February 10th 2016
Story originally written and experienced: January 19th 2016
Food, drinks and dreams.
Put those three things together?
And you’ve got one hell of a vision, and two ambitious men puppeteering the entire shebang.
Their names are Rudd and Vivek.
And they’re the creators of the SALT app.
An epic application that allows you to log, list and share your favorite/need-to-try hot spots.
I’m not an app girl.
But this app? I use Big time. In fact, I’ve been addicted.
Long before I reached out to see if these two innovators would want to chat with me.
And that idea sparked for a couple of reasons:
1. I liked their app and e-mails. They were funny, genuine, personalized:
2. I dug the fact that they socially saved me in a serious way during my New Year’s extravaganza I was telling you about. What happened was:
There I was, as the hostess.
With 12 hungry friends circa lunch time, and every great place I knew in the area? Was booked up completely.
But no need to fear.
The Salt App was here!
In desperate need of a solution, I opened up the app to map out what was around me, but even better—places I had personally logged on my wish list well before.
7 places Popped Up instantly—and the first place was a hit. I called. And they had room for us.
A speakeasy-ish restaurant called Grape & Vine where they set up a table on cue and even let us do this:
It was a good moment.
And I kind of wanted to tell them.
It would be cool for them to know.
Maybe I could score an in-person meet and greet to garner inspiration for me and other people as well.
The e-mail interaction went like this:
And then they responded.
The conversation continued, and we decided to meet on Tuesday, January 19th, around 6:30 PM at their SoHo office.
The weather’s wind had a bite that night, and I could feel my hands tInGlE mercilessly every time I extracted them from my pockets to triple confirm the address.
Silvia was on her way.
To take notes of this inspirational talk with me.
So I sought shelter in the lobby and impatiently pEEred out the large glass doors until I saw her silhouette zoom around the corner.
“Silvia!” I said waving with animated gusto from the other side of the window pane. “In here! We’re going to be late!”
A unforgiving gust of wind followed her entrance.
And the only thing better than being greeted by heat again, was meeting the people we came to see.
“Thanks for coming!” Vivek said almost immediately as the elevator doors
We felt his positive energy all the way from pushing of the elevator buttons to the grand tour of the office to the cleared-out conference room reserved for our conversation alone.
Then Rudd joined. Shook our hands. And invited us to sit.
“I really appreciate you meeting with us,” I said wrapping my green coat around the wooden chair.
V: “Of course! We’re happy you reached out.”
They were both excited, inviting and friendly—just as we expected, which naturally laced the conversation with a colloquial ease and a high hope to satisfy our curiosities.
O: “Should we just start with the obvious?” I said as I pulled in my chair.
R: “Sure! Let’s get started.”
“Okay, great.” I said whipping out my pen and paper and encouraging Silvia to do the same. I placed ink to pen—then said, “Okay, the meet and greet. Tell me about it. How did you two find each other and how did this epic app come to be?”
“Well we only met two years ago actually,” Vivek began. “Rudd was teaching tech education and I was project managing in the city, but I always had this idea I couldn’t stop thinking about—the idea of creating a tool that made sharing recommendations seamless, accessible and personalized. I told a friend about this in passing one day and they said they had a friend named Rudd who had a really similar vision and that he had even started it, and it was called ‘Varkala’.”
O: “Varkala? Why Varkala?”
“Well,” Rudd chimed in. “Vivek’s right, I, separately from him, and before we even met, had this same idea, and even started to develop it on my own since I had the technical background. I called it ‘Varkala’ because it was the town I had the idea in.”
“And it’s crazy because Varkala is actually in South India, and really close to where my family is originally from,” said Vivek, “as if there wasn’t enough coincidence already.”
“No kidding! But the app isn’t called Varkala now?”
“Correct. So Vivek and I heard through our friend that we had the same idea, and the two of us decided to meet and grab beers. After talking we realized…we might be the perfect team. He had the marketing experience and I had the technical skills so we could both add a different element to the same vision. So we decided to just go for it. Team up, take the leap and make it work. And eventually, we switched the name from ‘Varkala’ to ‘SALT’ because…well no one knew how to spell Varkala.”
“Makes sense. I barely know how to say it. So why the name SALT?”
They both looked at each > < other.
Then back at us. <<
“Gives life more flavor!”
O: “So okay, you met, decided to go about this full force by divvying up the marketing and the technical skill set, but what were you ultimately setting out to do? What problem were you trying to solve in people’s everyday lives?”
V: “We were aiming to make recommendations easy, fun and personal. But we knew this was a big feat so we decided to start simple—food recommendations.”
O: “Well, what about Yelp? Isn’t that a similar idea?”
