August 1, 2017

ForkOut: Food + Friends = Fun

ForkOut is an early stage company that is looking to make a dent in the world of consumer dining apps. For the consumer, it aims to modernize the concept of going out to eat with your friends. For the small business owner, it wants to drive customers to high-quality local restaurants.

It’s the product of two founders, a United States Army veteran and a video game programmer, and they each bring something completely different to the table.

Caleb Singer, MBA ’17 of Babson College, is the business and marketing wiz of the operation. He’s also a strategic thinker, having served in the United States Army as an Infantry Officer and in a number of other roles.

Meanwhile, Lida Tang is technically minded. He likes thinking about how to make things fun – a frame of mind he pulls from his years spent developing video games. He’s worked at companies like Volition – where he pitched the initial concept for Saints Row – and Irrational Games, where he got to work on BioShock. After working on video games for a number of years, Tang spent another few years building educational apps for students.

Opening up ForkOut.

Singer and Tang met while Singer was working on his MBA at Babson College. Tang’s then-fiancé – now wife – was one of the first people Singer met there. Through her, he was introduced to Tang for a business concept Tang was working on.

“I wanted to go back to my roots in video games, and make fun and engaging apps for a broader market. That’s when I met up with Caleb. We went around and tried to find a business model for this mass-market communication tool I was trying to create. That’s when we came up with the idea to go after the market of helping small restaurants get customers,” Tang told us.

That’s the genesis of ForkOut.

ForkOut is a social app that groups you together with your friends to decide where you’re eating out and how you’re going to get there. There’s a voting function for you and your buddies to democratically elect your spot of choice, chat function, map data, and more. ForkOut is currently in beta, and ran face-to-face focus groups where they say they’ve gotten “really great feedback.”

“It’s the one stop shop for going out to eat with friends. It helps you identify the right restaurants to go to, it can track progress getting there, it can identify highlights at a restaurant, it can notify you of friends also in the area, and you can tie in lift services,” Singer explained.

The app features machine learning that allows ForkOut to recommend restaurants based on consumer choice. At the same time, this technology can benefit the restaurant by using data for tailored promotions.

An actual shot of ForkOut's AI recommendation engine.

As for how they plan on monetizing ForkOut, Singer says that it’s an area they continue to focus on.

“One of the ideas we’re looking at right now is to partner with local restaurants and the local restaurant industry as a monetization point. There are different ways we can do that. We’re looking into certain subscription models as well as a performance-based payment plan. If we’re doing something that’s working for them, they can pay for those services, but they wouldn’t have to pay if it wasn’t driving customers to their restaurant.”

The duo is operating out of Cambridge, alongside a “cohort of interns.” In addition to interns who handle the marketing and technological side, ForkOut plans to grow their user base by establishing marketing consultants to be campus ambassadors. On the tech side, their interns have already gotten job offers based on the technology ForkOut is working with.

“It’s amazing that they can take what they’ve learned with us and use it to propel their career forward,” Tang said.

Closing the interview, we asked both founders to tell us about the lessons they’ve learned over their multi-year journey to bring ForkOut to life.

Caleb Singer: As an infantry officer, it’s very ‘go go go.’ Kick in the door, go, get in the room, take the next room. You’re always taking rooms. You’re always going to hold the room to get the next guy through. The business world doesn’t always work like that. In the business world, it’s all about tactical patience. Not going after the main objectives right away, but always having your eye on them.

Lida Tang: What I’ve learned by working with Caleb and the interns I’ve had is to really appreciate everyone’s individual strengths and weaknesses, and to really push their strengths as much as I can to help them grow at their own pace. It made me grow as a leader to understand where everyone is coming from so we can grow as a company.

Alexander Culafi is a contributor at VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @culafia.

Images courtesy of ForkOut.