrepreneur. I was always fascinated by the United States, so I decided to move to the Bay Area in 1999 initially to get my master’s degree from Stanford. I went back to France in 2008 to work for a couple of years, and met at that time my co-founders—Joel who is a designer, and Aurelien, who is a software engineer.
When I moved back to San Francisco in late 2010, I knew I wanted to start a new venture with them since we had already worked so well together for the past two years. We bounced ideas back and forth and came up with the initial concept. We hosted a large dinner with close friends to showcase our ideas and we received a lot of constructive feedback. People can be pretty creative after a few glasses of wine.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Oomea? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Spolidor: I am from Paris, where the local culture is rigid and uniform. Moving to California was a culture shock for me, and I fell in love with San Francisco, its free spirit, and cultural diversity. It’s a given for Californians, but I experienced at that time a wide array of cuisines that you typically cannot find in Europe, including Mexican, Thai, Peruvian, Brazilian…the list goes on.
I had the opportunity for my first job as a consultant to explore the United States further, and for seven years I traveled every week to different cities, including Tucson, New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Oklahoma City, and Kuwait City, where I worked for three months. Oomea is a reflection on my travels and experiences with regional cuisines—we want to help diners experience the same cultural diversity in their own city.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Spolidor: Oomea [oo-me-ha] comes from Haumea [hau-may-ha] the Hawaiian Goddess of fertility and childbirth, who created the island and all the plants. She is the one who provides, so it was fitting for food.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Spolidor: One of the biggest obstacles is distance. I work and live in San Francisco and my other two partners are engineers working from France. The time difference is challenging. We have bootstrapped the company and delays in development have proven that time is the most precious commodity.
On a personal level, when I started the company, my girlfriend was living in France and it was difficult. She eventually moved to the U.S. and is now my wife so things have a way of working out!
SUB: You just had your official public launch. Why was this a particularly good time to launch?
Spolidor: Because we were ready; we actually extended our private beta longer to make sure that we had a very good product. It is very exciting to have people you’ve never met reach out to you and give you advice, request improvements and be excited about the product.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point?
Spolidor: We are bootstrapping and we are going to start looking for outside funding in the upcoming months.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Spolidor: We’ve been working with a couple of pilot restaurants for the past year on a product to help them improve their bottom line. More on that later!
SUB: What are your goals for Oomea over the next year or so?
Spolidor: Our primary goal is to keep developing a great product, including a mobile application, for our community of adventurous food enthusiasts. We are also planning to expand to other cities. What we have launched is just the beginning and we are very excited about a couple of upcoming new features!
Oomea – www.oomea.com