What Happens When Dinosaurs Talk to Your Customers

by The Control Room - Conversations for Growing Companies

When friends ask me for restaurant recommendations, The Infatuation is my go-to. Co-founded by ex-music industry execs (including my college friend, Chris Stang), the site stands out by providing relatable, reliable reviews – and by not taking itself too seriously. 

This post is an excerpt of my interview with Chris, but the whole thing is worth a listen. Click play above to hear the whole conversation, including what happens when Bobby Flay wants to make seahorse sashimi for your restaurant - and for additional Control Room conversations, subscribe in iTunes here.

Q: You and your co-founder Andrew started the site while you were both music industry executives. What was that like for you in the early days?

Chris: It was crazy. It changed my life. It became this thing where suddenly I had this whole other focus and it was a creative outlet, which was great. But it was also this totally unknown wild west scenario where I was like, both [my co-founder] Andrew and I don’t really know what to do. So just put one foot in front of the other. We didn’t even know how you would go about raising money for something, or what that would even look like. 

We just knew, great, this is working, let’s keep doing more of it and we have the vision for it and it just became about executing. 

But suddenly the way that people identified us was completely different. We went from being well-respected people in our careers to then being like, oh, these are the guys with that thing. And that was really weird, but great, very motivating. Because then, we get that hit of feeling like this thing I created is doing well and then you just want to replicate that over and over and over again.

You were basically doing two jobs for five years. Were you trying to make money on the site in the early days?

Yeah, we always knew that we would need to figure out that problem. Because, again, we weren’t the kind of people that even knew how to raise money, so there’s never this thing of, oh yeah, we’ll just fundraise and that’s how we’ll keep the business alive. We weren’t that smart. We were just like, cool, let’s figure out brand partnerships, because if we do brand partnerships we can make some money. 

And we also just knew it was going to take a long time.

Why did you know it was going to take a long time?

I don’t know.

I’m not sure that everybody really goes into it with that idea. 

I think that’s true. But I think a lot of that comes from, you’ve got to remember that Instagram didn’t exist at this point, right? There weren’t all these crazy stories of overnight internet success businesses – not that Instagram was overnight, but …

Yeah, but it was fast.

It was fast, right? So in 2009, Yelp was pretty new. We got kicked off it because we put our links on Yelp and we uploaded Yelp reviews and would say, read more, and then we got thrown off. 

Twitter was also pretty new. It was just the beginning of people starting to understand what it was. And we actually used Twitter to build audience in a big way, but there just weren’t these examples of, hey, just start this internet thing and then it blows up. I mean, maybe from 1999 there were. 

I also don’t think that either of us were mentally ready to jump in full-time because we were still very much on the upswing in our own careers. I think we just sort of looked at it like, there’s a path to this, but we were just going to sort of let it play out. 

There were also real barriers of needing an app, because nobody had one. I used New York Magazine mostly before we launched our thing and, I always used to look at New York Magazine and think, right, great, you have this huge database of information, the iPhone had been around for two years at that point, but there wasn’t just a geo-location app that I could then pull up and get the New York Magazine rated restaurants around me. 

And so we were thought, we should do that. That was kind of a big moment for us. Why can’t we do that? And then we realized though that to do that, especially in New York, you have to have a lot of reviews. You have to have a big database. 

So we said to ourselves, great, let’s get to 250 reviews in the City, and then if you launch an app by then it should be somewhat usable, right? Because most neighborhoods you should at least have a couple of options. 

Then we started down the road reviewing a restaurant every day until we got to that point, which took us two years, basically. Since we didn’t have capital, it’s not like you just go hire a bunch of people to start writing reviews. We didn’t want to because that wasn’t really the idea. And we were just doing the only thing we knew how to do, let’s go march down the road, and then we’ll see where we end up.

Tone matters a lot on your site. You said from the beginning that you don’t take yourself too seriously. One of the things that shows this is true is that you can text questions about where you should go out to dinner to a fake dinosaur. Tell me about Text Rex.

