2018 SVP Startup Profile: TastePal
Ralph Haddad ‘20
Tell me a little bit about yourselves and your company TastePal?
I (Maria) started TastePal with Ralph about a year ago after creating, growing, and selling one of the largest restaurant databases in Lebanon. Clearly, we must both love food, but we also have other interests. I am a ballet and contemporary dancer; I actually teach dance back at home in Lebanon. I am also studying marketing at American University and design various social media, PR, and guerrilla marketing campaigns for a few clients in the US, Lebanon, and Dubai. Ralph tackles the UI and UX for these clients. Fun fact: this is actually how we are funding TastePal, through these side projects with our clients.
I (Ralph) am more of a product person, but my background is in music and performance. At 17, I got my bachelors in piano, recorded an album, and performed in front of thousands of people. Performing is truly a passion of mine. I love changing the way I perform to match how the audience is interacting with my music. This is exactly how a product works; you iterate it as you go to match your customers. Performance is what sparked my interest in product design, UI, and UX.
Enough about us though, let’s talk about TastePal. TastePal is all about understanding why people’s tastes differ. Right now, we are specifically focusing on different tastes in food. TastePal identifies your taste, down to the ingredient level, and then provides you with restaurants that would best suit your taste (it can even tell you what to order). Our favorite feature of TastePal is that it can create group recommendations, taking the stress away from picking a place to eat when you are out with friends.
What is the story behind TastePal?
Again, we are both foodies. Even more so, we love to cook and just enjoy food. Mixing this with our artistic/creative sides lead us to TastePal. In our first startup, we added hotels to our restaurant database and had originally planned on further growing to include shows, spas, etc. We soon realized we were making something similar to Yelp, and so we decided to sell the company. Through this experience, we gained invaluable market and industry knowledge. One of the biggest things we noticed was that there was gap in the market when it came to food recommendations, specifically group recommendations. The idea of TastePal came to me (Ralph) while I was on a train coming from New York. I was hungry, but did not know what to eat. I wanted someone to pick a meal out for me. Also on this train ride, I saw a tons of people talking with one another and realized that there was nothing tailored to recommending groups places to eat and foods to try. In this moment, TastePal was born.
What is the most valuable thing you’ve gained from the Summer Venture Program thus far?
By far it’s been the network. I (Ralph) am incredibly fortunate to have met and been introduced to so many wonderful people through the Summer Venture Program (SVP). I have outstanding advisors and mentors in terms of product, marketing, and branding. Everyone is so willing to help in SVP. We actually just got back from a meeting with one of the best engineers in Boston thanks to an introduction from David Chang, director of the Summer Venture Program. This network we’ve made because of SVP will go on far past the summer is over.
I (Maria) can really speak to just how welcoming everyone is. Even after only being here for a few days, I
am overwhelmed with the kindness from the advisors, Antonette, David, Cindy, and the rest of the entrepreneurs. People really put in effort to lend a helping hand. Although I’m not technically a full-time participant in SVP, Beth Goldstein, our advisor, Skyped me multiple times while I was back in Lebanon to help with marketing.
What’s been a milestone/accomplishment you’ve made since the Summer Venture Program started?
We have grown so much since the beginning of SVP. On a product level, we are gathering better data, the application is running smoother, and we are hiring more people to our team. Something we are both really proud of is how much our user base is expanding—it is growing 40% every week. We will also be putting out version 2 of our app in less than 2 weeks! In terms of marketing, we’ve focused on talking to existing and potential users over the course of the summer. This has given us new insight on marketing campaigns and our overall product. We are also in the process of launching our new marketing campaign called Table Talks. Every two weeks we invite three experts to talk about their respective industry all while eating and reviewing food. We actually are about to post our first Table Talk—so stay tuned!
What’s been an obstacle/surprise you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge has been trying to find a balance between the work I do for my clients and running TastePal. The way we have been funding TastePal thus far has been through the money we make from working with our clients. It’s been difficult finding a balance between the constant work, but rewarding nonetheless. In exchange for helping with UI, UX, and marketing, one of our clients helps us develop our leadership qualities, public speaking skills, and negotiation tactics.
What is your favorite memory or moment from the Summer Venture Program?
We had a barbeque with the rest of the SVPers outside of Mattos Hall one sunny afternoon. Nothing gets better then delicious food, great conversation, and some music. It was the first time I really got to know everyone on a deeper and more personal level.
If you could run any company in the world, existing or not, what would it be and why?
If I (Ralph) could work for Jeff Bezos for free, I would do it. What he’s done with Amazon is truly remarkable. He knows things about businesses and companies that no one else in the world knows and is constantly thinking 30 years ahead of his time.
What is your go-to restaurant around Workbar?
If you’re craving Mediterranean food check out Falafel King. Try Sweetgreen for a healthier alternative and for all you vegetarians, Clover is the place to go. I (Ralph) want to make sure to give you a restaurant recommendation to fit all your tastes!
Any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs that you want to share?
Focus, focus, focus. Hone in and master one value proposition. Only once you master that, then should you move onto something else. It is tough managing several features when you’re first starting out. In our previous company, we tried to focus on too many things at once and it is what ultimately lead us to exit.
I (Maria) would also add that life continues to move on while you run a business. You will have to deal with hardship independent from your company. Make sure to remember what brought you to where you are, focus on your vision and block out any haters that come your way.