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Restaurant Web sites have always been a pet peeve of mine.  For some reason they seem to use the same “artistic” font, make their address part of an image, and hide their menu away in a PDF deep in their site.  Appetas is here to make every restaurant Web site more beautiful and easy-to-use.

Fresh off winning both the Seattle and national AngelHack competition, the team of ex-Microsofties — CEO Keller Smith and CTO Curtis Fonger — quickly secured funding and are now plugging away.  We caught up with them for this installment of Startup Spotlight:

Curtis Fonger

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Appetas’ mission is simple – make restaurants look as beautiful online as they do on the plate!”

Inspiration hit us when: “I was pulling my hair out one evening trying to find my favorite restaurant’s happy hours and menu from my phone. The restaurant’s website didn’t even load from my phone! I found myself thinking – why are restaurants so behind the times online? We realized there’s a huge opportunity here to help restaurants make a stellar website, Yelp, and Facebook page and attract today’s mobile, web-savvy consumers. With a keen eye for design, they could have a site that not only gives you what you’re looking for, but makes you down right crave their fabulous food.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “The best Plan A is a good Plan B. We were prepared to bootstrap if needed, but we were fortunate enough to land seed-VC funding through our success in the AngelHack competition. We threw ourselves into the Seattle AngelHack competition at the last minute to kick our idea into high gear. After a grueling 24 hours, we managed to place 1st in Seattle! We then put our heads down for an intensive three weeks, building up to a high stress demo at the final competition in Silicon Valley. We pulled away with a tie for 1st place nationally, which opened many funding doors for us. We were lucky enough to then have our choice of options. For us, money is a tool to help us get where we want to go, not an objective in and of itself. Funding can help move the business faster and we like having direct and collaborative relationships with our funding partners.”

Team Appetas after winning the Seattle AngelHack
Keller (left) and Curtis (right)

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Simplicity wins! We’re constantly thinking of new ways to make things insanely easy for users. For creating websites, we do everything possible to make it so users don’t have to do work.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Juxtaposing an intense two week period of customer interviews with a three week marathon of direct, competitive development in AngelHack. We first immersed ourselves in the customer environment and were then able quickly bring our lessons to bear in building a high quality first product. It felt great to turn the crank so quickly with validated learning.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Trying to find the “best” funding option and losing sight for a while on our own product momentum. If we could do it over with our current experience, we’d push ourselves and our potential angels for a quicker decision on seed funding so we could keep focus on product iteration.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Our product is very design-focused, so Jobs would be a natural choice. He put simplicity and design above all else, insisting that the customer often didn’t know what they wanted until they saw it. However, we also admire Zuckerberg’s approach of pushing features to customers as soon as possible to get feedback earlier, even when those features aren’t in a perfect state.”

Keller Smith

Our world domination strategy starts when: “When we go public and fix every restaurant website in world!”

Rivals should fear us because: We’re targeting a specific customer with intense focus, and we’ve got the experience to deliver a stellar design coupled with a product that’s tightly integrated with restaurant services.

We are truly unique because: “Our instant website creation allows restaurants to immediately see what they’re getting. Every other solution requires them to “call for a demo” or do significant work themselves. We make it dead easy to make a great website in seconds.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “In first few months of brainstorming, it was challenging to find a sweet spot that helped restaurants while providing a scalable business. We had a ton of ideas centered around restaurant technology, but hitting on something that could scale quickly as a startup was a hurdle.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Read The Lean Startup and Do More Faster. Take the advice to heart, then go find a need and solve it. Keep an open mind early on in ideation and find potential customers that are willing to help you iterate. For B2B startups, we’ve found businesses tend to immediately turn away “salesmen” but can be amazingly generous with their time when you approach them in a friendly manner with a focus on understanding their needs (as opposed to selling them something).”

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