Every restaurant menu item in the world is searchable by its ingredients.
Why It’s a Good IdeaIt’s easy to sell water to someone with their hair on fire. So I get excited about startup ideas that involve “hair on fire” problems.
Think about all of the people with strong dietary restrictions: vegans, people with peanut allergies, people eating a kosher diet, etc. These people have strong feelings about what they eat and always check the ingredients. They have a “hair on fire” problem. They would certainly use a web application that allowed them to search menu items by ingredient. There are also a lot more people who may not be so strict about what they eat but still have preferences. They would also use this web application. Probably one of the best use cases is a group of friends going out to eat, each having their own set of dietary preferences. This web application would make it easy to find a restaurant with the most options for the group as a whole.
One reason this is a great startup idea is that it adds real value to the economy. For example, I used to live in Davis Square and buy vegan cupcakes from Kickass Cupcakes and vegan muffins from Diesel Cafe. When I moved to Harvard Square, I did not know of any place to get a good vegan treat, so I would always travel to Davis Square. After about half a year, I discovered that Tealuxe in Harvard Square sold yummy vegan muffins and cookies. I would practically walk right past them on my way to Davis Square! This is what gave me the idea for this startup.
There is a genuine inefficiency in the market in that people don’t buy a restaurant’s menu items simply because they do not know about them. They can easily search for restaurants, but this is a sloppy heuristic for what they really want.
So I think people would definitely use this product. But users are not customers, and any business requires customers. And the rules of the game say that search engines shouldn’t charge users directly, so how do you monetize?This is another reason I think this is a great startup idea. It seems like it would be easy to monetize. For one, advertising would actually work. Whereas most advertisements are poorly targeted and buzz around users like pesky mosquitoes, a person with Coeliac disease would gladly welcome ads promoting gluten-free products. This means that ads would not detract from the positive user experience and users would actually click on the ads.
Another way to monetize is to charge restaurant owners for services. This web application would basically allow restaurants to easily publish their menu online to an eager audience. You would be driving business to the restaurants, so it’s easy to add enough value to restaurant owners that they would be willing to pay for your services.
Finally, there is room to grow more products and offerings. For example, users could review and comment on individual dishes. They could also get alerts when new menu items appear in their neighborhood.
How to Pull It Off
Web applications like this face a chicken-and-egg problem: without any data, who would use your service? That’s why I think the best way to execute on an idea like this is to start with a very small, local niche. For example, you could start the product off as a way for vegans in Cambridge, Massachusetts to search for vegan dishes. Starting small makes the first step much less daunting. As you gain traction, you can expand geographically and broaden the dietary preferences.
However, there is a big challenge in assembling accurate data about menu items, which can be especially tricky with potentially life-and-death issues like allergies. So this idea still presents some interesting challenges.
Why I’m Giving My Idea Away
When I came up with this idea I didn’t think I had the right business skills and domain knowledge to execute it well so I set it aside and moved on. But this idea really stuck with me and is one of my favorite startup ideas so I hate to see it end up in my dead pool. I think the world would be a better place with this product so somebody please steal this idea!