foona Review: Foodies Connect Over Mealtime Socializing

foona Review is a social network and an online directory for food; where foodies can connect with other foodies and share their experiences and views for food and eateries. It’s a public space working on an integrated search system where people can easily find new recipes, check out new cuisines and find the restaurants for better eating. Zohare Haider and Sophiya Khawaja talk about how they came up with this innovative idea and what makes foona different from other food portals.

foona Review: Foodies Connect Over Mealtime Socializing

It started back in 2005 when one of foona’s founders had a terrible experience in a restaurant. The food was not properly cooked and it had an unpleasant taste; and the offered deal was quite different from the one enlisted in the menu. Back in 2005, it was a novel idea to give people the chance to decide what they should pay for and enjoying their meals.

Facebook was not the most popular social network in Pakistan and initially the plan didn’t work out as it was envisioned when foona was launched in 2006. The project restarted with bigger commitment in terms of resources and time in 2012. At first, the development was quite slow. However, after the launch of its beta version in April 2014 with a dedicated team of 5 people and some part time support from The Digital League, foona is now catering to 7 cities in Pakistan.

There are other popular online portals and apps for food like Foodpanda and Eatoye but foona is different. It primarily focuses on developing itself as a source of information for food, recipes and quality of hotels and eateries, allowing users to make better decisions. “We don’t do food delivery at all. foona aims to be a source of information and education around food. We offer an integrated searchable directory of up-to-date and accurate restaurant listings, recipes from around the world and home-grown chefs, coupled with reviews and experiences.”

For Zohare, foona’s inception was to be a public platform where people can share and read reviews for eateries and providing them information such as a phone number, website or physical address of a restaurant. “We can create and offer all these fancy platforms that can promise to change our lives but we want to focus on ‘access to basic information’ that helps people make better decisions, whether on the go or throughout life.”

Users can simply search the entire database to browse through top listed eateries, recipes and shared experiences. The search results are further narrowed down by location, price, preferences and reviews, which allow you to find multiple locations for the availability of same food with greater comparison in terms of quality. Users can also submit missing entries for food types and eateries which is later reviewed and approved by management team. Plus, you can have your own kitchen full of recipes on foona if you are a kick-starter chef.

At the moment Zohare and his team are focusing on building the platform, content base and brand awareness across Pakistan. They planned to identify kick-starter chefs to feature and source globally shareable recipe content as low-hanging fruit to generate activity and also partnering with food/recipe content publishers. Zohare elaborates, “Next step is integrating the restaurant listings, recipes and reviews (for both). Strategy around ‘Experiences’ is still being planned and will come at a later stage; think Lonely Planet for food. Once we think we’ve tackled Pakistan, we will then set our eyes and hands on food markets across South Asia.”

Social Media Presence and User Feedback

Zohare and Sophiya plan to be headquartered out of UAE for neutrality and serve the South Asian market which is foona’s primary target audience. Collectively, foona serve up about 70 million internet users. For their social front, foona has been working with The Digital League for 7 months. Sophiya Khwaja elaborates, “TDL has done a tremendous job and helped us in building an audience from a mix of content types, ranging from recipes, #foodporn and soon restaurant listings on foona.net. Our intended audience is anyone who loves to eat and has access to the internet.”

Their social media statistics are quite impressive also.

  1. Their Facebook page boasts over 40,000 fans, with a reasonably growing engagement rate
  2. Twitter has around 300 followers with an engagement of about 2.2% / month
  3. Instagram also has about 300 followers with an average of about 30 likes per post
  4. Google+ has over 96,000 post views.”

 

Sophiya further adds, “We aggregate a lot of global content from major recipe publishers on Facebook, to whom we also ensure credit is given. We link directly to the original source so we don’t dilute any traffic – instead we are a significant referral source. Any issues we have are dealt with swiftly by TDL, who monitor our social presence around the clock.” Urgent issues are directed through a streamlined channel that is used to handle all inquiries. From there, depending on the query, it is directed to the correct person for handling and closing.

The Tech Aspect

foona is developed on top of an in-house customization of codeignite framework bundled with a MySQL database. The customization adds module auto -loading, user access control and better active-record system to codeigniter along with several helpers and hooks that makes it run faster with greater security. The interface is designed using a customization of the twitter bootstrap framework (that uses HTML5 technology) bundled with several additional JavaScript and jquery modules that add power to the foona experience.

Conquering the Food World

Zohare and Sophiya are very determined to conquer the food world with credibility, abundance of easy to access information and become the source for all things food. Since picking up steam this year, the brand’s growth has been incredible. “The team is growing; appetites also. This means we have a lot of financial management to consider – which results in the need to focus on building a robust, solid platform and audience so that investors can take a tasty bite out of our business in exchange for some fund-raising we will need,” says Zohare.