[quote style=”boxed”]My philosophy has three pillars: 1) know the market, 2) know your consumers, and 3) trust your lens.[/quote]
Steven Dziedzic is an innovator and adviser in consumer Internet searching. Currently, he is the founding CEO (and “head foodie”) of Hoppit, an angel-backed search engine and social network that enables consumers to find and share restaurants by atmosphere. Hoppit has been lauded by FOX, CBS, TechCrunch, and many more as a needed innovation in the restaurant search space. Steven created and developed the core that drives Hoppit, the Ambience Genome—the world’s largest collection of ambience data.
Before Hoppit, Steven led the strategy and business development for Pitney Bowes eCommerce, a corporate-backed eCommerce venture dedicated to helping U.S.-based retailers sell to international markets. In this role, Steven helped retailers “take over the world” by implementing new technologies and forming international commerce strategies. Steven was employee number 7 (now up to 50+).
Steven also served Pitney Bowes in a Corporate Strategy role. He worked directly with the C-level executive team to develop corporate growth strategies and helped found an in-house incubator that launched six startups. Steven practically grew up in technology. He started out his career with CSC Consulting, the Global Fortune 500 tech giant, where he helped build B2B software applications.
Steven had an atypical upbringing for a technologist, beginning his collegiate career as a double major in Vocal Performance and Pre-Medical Studies. He completed the Pre-Med track and went on to earn a Communications degree, graduating from Wheaton College with a B.A.
Currently, Steven serves as a leader for the Entrepreneurship Initiative in New York, a non-profit dedicated to the integration of faith and innovation. He is also a member of Trinity Grace Church of New York.
Steven is based in Manhattan, where he has advised a number of local startups.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, 110% of my time and energy is going into Hoppit. Our iPhone app just launched nationally (Android soon to follow), and we’re full steam ahead with business development and growth initiatives.
Where did the idea for Hoppit come from?
After countless failures to find the right restaurant for a variety of scenarios (i.e., lunch with family, a first date dinner, or a great cocktail with friends), my passion for technology got the best of me. I knew there had to be a way to use technology to provide answers to the perennial question, “Where should we go?”
There are three major variables in selecting an appropriate place: 1) the ambience, 2) the food, and 3) the accompanying guests. And so we designed Hoppit around these variables and created a leading way to receive incredibly accurate restaurant, bar, lounge, and coffeehouse recommendations.
What does your typical day look like?
A startup founder wears many hats, and most of them aren’t glamorous. For the first 12 months (out of a total 20), I was Mr. Data Entry. Our technology gathers data from across the Web, but in order to ensure accuracy, it needed to be curated—much like Pandora manually curates its Genome data. It was (and still is) incredibly tedious, but it needs to get done.
Now, I’ve transitioned into an evangelist, winning new partnerships and deals for Hoppit to keep growing and expanding. But I still do tons of data curation.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Everyone has ideas, but picking the one to execute and then choosing the course of how to execute is complex and (let’s be honest) very difficult. It takes sweat and tears. My philosophy has three pillars: 1) know the market, 2) know your consumers, and 3) trust your lens.
Know the market. Your idea may be amazing, but if there are a dozen other players doing the exact same thing, it’s most likely not going to happen. There are ways to get into and around saturated markets, but you must know the competition intimately and have a very unique value proposition. For instance, one could argue that Hoppit went into a saturated market. But, our value was and still is unique, and therefore made a splash.
1. Know your consumers. You have to have a very close ear to your test users, your early adopters, and the Average Joe users. If someone is unhappy, great! They’re at least showing emotion from your idea, and that is an incredibly valuable insight. Likewise, if someone is happy, great! That, too, is something you can build upon. The point is this: never underestimate even a single consumer’s thoughts and opinions on your product. They all matter, and the more variables you have to calculate, the more calculated you can be.
2. Trust your lens. All people have a unique competitive advantage—their own human experience. I personally think most people take this for granted. You (and I’m talking to the IdeaMensch audience) see the world uniquely, and therefore your ideas are unique. Sometimes, against all odds, you need to learn to trust your gut and go after what you believe. You can “create magic.”
In the end, all three pillars need to work together. It’s not just market knowledge, it’s not just knowing consumers, and it’s not just your lens. All three need to play off each other in order to properly bring an idea to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love the Big Data trending, and that’s one of the reasons that I founded Hoppit. It’s absolutely fascinating to me that 90% of the world’s data has been generated in the past three years. Think about that: 90% of all data. Past three years. It’s mind-boggling. What will we say in the next year? In the next two?
I think there’s a lot to be done in Big Data, and we haven’t even seen the best of it yet. Big Data concepts can be applied to nearly every market.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I’m from a very blue-collar background (which I highly value). To make money for school, I worked most summers. The worst job I ever had was in a home improvement retail store in the lumber department. Answering “how to” questions from little old ladies wanting to build decks for their backyards was fun for a while, but got old very fast. But you know what? It taught me patience—and more importantly, it gave me a wide consumer lens. I talked with old, young, short, tall, smart, not-so-smart—everyone. And every unique person I talked to made me appreciate the human experience that much more, and how we all have different human needs. There’s a product for everyone out there.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else to do?
