Pete Wong of Yummi

Startup Spotlight
June 2, 2017 By Hai Truong

Even before the days of Yelp and Instagram, people took pictures of their meals and documented their food experiences. The world’s passion for food is clear with the various stories featured in magazines, restaurant reviews by food critics, and the ratings of Tim and Nina Zagat (creators of the now eponymous Zagat Guide). These all serve as early examples of crowd-sourced food reviews. Two years ago, Pete Wong, a UCI alumnus and EiR at the Cove, observed this same fervor for food while living in Shanghai. He saw an opportunity to explore the idea of an interactive food diary, a social utility that empowers users to log and remember their food experiences.

After graduating from UCI in 1994, Wong spent 18 years in Asia, successfully growing a career in digital media, evolving marketplaces, and transforming businesses. In those years working abroad, he led business units for some of the world’s premier companies such as Deloitte, eBay, Dell, WPP, and Google. A couple of years ago, Wong, drawing upon his years of experience in understanding technology trends and consumer behavior, noticed common pain points among foodies taking photos of their food and wanting to memorialize these “yummi” experiences. According to Wong, people post their food photos online, but current popular social platforms lack the tools necessary to recall past food memories rather than just record them. They all fall short in features that fully serve the needs of foodies who want a one-stop-shop platform to not just share but recollect where and what they’ve eaten.

With years of digital advertising experience, Wong considers content and data to be the two most important factors in marketing in this day and age. He points out that, even if foodies do not realize it, when they take food photos, they simultaneously delete valuable content. “My research tells me that there are over two billion smartphone users and statistics say 35 percent take photos of food – equating to 735 million users! That’s a lot of people and a lot of food photos. But, surprisingly, less than five percent of all food photos get posted online. The main motivation for sharing these is largely to get ‘likes’. The remaining 95 percent either sits on your phone – taking up phone space or gets deleted,” Wong says. Snapping a food photo is essentially capturing a memory of an experience. However, according to Wong, phone albums, cloud backup apps, or the current social apps do not do a good job in helping to retrieve these food memories.

Identifying Yelp, Instagram, and Facebook as popular repositories for online food memories, Wong observed that these platforms all have great features independently serving the needs of the foodie community. However, no single platform offers all of the necessary features for foodies in one place. Take Instagram, for example; it is a perfect place to share food photos because, when it comes to cuisine, visually appealing images matter the most. It has become a new source of food information on where to go and what to try. However, it stops short of offering users more benefits. Wong says that many of the foodies he talked to agree that posting food photos on Instagram serves simply as “food for your eyes.” Instagram lacks the ability to locate these “foodprints” when it is most relevant – when users are nearby the restaurant. This shortcoming applies similarly to Facebook. Then there is Yelp, the most commonly used food app. Wong believes that Yelp, while undeniably popular for discovering new food, does not prioritize pictures as much as ratings. Its usability design presents barriers in connecting with friends and their food experiences in a more user-friendly way. As many would agree, people are more likely to prioritize food recommendations from people they already know and trust than from strangers. Yummi is designed in the form of a photo journal with a social graph that combines the food discovery feature of nearby, with a blend of Instagram and Yelp.

With Yummi, Wong says it is all about posting for yourself, the user. The first intent of using it is logging your own food experiences and memories. “We are branding Yummi as a social utility app for all things food, not just another social network for food. It is first and foremost an app for food logging. The goal is to build a social vertical platform with features and functions entirely to serve the needs of the eating experience,” Wong explains. Yummi takes the best and most relevant features of all the existing popular social platforms and combines them into one, making it a one-stop-shop for recording, remembering, and sharing food experiences. All uploaded photos are backdated, tagged with location and type of cuisine, and automatically arranged by a historical timeline according to when you took the photos. Because of this, regular images turn into “foodprints” on Yummi.

Unlike other social platforms, users’ contents are stored on their screens and given top priority as a first tab placement. The emphasis of this app is more personal as a food diary tool. All “foodprints” can be individually toggled for public viewing or kept private. This is a nice change from other social apps because Yummi is inclusive for people who avoid Facebook or Instagram for privacy reasons. This could potentially open up a bigger market and help Yummi gain a large user base.

These competitive advantages are compelling enough for the food industry to take notice. Recently, Wong brokered a partnership agreement with the Orange County Restaurant Association, an organization representing more than 700 restaurants. It is also the organizer of major events, such as the annual OC Restaurant Week, that rally thousands of foodies to go out and try new restaurants and cuisines. This is a great first step for Yummi as it drives awareness and gets the word out to food lovers who will, no doubt, find this app to be a useful utility in their food adventures. Yummi has also recently been featured on the Food Flavors radio show and sites such as The Sacramento Bee, 87Magazine, Culination Magazine, and Parade Magazine.

As an alumnus of UCI, Wong loves living in Orange County and has decided to make Irvine the base for Yummi. Wong shared that he believes Orange County has the potential to be the next great tech hub. “I would love to help build up a tech ecosystem here in Irvine. There is an abundance of resources from nearby universities such as UC Irvine, Chapman, CSUF, and CSULB. Those are all great schools with lots of amazing talent hungry to be part of the tech and startup world. The affordability of living in OC compared to other tech and startup hubs makes it attractive to talent from there as well. Being part of UCI Applied Innovation has been wonderful for us as we leverage the resources, support, and inspiration from other innovative startups in the area,” Wong says. “Personally, I think all it takes to continue elevating Orange County’s profile as a tech innovation center is more success stories around good products and companies. We think Yummi is a perfect startup to be based in Orange County because there is already such a diverse and active foodie community here.”

To learn more about Yummi, visit https://www.yummi.me/ or stop by their Facebook page.