Dennis Duckworth is outraged by outrage, and that’s why he decided to create a rant-free restaurant review platform.
Tired of sifting through recommendations at polar ends of the satisfaction spectrum, Duckworth and his team were inspired to create dopl, a service that matches users with their “dopplegangers” for a more tailored experience.
“Our goal is straightforward: We want to provide an efficient experience for users by cutting through the chaff of the current ‘loud sourcing’ venue-review models,” he explained. “dopl seeks to save users time and effort in their decision-making processes.”
The service asks users for their preferences, then uses an algorithm to sort and provide relevant reviews. Dopl aims to challenge industry titans like Yelp with its curated review platform.
We caught up with Duckworth for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “The sound bite is ‘highly relevant and easily discoverable recommendations uniquely tailored to individual people.’ We reduce the signal-to-noise ratio that is so prevalent in the current offerings. People are just bombarded with too much irrelevant information today. We provide users with a unique confidence level rating of how sure they should be that they’ll enjoy their experience at a certain venue. And we also tell them why we think they’ll enjoy it.”
Inspiration hit us when: “I was walking around an unfamiliar part of Seattle with a good friend when I saw the pain point first hand. He decided to use a well-known mobile app to find a place for us to grab a bite to eat. I watched him get more and more frustrated over the course of ten minutes as he moved through screen after screen on his phone. When I asked him why we were still hungry and why he was so upset, he thrust his phone at me. Then he explained that he’d wasted his time sifting through text-heavy and possibly fake reviews in order to determine if any of the information was relevant to his preferences.
I asked him, ‘what do you want?’ He replied, ‘I want the person who is just like me, but who I’m probably never going to meet to tell me what he thinks I should do. I want my doppelganger to tell me what to do.’
That’s how we came to the name ‘dopl.’ But more importantly, I realized the solution to both problems – overload of irrelevant information and overload of potentially fake reviews – could be provided through a few algorithms.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “To date we’ve been successful with bootstrapping via our initial friends and family round. We’ve got the runway we need to launch dopl to a wide audience and run through much of 2016. The team has decades of experience in various technology and business roles, and we were determined to not pitch vaporware and a vague idea to larger investors. We leveraged our collective experience and talent to build a living, breathing product with a large number of users.
Now that we’ve done that, we’re eager to begin having conversations with VCs and angels as we make the leap to expand the service and storm some castles. We’re looking for partners who bring the wisdom and shared goals to help guide us through the next few years.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Much of the competition uses analysis of a narrow window of user activity and assumes the ability to determine user preferences. This is a classic mistake made by very smart engineers. Not only do we analyze observed user activity, we develop a near-human relationship with our member base to provide tailored suggestions that match our members’ true needs. We recruited talent with tons of experience in human behavior and human psychology to help us out in this area.
We incorporate activity-based big data into our algorithms, of course, but we also go the further step of engaging our users in a conversation and relationship that closely approximates the information-gathering and feedback that we, as humans, feel are integral to in our everyday lives. It was a bit of a leap into a new methodology, but feedback from our hundreds of beta users confirms that we hit the mark.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Launching our MVP before it was perfect was our best move to date. With hundreds of people from various walks of life using dopl over the past several months, we’ve gotten critical feedback on what was working and what wasn’t – not so much from a ‘broken button’ perspective, but more from the ‘relevant and satisfying experience’ perspective. It’s allowed us to concentrate our efforts on building what people want rather than what we thought they want. It’s been an eye-opening and crystallizing experience for us.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Hard to say, because we’ve made so many. But if forced to choose, I’d say we focused too much in the early days on how comprehensive we could make the service. Once we started building the ‘everything solution,’ we got bogged down in some complex interrelations and lost precious development time. Once we decided to scope down our MVP and focus on the few key customer pain points, we accelerated the iterative build cycle.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Tough one. I’d have to go with Bezos, though, mostly because of what I feel is his intense focus on delighting the customer. I respect all three, without a doubt, but Bezos upended an entrenched business model, and he did it in large part by driving a culture that focused first on making sure the customer is thrilled with the service.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “It’s kind of embarrassing, but we play a lot of strategy board games.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Focused enthusiasm is our X-factor, it puts candidates over the top for us. The entire Dopl team believes this service is going to fundamentally change the crowd-sourcing recommendation model. We’re crashing through the gates in order to bring it to the world. But we are also keenly aware of the dangers involved in over-reaching and chasing too many shiny objects at once. So, we look for passion combined with the ability to scope down and focus on the issue at hand.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Get started and keep moving forward. There will always be a barrage of valid reasons for not launching and for delaying decisions while trying to figure out the ‘perfect solution.’ Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough. Drive forward and let your customers tell you where you should redirect.”
Check out Dopl’s launch video, but be forewarned — it’s definitely NSFW.