Today I’m pleased to share a project that’s been in the works for about two and a half years. More accurately, it’s been in the thinking for a little under two years and in the actual making for the last nine months. Its name is Menuito.
Menuito is self-hosted web software that helps restaurants look great on smartphones. It’s also the name of a separate company formed around the project, because unlike Corvus this is more than just myself.
You can get the full picture from menuito.com, but since this blog is about making software experiences it’s more fitting to talk about the how and why of it all.
Let’s Start with the Why
The goal for Menuito is to make the experience of a restaurant website on a smartphone better for everyone. If you’ve ever wanted to check out a place to eat beyond review sites, you know what I mean: Flash, poor information architecture, multi-megabyte PDF menus and other sins keep us from engaging directly with the restaurant. The Oatmeal kind of nails it
when summing up the pain points for diners.
Beyond that, I wanted a project that would let me put product-making as I see it to the test, the ultimate case study. This project is the outcome of a desire to build past what I provide by the client, the project or the hour.
Finally, I wanted to make something that brings non-technical people closer to really owning and enjoying at least some of their web presence. Without the learning curve of a CMS and without relying on a web designer to make every little change. With direct control I think we can encourage restaurants to get some of their voice back in a medium that is comfortable for you and I but still alienating to many.
I started thinking about a minimal fix for restaurant websites shortly after getting my first iPhone and running smack into restaurant websites that didn’t work. The idea stuck with me and I floated by different people every so often, usually hearing good feedback and validation.
As I got more serious I found more interest coming back, until early last summer I was offered the first part of a modest investment target. A month later I had a commitment for the rest. In the meantime, I’d talked with one developer and one front-end designer, and they came on board with the vision and working together.
For months before that I was spending evenings and weekends doing research, working on naming and brand aspects, wireframing every interface including a sales site, and writing a business plan. It was something between a hobby and what I do for work, more serious and intentional but still a lot like play. By early August the money was in the bank and we dove in.
Menuito is a part-time project; we all had other commitments and the investment money was not meant to live off of. In fact, the investment amount was set to build version one and early operation. Everything, if anything, that happens from here will be funded out of revenue, so this product has to be viable from the start. As a part time-project, we can ramp up in response to demand rather than wishful thinking.
So every Friday we got together and got busy. The scope expanded a bit to make room for our best discoveries, but was pruned back more as it took shape. One day a week turned out to be a much more efficient schedule than expected. We found the time between Fridays gave space to consider different approaches to current problems, letting us regroup ready to implement with confidence.
Simplicity bred clarity at every turn, and clarity bred a real enjoyment of building something together.
To keep our focus on building, I made an early decision to keep the project out of general knowledge. This is my favoured approach to new products because I think that what you announce on a Sunday should be ready on Monday for the first customers, more or less.
But building in a huddle also binds a team in unique ways. We unconsciously formed lunch, coffee and root beer rituals, as well as a conversation game generating diabolical features and product concepts; if you think ideas can’t be dangerous, you haven’t heard about Pay to Undo. When we weren’t laughing we found it easy to move ideas into discussion and then into a decision to drop or build a given idea. The sense of flow is a direct result of isolating from distraction, even over the long term.
There are good arguments for building in plain sight, but I’ve always found it easier to build for adopters rather than spectators, which you can’t do until you have product.
So who are all these people I keep talking about? Time for some recognition.
On the business side:
- Larry Halff was the first person I talked to about Menuito, and the first investor. He is also a board member.
- A Vancouver-based couple as second investor, who like to keep a low profile while being very supportive.
- Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo of Capulet Communications are investing their expertise in the marketing effort
- Mary Kellough of MAKE Marketing, who also acts as a board member and key advisor.
On the development side
- Tylor Sherman architected and wrote the back-end PHP code and implemented our sales site.
- Frederick Brummer designed and coded the front-end mobile and management interfaces, designed the sales site wrote original music for the video.
- Jon Jennings did a mid-stage code review and advisory engagement to ensure a solid foundation.
- Christine Rondeau and Cam Lee contributed theme designs and feedback on the theming architecture.
Whatever successes Menuito has ahead of it are due to the smarts and commitment these people brought to the table. I’m immensely grateful for their involvement.
So far making Menuito has been a great time, and from today on, it’ll be something new all over again. For the curious, the next couple posts will detail about the product design in detail.
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