That was another function of trying to find out what people want, how do we get it to them, and how do we do it in a way that’s just really simple. We would hear from people a lot , sayings to us, “hey, I love the site, I love the app, would you please just tell me where to go”. Or my friends, people that I know would say, “where should I have dinner tonight?” I’m like, dude, I’ve spent 5 years building something to answer that question for you. 

So there’s still, even to this day, whether it’s for restaurant reviews or anything, sometimes there’s just so much stuff on the Internet that sorting through it is a daunting task. How could we solve that pain point of, “I don’t even know where to start." 

It also came from a function of realizing that for with Facebook, there’s a newsfeed algorithm between you and your audience that you have to figure out how to game to reach people. Twitter, nowadays unfortunately there’s just not that many regular people having normal conversations or seeking out conversations. There’s a lot of authorities on subjects, incredible people and celebrities and that’s great, but in the early days, Twitter was very much a community for us and it’s not anymore. Instagram, we have a massive reach, but it’s not our core audience. Something like 70% of the Instagram audience as a whole on the platform are outside of the US. 

So we were just sort of searching for a way to reengage our core audience. Then we started talking about this messaging thing as a, sort of a concurrent idea, and realized they were kind of one and the same. If we could answer people’s questions via texts, and we did that right, it would also then develop a one-to-one relationship with them and a platform that we own, and we don’t have to worry about, something like Instagram announcing a newsfeed algorithm and all of a sudden everybody’s freaking out and reacting. 

With something like messaging, it’s hard to do but if you do that right, you own the channel. And so, for us, we use Text Rex. 

The way it works is really simple. You text us and we respond back. And so you say, hey, I’m looking for brunch in Chelsea and then there’s an actual person on the other end that has all our reviews that are tagged with brunch in Chelsea and then can just serve recommendations based on the content. The responder on the other end doesn’t even really need to be the expert, because the site is. All this content that is in there, meant to serve that exact purpose. They just have to be the shepherd and the idea is that it’s supposed to make it fun. 

So it goes back to the tone thing, right? It’s like, can this thing be fun to use and seem like a friend and seem like a person or a fake dinosaur, rather than a robot? 

We had no idea how to do it, we just went and got an iPhone, I plugged it into iCloud on three different computers, and we put up a splash page and launched it and thought that it would do well but we didn’t really know. We didn’t want to make any assumptions and build something before we knew what it was. But within a couple of hours, we had 3,000 people signed up for the waiting list for it. 

This sounds awesome and very, very hard to scale.


And you’re working on ways to do that right now. But a really important point that comes along with it is that even if that doesn’t scale, you’re learning so much about your audience that it has value in itself, just where it’s sitting right now.

Exactly. And so people say that, the two things that always come up when we talk to people about Text Rex, at least people in the business world. They’re like, “oh yeah, great idea, how do you scale it? How do you monetize it?”

And my answer is always, I don’t know the answer to either, but I can tell you as it exists right now, it’s so valuable to the company that I would spend the money we’re spending on it ten times over. And I would, even if it only runs at a small portion of our audience, but if it makes us better at what we do; even if we’re not serving millions of people but it makes us better at what we do, it’s worth it. 

So it’s one of those things where you’ll say, “would you pay, as a marketing person or CMO or the owner of a company, would you pay a somewhat reasonable amount of money to have a real-time feedback loop of your most dedicated users?” And if the answer is no, you’re doing something wrong.

Because it’s so hard, too often you make assumptions about what people want, and you’re wrong. And it’s hard. How do you then actually get to anybody? Do you survey people, do you focus group? The answer to those things are probably both, yes, and we do those two things too, but you can’t imagine how valuable it is to just get this constant stream of information. 




comments powered by Disqus


Written by:

The Control Room - Conversations for Growing Companies

The Control Room - Conversations for Growing Companies on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.