June 7, 2016

How Nomly got started, and where we are today

June 7, 2016
How Nomly got started, and where we are today
By Kartik Jain

It was nearing the end of 2013 in Houston. I was the only person in the office, feeling less than motivated to be productive, wasting time like a champ, when I got a text from a friend:

Him: Good Friday date night idea?
Me: food or activities?
Him: Haha idk pref both? Need a good non Tex-Mex food place — she is a foodie haha help a brotha out!

After a few more texts like this, I started to wonder, Why isn't there an easier way to find new places for specific occasions? Something like Yelp, but with only the good places so I wouldn't have to read between the lines of lengthy (and often misguided) user-reviews. Something I could trust to quickly point me to an awesome place so I could get off the computer, put down my phone, and just go enjoy a great new experience.

After some encouraging words from close friends, including one who, conveniently, had recently started working on mobile apps, I decided, Why not, let's do it. Yada yada yada. Nomly was born.

The first attempt, Nomly 1.0, was mostly a direct response to the pitfalls of Yelp. There were no reviews, no chain restaurants, and no ads. Just awesome places in Houston and a simple, guided search. If it was on the app, you could trust that it was good for all the reasons that you searched. And to avoid any confusion, each place had a brief description and advice that was helpful to anyone who had never been there.

The response was positive — most of my friends and the strangers who tried the app really liked it. Although my approach was flawed and definitely not scalable, it was clear people were ready to try something different.

But there was one feature that turned out to be really exciting: Ask Nomly. A user could text or call Nomly and get in touch with someone who would listen to the user and tell him or her where to go. I was that someone — the number was just a Google Voice number that forwarded to my phone. I would do for strangers what I often did for my friends.

To my surprise, people actually used this feature. I eventually had to disable the call option because I couldn't answer the phone at work. At the time I was still working a normal, full-time job and the calls were usually…inconvenient.

The fact that people were using Ask Nomly was pretty cool, but more interesting were the questions they asked. They were real, personal, and specific. Here are a few examples from that first iteration:

  • Hey! I am going to midtown/montrose area for my birthday. I am interested in some good sushi places. Any suggestions?
  • Just had a British tea party for a bridal shower and we want to continue the British theme tonight. Any suggestions for British places?
  • Nomly, help me find the perfect spot for a Sunday afternoon (6pm) date — good wine, comfortable chairs, high end and a little sexy — near the Omni westside hotel
  • Nomly, help me find the perfect restaurant. I'm in downtown by jones hall and want not expensive and not pho lol
  • Hello… I'm hungry but I want to go somewhere really off the grid kinda place for breakfast, where do u think?
  • Nomly, help me find the perfect bar in Denver? Wtf! Why hasn't this app. made it cross states yet? Seriously, I need a word with mgmt
These are the kinds of questions you would absolutely prefer to ask a real person who can help, because it would be a nightmare to search online or browse through Yelp reviews! So we shifted gears to focus on local recommendations from real people.

After 1 year, 3 major updates, countless interviews, and a lot of experimentation, we're now ready to show the world a brand new, totally awesome way to discover new places.