Food can unite people. In the case of Sumit Shah, Ravi Bhushan and Siddharth Vanchinathan – the founders of Locomi.com – also discovered that the love for food can be a source of innovation, and the basis for a startup venture. I first heard of Locomi on Plurk, when co-founder Ravi was asking around for interns, so I caught up with him for a chat.
He tells me the three of them, who met in India’s elite La Martiniere Calcutta, are foodies to the core and loved discovering great but unknown places to eat and hang out. Even after they went ways after graduation – Sumit headed to the University of Southern California (USC) in the States, Ravi to the Singapore Management University (SMU) in Singapore, and Sid to Manipal University in India – they kept in close touch and continued sharing on the best places to eat in their respective countries, scouring online food review sites like Yum.sg, Hungrygowhere.com, Yelp.com, CitySeach.com, Burrp.com.
Identifying the pain point
“While these are excellent tools to search for reviews of local destinations, many people in our social circle didn’t frequent them. This meant that it wasn’t possible to share a new discovery with them or see the places they liked and recommended. Neither was it very easy to see how close by a place was, unless one was very good with addresses,” Ravi tells me.
Inspired, the three thrashed around some ideas and came up with what Ravi says was the “rather laughable solution of making yet another social network”, which would integrate local destinations and adding what they figured would be a key USP to the site. “That’s a story for a different day,” Ravis laughs, “Lets just say it was a lot tougher than we imagined. We were unable to find the talent we needed to make our vision a reality, and building the kind of community we envisaged would have been a mammoth task.”
That idea didn’t last long. The three friends figured that they needed to add a new dimension to existing social networks rather than reinventing the wheel, and leverage on existing social graphs instead. The result was Locomi.com, the beta version of which is now on Facebook. “We started development in May, 2008 and have been working at breakneck speed since then to develop the application.”
Shaping the idea
“We developed Locomi for Facebook first because that’s where most of our social circle is. To get Locomi to the stage where it currently is, we had to get a lot of data from different sources, sift through it and clean it up. We developed an algorithm which used landmarks, addresses and a lot of other parameters to pinpoint the data on Google Maps with a fair degree of accuracy. The result is that we have quickly been able to launch Locomi in Singapore as well as seven cities in India – Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pune and Bangalore.”
When you open Locomi, users are first asked to plot their home location. The app takes you to the explore segment that shows you various destinations around your locality and allows you to discover new places around you. Places are divided into 4 categories – Food & Beverages, Shopping, Entertainment and Utilities. You can review and rate places, and read reviews from others. “We believe that people would be more encouraged to visit a new place that’s been recommended by a friend rather than by an unknown person. The latest reviews and ratings are pushed out to users in a city, while an easy to use search interface means that they can easily find what they are looking for. Users can invite others to hang out at a local destination, recommend a place to a friend, or reminisce about a place they recently visited together,” Ravi explains.
It surprises me that all three cofounders are based in different parts of the world. Ravi graduates from SMU this year with degrees in Information Systems Management and Business Management and works part-time on Locomi for now in the area of business development. CTO Sumit, recently graduated from USC, California in December with a degree in Computer Science and a minor in Management, is based out of Kolkata, India and works on Locomi on a full-time basis. Siddharth, the third co-founder who is in charge of user experience, also graduated this year with a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Manipal University and is based in Bangalore.
“We are really happy that we have the team that we do. Each one of us brings special skill sets to the table. Moreover, since we are all high school friends, we find it quite comfortable working with one another.”
Locomi is currently self-funded with some S$25,000 from friends and family. The team currently has two full-time developers and two data analysts, besides the three founding members.
“We have always been using every cent like its the last. We will be needing funding though, to take Locomi to newer platforms. We are currently seeking out some form of angel or government funding.” The company aims to start pitching for its first round of private funding next year. In such bleak economic times, I wish them a healthy dose of luck.
Ravi says Locomi is currently working on expanding to other platforms, with OpenSocial and Friendster versions of the application on the immediate horizon. They are also looking at developing a version for the iPhone, especially with its location-aware capabilities. “On the feature front, we are also looking to add more interactivity to the application by introducing quizzes, besides also integrating citywide events and latest deals as key components of the application. Next steps also include expansion into second-tier Indian cities and places across the Asia Pacific.”
“We realize that space we are operating in is a crowded one. While most companies in this space concentrate their efforts on search, we are more focused on discovery. We believe that the true potential of Locomi lies in its ability to leverage a user’s existing social graph to discover the most exciting destinations around town. This was always the core focus of our application and we hope this draws the users in.”