If you’ve ever ventured solo on a business trip, you know what it’s like to be alone with just your thoughts over dinner. Some people like it; others don’t. And many people, even if they do like it, would love some company from time to time.
Networking app DineHero has pulled up a chair to your table.
It was founded by two brothers, Thet Soe and Thiha Min — one traveled alone for work extensively, the other ate at a restaurant every night – who wanted to pair something people do every day with a social element to expand their networks. Launched in October 2016 out of 1871 in Chicago, the company has quickly integrated with Google, Facebook and Yelp and is currently available through an iOS networking app.
The platform aims to connect users on a point system with an added monetary payment system for when users run out of points. Each user starts with a base number of points to invite people — ones they do or don’t know yet — to their events. The user is rewarded with points when they organize events — lunches and dinners — and the number of reward points is based on how many seats there are at the table. The max number of seats currently is four, including the organizer, because the goal of DineHero is to keep it intimate for networking purposes.
PYMNTS spoke with Thet Soe about the launch of the platform, where it aims to go and how the business uses both points and regular currency to bring people together.
PYMNTS: What exactly is DineHero?
TS: DineHero is a networking app that allows you to eat with a network of other professionals over lunch or dinner. It’s intended to transform the online networking into interaction over food.
PYMNTS: What’s the story behind the founding?
TS: It’s basically based on our own experiences. I used to travel a lot for work, and I was eating alone most of the time. And even, sometimes, I was so tired of eating alone that I ended up eating alone in the hotel room, which is a worse experience. This can be common for business travelers. Also, my brother eats out all the time. So we looked at the market, and there are some products that connect people like this out there, but they aren’t really effective. That’s why we decided to start DineHero. The way we see it is, we’re not solving any problem, we’re just basically providing a new solution to a problem. Everybody eats at least twice a day, so why don’t we expand our network by doing the same daily activities together?
PYMNTS: Where does DineHero fit into the Uber of X or sharing economy trend?
TS: The analogy is more like LinkedIn plus Yelp. When you set up an account, you have to fill out a simple profile, with school and job as a requirement. You can add other information, such as hobbies and other aspects. So for the pairing part, we use our in-house algorithm that looks at the shared interests and background and then sends you a recommendation for whom to meet with. We want to pair up like-minded professionals.
PYMNTS: Explain the payment model. Why did you choose this method?
TS: It’s based off a points system, which we consider to be a positive reinforcing point system. That means that, every time you organize an event, you earn points. Every time you join someone’s event, you earn points. And we want to have as many successful events as possible. Referring people to the app also gains you points. So what do you do with these points? The only time you need to spend points is when you’re inviting people to your events. It all depends on how you use it. If you run out of points, you have to buy points.
PYMNTS: Let’s say I’m in Los Angeles today but headed to NYC. How does DineHero work?
TS: Let’s say you’re going to New York City tomorrow. You can create an event in New York before you head there. After you post the event in New York, you can invite friends who are in New York to eat with you, but you can also invite people that you don’t know to dine with you. It could be anybody on the platform. You can simply wait until somebody says they’ll join you, or you can start inviting people near your event so that you can pick and choose whom you want to eat with.
The point system works like this: You earn points for creating the event. You post that event in New York, and you earn more points the more open seats there are at your table. You’ll earn 40 points for two open seats. If you have three seats, you’ll earn 50 points. They don’t even have to show up. You are rewarded for organizing the event. But also, we give you a number of starting points so you can start organizing events and inviting people to join you. By creating an event, you will always receive points. The only way you expend points is to invite people. Inviting people costs you 10 points each. You can also send out what’s called a “Radar Invite,” which sends out a certain amount of invites depending on the number of open seats at your table. So if you’re in a hurry but don’t care who you eat with, the “Radar Invite” sends out multiple invites. The platform incentivizes people to invite people they don’t know.
The maximum amount of people at a table is four, including the person who creates the event. That’s because we want to keep it small so that there is high interaction with people at the table.
As for the reservation, it is up to the organizer to make the reservation where they want to eat. DineHero does not make the reservation.
PYMNTS: How many users do you have at this point?
TS: We’re very new at this point. We’re growing, and so we cannot disclose that number just yet.
PYMNTS: Where is DineHero available?
TS: DineHero is integrating with Yelp, Google and Facebook, so all the restaurants that you see on Yelp can be seen on DineHero. So anywhere there is Yelp, there can be DineHero.
PYMNTS: What does this mean for the sharing economy? Is it sustainable?
TS: I do think the sharing economy is sustainable. The way we see it is, we all eat every day. We also know that networking at bars is not very effective. So we want to be able to expand our network while doing something we do every day. You never know who you can meet through DineHero — a business opportunity, a startup company.
PYMNTS: How much funding have you received to date?
TS: Bootstrapped now, but we want to grow our user number before we go to investors.
PYMNTS: Talk about your team. It’s you, your brother and who else?
TS: There are four of us total. We have two other programmers. We’re all engineers on our team.
PYMNTS: Every startup has bumps and hurdles. Can you share one or two?
TS: Definitely, every startup has some hurdles in some way. We worked on the product for about two years. We built the prototype, added features, took out some features and basically did a lot of iterations. We showed friends so that we had a product that people would enjoy using. So we spent a lot of time on iterating the prototype [laughs]. It was longer than we had hoped.
At the beginning, I noticed a lot of pushback from some users. But after some press coverage, that helped get more people on board.
PYMNTS: What’s the biggest success for DineHero to date besides launching?
TS: I would say the biggest success was getting press coverage in our first month. We’re pretty happy with accomplishing that quickly.
PYMNTS: Where is DineHero headed? What’s the plan?
TS: We want to build a community so that people can expand their network while doing their daily activities. That way, we can make more connections and build opportunities in the future.