In a town like Ann Arbor with a large restaurant scene, what do you do when you want to try somewhere new to eat? You could ask a friend or someone you know for a recommendation, or you could check a review website to get the scoop on the best places in town.
Both of these options have their ups and downs. A group of students have formed a startup company that combines the interactivity of social media with the spot-on recommendations of restaurant reviews. With their site, MyFab5, the students hope to add a new twist to the monotony of sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon.
Created by Engineering junior Nick Ruff and University alumni Omeid Seirafi-pour, Calvin Schemanski and John Gulbronson, MyFab5 utilizes a restaurant ranking system instead of the typical star-rating system used by other similar sites.
"With a typical star system, you give a business a rating from bad to good," Seirafi-pour told The Michigan Daily.
"One star is really bad, five stars is really good. On our system you don't ever rate a business. In fact, on our platform you never talk about bad businesses. All you do is talk about your favorite businesses."
Users select their "Fab Five" in different categories of restaurants and bars. The possibilities for rankings are endless because, unlike other sites, MyFab5 has an infinite selection of subcategories in which to rank different establishments. Instead of a generalized blanket ranking for one type of restaurant, MyFab5 allows users to get specific, such as giving users the option to rank certain types of dishes.
"You go to any number of websites to find a great restaurant, but then you have to do some research to figure out why it's so great," Seirafi-pour said. "With us, we can give you that information much quicker.
"It also gets quirky and random because people can create their own categories," Ruff said. "If you want to find a place for good pickles, we actually have a category for that."
MyFab5 seeks to open the restaurant website up to be more socially oriented and to give users more control. In turn, users will get a better view of what's going on in their city. With the design, people will be able to show other users what they like about a business, along with each business's unique style and qualities that keep them coming back to their favorite spots.
MyFab5 hopes to make the restaurant-hunting experience more organic, as users can see what makes each restaurant special — from the street-food inspired burgers of Frita Batidos to the late-night magic of a slice of South U Pizza.
With Ann Arbor's bustling restaurant scene and tech-savvy population, the city seems like a natural choice to be MyFab5's first city of operation — not to mention its University connection, Seirafi-pour said. The project is based out of TechArb, a University startup accelerator supported by the Center for Entrepreneurship that aims to help University students bring their ideas to life and build viable ventures in an educational experience.
Seirafi-pour said Ann Arbor's startup environment was one of many characteristics that drew the site's developers to the city.
"There's access to people to collaborate with (and) access to socially engaged students," he said. "The one thing that Ann Arbor can do right now is really show that we are a community that supports people."
That's not to say that creating a startup company from scratch didn't have its obstacles.
"I enjoy running into difficulties, because if you don't run into difficulties ... you're probably not pushing yourself hard enough," Seirafi-pour said. "We fail a lot, but the important thing is we've been learning a lot. If you ask us why we're the most excited, it's because we know this next month is going to be the best month and the month after that is going to be even better."
He added that failure is part of the startup formula.
"You have to learn from your mistakes, you have to adapt," Seirafi-pour said.
The developers do not plan to stop at just ranking Ann Arbor restaurants. With the goals for expansion, they hope MyFab5 could eventually rank everything from sushi places to Gucci laces.
"The long-term mission could be — imagine ranking your top five rap songs, top five albums in 2012, top five places for suits," Ruff said. "The opportunities are endless."