UM Startup Offers New Twist On Restaurant Reviews
ANN ARBOR — This all started because Omeid was in Chicago, hungry, and he doesn’t like deep-dish pizza.
He didn’t want to go somewhere like Gino’s East and get some thin crust slab that a deep-dish place sells as an afterthought. He wanted to find a place in Chicago that actually specializes in thin crust.
Well, good luck finding that in a deep-dish ocean of Chicago pizza reviews online.
Thus was born the idea for myfab5.com, a Web site that will go live Thursday for the state of Michigan, assembled by a team of University of Michigan graduates and students.
The co-founders are Omeid Seirafi-Pour, a 2011 bachelor of business administration graduate, and Calvin Schemanski, a 2012 bachelor of business administration graduate.
Seirafi-Pour said trying to find detailed information on the current restaurant review Web site leader, Yelp.com, is too much “annoying homework.” Restaurants get reviews from one star to five, but there can be a million reasons for someone giving a restaurant a certain number of stars, so you have to spend a lot of time digging deeper to find out why.
Not only that, but Seriafi-Pour questioned the usefulness of Yelp reviews of really popular places, given that 85 percent of Yelp reviews are between three and five stars, and the more reviews a restaurant gets, the closer they get to the average of 3.8.
“Our hypothesis was that people don’t demand star reviews, people demand information that will help them make a consumption related decision,” Seriafi-Pour said. “It’s all about what people need. They don’t need to see a star rating and have to decipher the reasons behind it.”
So what does Myfab5.com offer instead? It asks users to rank their top five restaurants in any food style, in any town. A search for pizza places in Ann Arbor, for instance, turns up the five most popular restaurants for pizza. They also show what other categories each restaurant is ranked highly in. Thus, a person looking at the list of best pizza restaurants can distinguish between the #1 pizza place that’s also ranked highly for deep dish pizza and cheesy bread from the #3 pizza place that’s ranked highly for organic food and a family friendly environment. On Yelp, that kind of granular information could only be found by taking the time to read a bunch of individual reviews, but on myfab5 that information is presented immediately.
Initially rejected by UM’s TechArb student incubator, myfab5.com is now there, developing its initial Web site. Over the summer, the company build a prototype and started testing it with 60 people, expanding by 200 more people based on a little word-of-mouth marketing. “We found out what was wrong with the platform and iterated it,” Seirafi-Pour said. Now the Web site is ready for its debut.
The Web site also doesn’t contain negative content. Restaurants earn a spot in a city’s top five by the number of positive reviews they get; the restaurants not named to the top five by very many people naturally fall to the bottom. Those using the Web site can confine their searches to the top five or look farther down.
Seirafi-Pour said his group has been meeting with investors “just to start the conversation, but we really haven’t asked for money yet.”
Seirafi-Pour, an Oklahoma native who was raised in Kansas and who freely admits he was attracted to UM based on its performance in sports, recently left his first job after graduation, the consulting firm Cambridge Group, and is devoted to Myfab5.com full time. He says he hopes the company can remain in Michigan and raise capital and create jobs here.
Besides Seirafi-Pour and Schemanski, Myfab5.com’s team includes John Gulbronson, a 2011 UM engineering grad who is lead mobile developer; Nick Ruff, a UM computer science student scheduled to graduate in 2014, who is lead Web site developer; and Prateek Sachdeva, a UM computer science student scheduled to graduate in 2015, who is front-end developer.
Thursday’s launch of the Web site will also include a Facebook page. Seirafi-Pour said the company hopes to have a smartphone app for the Web site within six weeks.
And eventually, he said, the group may expand the rating system to retailers and music.