Usually the best recommendations come from your closest friends. And those friendships don’t get much tighter than the one between Brewster Stanislaw and Joey Kotkins — the co-founders of a new startup called Approvee that’s quietly emerging from stealth mode this week in Seattle.
Stanislaw and Kotkins have known each other since meeting at swimming lessons at the age of two, and their families have been friends for generations. Now, the graduates of the prestigious Lakeside School — where another dynamic entrepreneurial duo once met in early 1970s — are trying to change the way people share recommendations (for movies, restaurants and more) with their friends.
We chatted with Stanislaw to find out how Approvee is different from online recommendation sites such as Klout, Yelp, Citysearch and others. Beyond the tight friendship between the co-founders, the 25-year-old Stanislaw bluntly points out that they “don’t like recommendations from strangers.”
“Personally, I would rather get a restaurant rec from three of my friends who have been identified as influential around food and beverage than from 100 strangers on Yelp,” he says. “We think crowd-sourcing isn’t the best model for recommendations, instead we want to build a system of friend-sourcing.”
Here’s more from our chat with Approvee’s Stanislaw in the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We are the best place to find recommendations for everything from movies to restaurants, sourced directly from your friends and curated for quality.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We joined thefacebook.com (ya, it was still ‘the’) back in 2004. We’ve long realized that social can fundamentally change our lives for the better. We are inspired by a steadfast dedication to creating more value for our users on top of their existing social presences. We believe all the products being built today with social as a core part of their DNA is just the tip of the iceberg. We think the power of the social graph will increase exponentially as we combine it with the interest graph and truly understand the web of relationships between people and things.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We recently closed our first angel round. While we’re very equity greedy and would love to bootstrap forever, we realized we needed some funding to be able to bring on development talent in order to quicken the pace we can iterate on user feedback.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Beauty in simplicity. We think a lot of our competitors have over-thought how to make recommendations more social. We believe in people and that the best way to find anything is directly from your friends. So we are maniacally focused on delivering a dead simple, enjoyable way to connect with friends and leverage their knowledge base.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Moving back to Seattle. Even though the New York tech scene is exploding, we love being a Seattle startup and being part of this incredibly supportive community that seems to be getting stronger by the day. Plus, you only have one home town.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Taking office space without any windows. However, being in “the cave” does help us grind and who needs daylight anyway? I guess we’re trying to ride the tail end of the vampire trend.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: ”All four! We are entrepreneurs–since when are we supposed to follow rules? But individually we admire Jobs for his ability to make technology enchanting to all, Bezos for his cunning ability to open new markets, Zuckerberg for his transformative understanding of how social should work, and Gates for his sheer intelligence (plus he’s a fellow Lakeside alumnus).”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “It’s already started and we won’t quit until Approvee is as ubiquitous as air. Seriously.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We know our market inside and out because it is us! We are building this product for ourselves and our friends. We think this gives us tremendous insight into what our users really need and how to deliver it to them. We are also scrappy as hell and won’t back down from a street fight or dance battle.”
We are truly unique because: “As a founding team, we go way back. In fact, our great-grandparents were best friends and neighbors. We’ve been friends since we took swimming lessons together when we were two years old. Being so close gives us the ability to be open and honest and give candid, critical feedback when it’s necessary. Founding a startup is a lot like going to war and for us we’d rather be hunkered down in the trenches with friends. Through good times and bad we feel lucky to have such strong mutual support.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Coming from a non-tech background. While I’m passionate about technology, I’m not a dev. And I definitely believe I would be better as a founder if I could create production code. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. I do also see it as a blessing since I’m very much a blank slate and don’t have any pre-existing biases when it comes to evaluating technology stacks or making other technical decisions. I’ve really enjoyed learning things rapidly and starting to speak in 0s and 1s.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Build now. We spent too much time analyzing our market and contemplating our product in the theoretical stage. You learn so much more by just building, playing with your own technology and iterating like crazy.”
Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area statup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to [email protected] Past profiles can be found here.