U-M student startup MyFab5 says goal for restaurant review site is to outgrow Ann Arbor
Ben Freed | AnnArbor.com
“Ann Arbor has a lot of talent, and we love it here, but Detroit has a lot of heart and a lot of space to grow,” co-founder Calvin Schemanski said. “It’s tough to think of a 1,000-person company setting up shop in Ann Arbor, but Detroit has the space for that sort of thing.”
It might seem like a big leap for a company operating with three co-founders and five interns to be talking about needing space and resources for 1,000 employees, but that’s all part of MyFab5’s founders’ mindset.
“Our competitors are that big — Yelp! is a 1,200-person operation,” Schemanski said.
“Our goal isn’t to remain small, we definitely have our eyes set on going all the way. When we talk about our future, it’s not really anyone’s intention to become a company that gets up to 20 people and then sells to Google in a year.”
The idea behind MyFab5 is that review-based websites like Yelp! do not actually help people make the ever crucial “where do I want to eat” decision. Co-founders Schemanski and Omeid Seirafi-Pour felt that long-form reviews and stars presented with too many options and not enough of the right data.
Schmanski and Seirafi-Pour added John Gulbronson as a technical founder in January, but knew that they would need more help to grow their product beyond a novelty website to help Ann Arborites find the best place for a piece of pizza.
“This summer, we were able to get some internship funding through Michigan Works! so that let us bring on five interns,” Schemanski said. “We have two working on the product side, three on the marketing side. We’ve been pretty busy now managing a team, which is a new and different challenge, but they’re all really helpful. We have been getting a lot of updates done on the website and the app, and on the marketing side we’ve been able to cover a lot more ground.”
MyFab5 recently won the DTX Showcase pitch competition, which came with a grand prize of a $15,000 branding package that will include a video, a brand book and website design assistance.
With the help of its expanded workforce and new branding initiative, MyFab5 launched in Detroit the night of the showcase. Schemanski said that he and the rest of the team have found that expanding into the new territory has opened their eyes to the potential that the website has in more urban areas.
“What we’re finding is that Detroit is an interesting environment because there’s a lot of really good food but it’s often hidden,” he said.
“In Ann Arbor it’s very possible to walk down Liberty or Main or State and walk into a restaurant and it will be good. In Detroit just walking down a street and picking a random place no one is willing to do that.”
The company has yet to raise a significant round of capital - though Schemanski said that they are open to raising a seed round if the opportunity presented itself - and has relied on grassroots efforts and “power users” to spread their website.
Once it has a foothold, Schemanski sees the website growing to include a wide range of “favorites.”
“We have a vision to expand beyond restaurants into pretty much anything that can be ranked, and be a platform for people to share their opinions on things that are important to them,” he said.
“It could be salons, it could be entertainment, people’s favorite books, favorite movies, favorite games. It’s easy to imagine a world where people are sharing their favorites with each other and they can do that in ranking form.”
Schemanski said that later in the summer, the website will officially open up to users across the United States, but that the company will only be focusing its efforts on Ann Arbor and Detroit for the foreseeable future. The company hopes to gain national traction slowly by word of mouth, while using Southeast Michigan as its primary testing zone.
“I would just ask that people in the community would try us out and give us feedback,” he said. “
“The only way we’ll get better is if people in Michigan tell us what they like and what they don’t like.”
Ben Freed covers business for AnnArbor.com. You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2