Non-technical startup founders often struggle to find technical co-founders. Entrepreneur Emile Petrone has a solution: quit your job, move to a remote location for two months, and teach yourself how to code, which is exactly what he did last July. Now he’s building, and self coding, Housefed, the Airbnb for food. Housefed hopes to help people find home cooked meals anywhere.
Having worked in the tech industry for five years — first building his own startup Knowble and then for companies such as Yelp and Redbeacon– he realized he knew the business, but not the tech. In fact, Petrone credits his lack of technical know-how with the failure of Knowble:
“Now for the people who say- “Don’t learn how to build it. Find someone else to do it.” I did that. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life….I’m not a fly-by-night 49er with grand illusions of being the next Zuckerberg. I was that idiot years ago, but I have had too much experience since then. Enough experience to know: a technical company must have a technical founder. When I start my next company , I’m going to know the technology, and not be dependent upon cash or another person for our success.”
Petrone reached out to me early on and it’s been fascinating to follow his site’s rapid development (his blog is a great resource for anyone learning to code or building a startup). We got a chance to catch up after his official launch and talk about his experience developing Housefed and its community.
Emile Petrone: I was watching an episode of No Reservations one night, and thought, “Why can’t I find a family to eat with like Tony does?!” For travelers and foodies, this type of site makes a lot of sense. Meet locals, see how they cook their food, and share a meal with them. TV personalities have done this for years, so why not let everyone else have this type of experience?
DG: How does the site work?
EP: Housefed is a community marketplace. Most people expect to just find a search form to find a meal, but we are more than that. One example, users can share photos of their homemade dishes like many sites let you do for restaurant photos. Users have a profile, a reputation, and are able to communicate with other users. So unlike review websites, we are building a vibrant online community where the offline meals are just a natural extension of a user’s online activity.
DG: Could you describe your approach to product and community development? What challenges have you faced with both?
EP: The biggest challenge I’ve had is getting people comfortable with the idea of sharing a meal with a stranger. To break that ice, I decided to not open the site immediately for meal booking.
Instead, I’ve focused on an action most foodies currently do – sharing photos of their cooking. I think this has been a huge success as it has let people get to know other members of the community & gradually fill out their profile. Before I book a meal with someone, I know I’d like to see their food first. With over 200 photos posted in just our first 3 weeks, I think most users agree.
DG: Who and how large is your target market? How are you motivating them to use your site?
EP:That’s a great question – I really don’t know how big the market is. I just want to build a site for people like me- people who love food, love to cook, and like to hang out with other food people.
The incentive for new users is finding a homemade meal wherever you are. The way I like to think of Housefed is like a modern supper club. You have a profile on the site, and build an identity that you can take with you anywhere in the world. Not only will you be able to join a meal in your hometown, but in Brooklyn, Melbourne, or wherever you happen to be!
DG: What business models are you exploring?
EP: Right now, I’m exploring a model where guests pay a transaction fee back to the site when they book a seat at a meal.
DG: You mentioned that Housefed was the top story on YC Hacker News. What did people seem to find most interesting? What kinds of reactions did you receive?
EP: People are excited about a truly new experience. Instead of just going to a restaurant and seeing the finished dish, you’ll be able to meet the host, see how they cook the food, and share a meal with them. It’s a very personal experience that makes the site unique. Most people were very interested in the idea but there were concerns about eating with a stranger which I can understand. The site won’t be for everyone, but for others it will be really fun.
DG: What are the most interesting or unexpected things you’ve learned so far?
EP: I definitely wasn’t ready for the attention Hacker News brought. To publicly launch a site, and get slammed with thousands of visitors on your first day was amazing and gratifying. That was definitely the most unexpected thing, but the most interesting has been user feedback. Every day since then I have received emails, ims, and tweets with ideas from users. As a sole founder/developer, I take their feedback to heart & usually am able to build & launch their requests within a few hours.
DG: What’s next?
EP: Meal booking! The site is growing much faster than I thought it would, so I am focused on getting offline meals started as soon as possible.