R: “Yelp does a great job of being a Yellow Pages, but lacks real, personal recommendations. The Salt App allows you and your friends to log and share and your own list of favorites and discoveries—so anything you scroll through has either been chosen by you or personally recommended by a friend and you’re not reading comments from random strangers or deciding restaurants are the best because of paid ads on the Internet, it’s a genuine curation of what you appreciate and what sparks your interest.”
O: “I really love that idea actually, because so many of the places I love in New York City aren’t found in the lists you look up on even the most valid news sources or blogs. It’s all sponsored content! And even some of the restaurants I do see on those lists, I’ve been to and I know much better, and usually much cheaper ones. I feel like this app not only establishes a good trust with what your taste is and what you’d share with other people, but it’s also a great opportunity to put smaller businesses in the forefront?”
V: “Yes! We’ve definitely loved that about creating the SALT app. Working every day for our dream while also helping out other businesses in the process.”
O: “Do you see the SALT app going beyond just restaurants and bars?”
V: “Definitely. We want to graduate to book and movie recommendations as well. But for now, we’re getting comfortable with expanding what we have while still planning to head that direction.”
O: “What would you say has been the most surprising thing throughout the development process?”
R: “Hmm, I’d say the biggest surprise, at least for me, was how many people who didn’t even know us would show up to support us. For example, we put on these community events in the city to get to know people who use our app and get their insight, and it was really great to see how great the turn outs would be. It meant a lot.”
O: “I’ve definitely been there. Felt the same way about my storytelling events I’d host in the city. And speaking of supporters who don’t know you, I told a couple of my friends I was coming to interview you tonight, and my friend Al had a question. He wanted to know what the most difficult thing was about creating an app that you didn’t expect.”
V: “Making an app “social” isn’t as easy as it looks. Implementing the remembering/bookmarking functionality was something we intended to have wrapped up by early last year! But we’re still working on it even now to some degree. We’re definitely making progress, but it’s been a learning experience for sure.”
O: “Since you spend so much time on the functionality of the app, is there any feature you think is underrated and people might not know about?”
V: “Yes! I think people would be surprised to know that we have Uber functionality. So if you jump in the app and click where you want to go, you can call an Uber instantly to pick you up and take you there.”
O: “That’s dangerously amazing.”
V: “I know!”
O: “Do you have insight as to where your app is most popular?”
V: “Yes! Right now our biggest participators are in South Korea, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.”
O: “For two people who decided to give this a go just two years ago, those are stats to be proud of.”
O: “I really appreciate you two meeting with us to night—on a whim, in the middle of winter and after hours. It’s insane to think that something that is so prevalent, useful and underrated in my everyday life was created by the two people in this room, and more so to think how often I gloss over the innovators such as yourself who commit their everyday just to make this opportunity a reality for me or anyone else. I like that the core of why you pursued this in the first place, and why you’re continuing to pursue it, is simply to make other people’s lives easier and help them hone in on their favorite things.”
R: “It’s definitely been exciting to see this all finally coming together, and especially exciting to see how it’s doing exactly what we hoped it would for other people.”
O: “As a dreamer, and as someone who is friends with a lot of dreamers, what would you tell those of us who need the extra push to really pursue something they love whole heartedly?”
And I loved their answer because it was completely real and so far beyond being cliché.
R: “Following your dreams is a crazy thing and takes a lot of bravery to do, especially considering there’s no certainty involved, but here are the things I know we both kept in mind, and still keep in mind, as we’re still pursuing this dream now:
1. Find a partner.
It’s tough to do absolutely everything by yourself. More importantly, find someone with a different skill set so you can both add value to the dream in a different way. By each focusing on our own aspect of this brand—I’m technical work and Vivek is marketing—it really allows us to grow upwards and outwards at the same time.”
I completely understand why people are afraid to quit their jobs. Financial security is nice! Why give that up? But if you know you want to do it, and you’re willing to try it—plan accordingly. Actively practice a more modest lifestyle, and create goals in mind of what exactly you’re trying to afford so you can have a better idea of what you need to save up for. A new website? Merchandise? That way, when you do take the leap, you’ll me more prepared and have less surprises.”
V: “And on the note of leaving your 9-5 to switch gears completely:
3. Really free up your 9-5.
Freelance work is a really great way to stay afloat but, don’t take on so much freelance work that you’re now working 9-5 every day but just in a different way. The whole reason you moved away from the time commitment…was to move away from the time commitment! I think that’s important to remember.”
Truth be told, I thought the interview from Top to bottom was important to remember.
A unique reminder of how many people spend their day to day to create, develop and build things to make our lives’ conveniences even more convenient and our joys even more joyous.
And for that, I say:
And don’t forget to download the SALT app here!
Bacon and more bacon,