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digital startup pitch: choosie

∙ group recommendation engine for allergen-friendly restaurants

∙ group project

∙ spring 2021

overview

Choosie is the result of a group project I worked on while taking 05-470: Digital Service Innovation in Spring 2021. Throughout the 8 weeks that we worked together, we conceived and refined a digital service startup, conducted customer discovery and other market research, and eventually pitched our startup to investors at the end of the semester (where we placed second!)

Before the project, each student in the class briefly pitched a startup idea, and my idea, Choosie, was chosen as one of nine top ideas. My primary role in the group was product manager: I helped my team stay accountable and focused, and also organized and led weekly meetings. In these meetings, I ensured that each team member understood the deliverable requirements and delegated tasks according to the members' strengths. In addition, I helped direct the team in revising our vision based on feedback we received from peers, professors, and other guests after numerous critiques.



role

product manager   ∙   customer researcher   ∙   concept video creator

final pitch slide deck

Link

problem space

Within a group, deciding on a restaurant is challenging because people may have a variety of different allergies, dietary restrictions, and other cuisine preferences. In addition, each group member may have differing budget and distance-related needs. And lastly, some people may not feel comfortable voicing their opinions aloud, which occurs sometimes in workplaces as a result of social dynamics.

Our digital service startup, Choosie, aims to address this problem space by providing efficient restaurant recommendations for groups, while simultaneously benefiting restaurants by providing them with potential food-allergic customers who would otherwise not dine there due to safety concerns.

How do we benefit diners?

How do we benefit businesses?

market research

To validate our understanding of the problem space, our team conducted extensive market research to understand the environmental factors that would provide opportunities for Choosie to create value for consumers.

We used lean business tools like PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental) analysis, as well as SET & Product Opportunity Gap (POG) analysis. We also defined stakeholders and created a value flow chart to help us better understand the parties involved and how value could be exchanged and co-created between parties.

SET & POG diagram

customer discovery

In addition to conducting market research and analyzing third-party data, our team conducted a series of customer interviews with potential target users. We conducted structured individual interviews, in which we used a directed storytelling technique in order to hear stories from users that would help us learn about how groups make decisions.

We also conducted group interviews and contextual observation to further observe group decision-making behavior. From these interviews, we narrowed down the target users and key stakeholders involved, which we subsequently embodied in three personas: a person with food allergies, a restaurant owner, and a frequent traveler with dietary restrictions.


pivot

The initial idea for Choosie -- the idea I pitched to the class -- was a movie recommendation system, but when our team conducted customer research, we learned that this proposition wouldn't provide much value to users because people don't watch movies frequently enough.

We instead learned that people are facing the difficult decision of deciding where to eat much more often; this problem seemed to even be heightened by the pandemic due to people's busy lifestyles and unpredictable budgets. Thus, the insights from our customer discovery led us to pivot to a new problem space.


mvp

In the class, we defined a minimum viable product (MVP) as something that's just enough to validate the user's needs, so we decided to start small by initially providing the food recommendation service to users in the Pittsburgh area. To validate our MVP, we devised a short four-step process that would simulate the most basic features of Choosie:

  • USER INPUT: Each group member fills out a form with their preferences, like allergies, special diets, and budget limits.

  • ANALYSIS: Choosie compiles and analyzes the group's data and selects a few restaurants that work for everyone.

  • SEND RECOMMENDATIONS: Choosie sends the list of selected restaurants back to the users, along with specific allergen info for each restaurant.

  • FEEDBACK: Ask for feedback from our users on the process and quality of recommendations.


our concept video

feedback from investors

During our discussions with 9 potential investors, we learned that a large proportion of them actually have dietary restrictions, allergies, or otherwise strongly resonated with the problem space we were targeting. It was exciting to see the value that Choosie could hold in consumers' lives and to be able to validate our stakeholder value, even at our final pitch.

A majority of our feedback surrounded the restaurant side of the partnership -- our investors asked us to really narrow down how we would get restaurant menus and parse it efficiently; how we would build trust with food-allergic users and how we'd deal with liability if the allergens were tagged incorrectly. In addition, we were asked to consider restaurants that would be willing to accommodate for certain dietary restrictions, like swapping out normal flour for a gluten-free option.

One investor challenged our original idea of gaining revenue by allowing restaurants to pay to be higher up on the recommendation list, which he explained might break trust with the users. Our team agreed that this was a great point -- we hadn't thought about how we would interweave the sponsored or promoted restaurants with the top recommendations, or how we would ensure that the promoted restaurants were also entirely appropriate for the group. Overall, the investors brought up many points that our team had not had the chance to fully consider, and we really appreciated hearing their feedback.

concluding thoughts

I'm glad I had the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people -- my team members had many unique ways of thinking about problems whenever I asked them for advice, which helped me see these problems from a more creative perspective. Working and leading this interdisciplinary team has helped me develop important communicative and collaborative skills that will doubtlessly aid with future projects and work.

Moreover, this class was my first experience with entrepreneurship, and although I do not plan to pursue this track in the future, I believe that learning about lean business practices, product-market fit, and digital service conception has definitely still benefited me and challenged me to think in new ways.

made with ♥ by michelle zhang