Focus, focus, focus. I think as creators, we aspire to create an all-encompassing solution to a problem. We want the Full Monty, with all the bells and whistles. But, in startup land, that’s not going to do it. First off, you can never be 100% sure of what consumers want, so why would you develop 50 features? That just amplifies your chance of failure by 50.
Rather, here’s the best advice ever given to me (by a very successful startup founder): “A single feature becomes a product which eventually becomes a company.” The lesson here? Don’t develop 50 okay features; develop one feature that blows people away. Create one magical feature.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The major problem that Hoppit encountered when we first started was being simple (which may not seem like a hard problem to solve). But, there are one million restaurants out there, and hundreds of millions of text-based reviews on the Web. With all that data, how could we get Hoppit down to a single click? How could we make it that simple? It took months and months and months of white boarding, testing, and failing, but we finally got it down to a single click. It took lots of analysis, lots of conversations, a few fights here and there, and (the most important thing) humility and a willingness to redesign and redo.
If you’re not humble in a team full of entrepreneurs, I don’t know how you get anything done. Most of us have big (and therefore fragile) egos.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Ark.com has done a great job of verticalizing Google. Ark created a search engine for people. (Little did I know that 30% of all Google searches are for people.) And, thus far, they’ve been rather successful.
I think further specialization in the search engine space makes a lot of sense, and I think we’ll see other startups build businesses around search engines for very specific verticals.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Global health has always been a passion of mine, stemming from my Pre-Med days. I truly believe the alleviation of global health needs will mostly come from for-profit corporations, not the non-profit sector (although there are many non-profits doing amazing things). My first startup experience was with CURE Pharmaceutical, an innovative venture dedicated to providing affordable medication to malaria victims. I got to experience their for-profit approach tackling a global health issue firsthand.
Everyone deserves proper health care, and few receive it. This is something I’d love to dedicate time to.
Tell us a secret.
This is truly embarrassing. I can’t ride a bike.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?
Google Maps, LinkedIn, and Hoppit. (Am I allowed to say that last one?)
I don’t think I could live without Google Maps. As a New Yorker, it always has my back when I’m on the go. We’ll see if Apple Maps can replace it. I’m eager to try it.
LinkedIn is also a necessity; I have tons of faith in that company. I use it daily.
As for Hoppit, this shouldn’t be a surprise. I literally designed Hoppit for myself. It’s how my brain works, and it’s how I want to search for restaurants. The fact that I can tell Hoppit my specific scenario, and then Hoppit answers me with beautiful images of the restaurant interiors (recommended to me), is the perfect way to search, in my humble opinion.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Innovator’s Dilemma. The book was written for big companies who have difficulty innovating, but there’s a lot of truth in it that is so pertinent for entrepreneurs. The fact is that big companies simply can’t innovate in the same ways that startups can, and it gave me a lot of inspiration as we developed the first version of Hoppit. If you need logical, data-driven reasoning for why you can take on the big guys, read this.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Tim Keller, because he knows why we do what we do.
Conan O’Brien, because he’s hilarious.
And of course Fred Wilson, because he’s pretty darn smart.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I was in the East Village of Manhattan, in a park, when suddenly a hawk swooped down, grabbed a pigeon off the ground, and took it into a tree. A crowd of people gathered around the tree as pigeon feathers rained down on them. (If you haven’t figured it out, the hawk was eating the pigeon.) Everyone was laughing, 1) because New Yorkers hate pigeons, and 2) because New Yorkers marvel at nature—we don’t see it that often.
Who is your hero?
My dad, all the way. He’s the best. He is a mix of 1) giant levels of creativity, 2) crazy book smarts, and 3) childlike joy and content. It may sound impossible, but that’s my dad. He would do anything for his family. He says the perfect things at the perfect times. He’s humble and selfless. He is who I respect most in this life.
Does he have any faults? Eh, I guess he could be a better ball player. But no others.
Is entrepreneurship glamorous?
Many times I have prospective entrepreneurs come up to me and say, “Entrepreneurship! How glamorous!” To them I say this:
Yes, it’s incredibly rewarding to build something with your own two hands, but:
1. It’s tedious. Be prepared to do the “janitorial” tasks.
2. It’s lonely. You have 1-3 other colleagues for a long time.
3. It’s crushing. When it reaches 2:00 a.m., there are 10,000 other things I could do for Hoppit. It’s a crushing feeling. But, you have to suck it up, go to bed, and prepare for a new day.
Keep those things in mind, and proceed voraciously!
What’s a non-professional accomplishment you’re proud of?
I’ve been to 500 restaurants in New York to date. And I’d like to reach 1,000 someday!
I’d love to hear thoughts and feedback on Hoppit, and I’m always game for talking about startups. Here’s my contact info:
Steven Dziedzic on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/stevendziedzic
Steven Dziedzic on Twitter: @stevendziedzic
Steven Dziedzic on Facebook: facebook.com/stevendziedzic
Steven Dziedzic’s Email: [email protected]