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Restaurant tips app takes on Foursquare and Yelp!

Marina Obrazkova, special to RBTH

The fad for marking your presence
at favorite restaurants, clubs and galleries for your friends on social
networks is big, and getting bigger. Alter-Geo capitalises on people’s desire
to preen in front of one another.

The company’s latest app, Gvidi, which
means “guide” in Esperanto, selects the best places to suit the user’s tastes
and tells each user personally where to go. About 500 places offer discounts to
users of the network.

The story behind Gvidi begins some 10 years ago, when Alexander Dolgin, a professor
at Moscow’s
Higher School of Economics, studied the problem of how to quickly choose which
cultural sites to see.

To get tips on what’s on around town, users were asked
to answer 100 questions. The replies were analyzed and the person was then
offered books to read, or films and plays to go see.

Russian start-up
AlterGeo followed the same pattern, with the difference that the user answers
questions over a period of time and not on paper but by marking the places
visited on a map. Then the app analyzes which places someone visits most
frequently and offers recommendations on similar places to visit.

Over a number
of years, AlterGeo created the biggest cross-platform geo-social network in Russia and the

The idea for the
company began with Denis Alayev, a student at the Moscow Aviation Institute,
who noticed that Wi-Fi was better than GPS for indicating someone’s location.
His further research and a dissertation on the topic provided the basis for
setting up the company.

In 2008, Alayev teamed up with friends Anton Baranchuk
and Alexander Dorzhiyev to create Wi2Geo (“wireless to geography”).

Both of his friends hail from Irkutsk, where they first
met. Anton Baranchuk had previously tried several of his own start-ups,
including AnyChart, an international company and a world leader in visualising
data and business graphics (among its clients are Microsoft, Oracle, ATT,
3M, Ford, Volkswagen, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Reuters, Juniper and

He currently combines his work at AnyChart with working on Gvidi.

Alexander Dorzhiyev
studied at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, majoring in “Systems
Analysis and Management” and “Applied Mathematics and Physics” (specializing in
“Modelling of Technological Processes”).

He started hosting work while still a
student and later set up his own hosting company. Dorzhiyev recalls that, when
he came up with the idea, smartphones had not yet arrived and phones could only
locate objects on the map with the help of GPS. He had to tout the advantages
at various conferences until he found the first investor.

The initial capital for
AddVenture was $50,000. In the summer of 2008, the new type of navigation hit
the market. Along with navigation, there appeared AlterGeo, which soon began
integrating with social networks.

By that time, the money had run out
and another venture fund, Kite Ventures, came to the rescue. It forked over $1 million.

Two years later, in June 2011,
a group of investors, including the venture funds Intel
Capital and Almaz Capital Partners, and American businesswoman Esther Dyson,
acquired a blocking stake in AlterGeo (slightly over 25%) for $10 million.

company became a Skolkovo resident in September last year.

After securing the financing coming,
the developers decided to create an entertainment application. “We decided to
offer a separate service addressing a specific problem: finding the right
emporium for every individual.

We thought it would be wrong and superfluous to
add new functions to the already versatile AlterGeo. Because the service would
obviously work as a mobile app, ideally it should give a clear answer to one
specific task,” says Alexander Dorzhiyev, co-founder of Gvidi.

far, Gvidi has not produced a return on the investment, but the developers say
it is too soon to judge the results. At this stage, the challenge is to
identify the parameters that guide people’s choices and perfect the hardware.
Although 1 million people use the service, it has yet to turn a profit.

has won awards at numerous contests, including the runner-up in Food Startups,
the winner of Apps4All in the Best Offer Using Google Services on other
Platforms, the international Tactrick Android Developer Cup for Best Idea, and
was named the Best Russian Startup among European companies.

Digital News, an industry newsletter focusing on tech start-ups in Russia, says
that within two months the project will secure the necessary funding “which
basically means that Tacktrick will now finance the Gvidi app for Android.”

company is preparing versions for foreign markets and is set to develop
applications. Gvidi’s main rival for check-ins internationally is thought to be
market leader Foursquare. Gvidi argues, however, that while Foursquare
registers only check-ins, Gvidi uses assessments of restaurants and the sites
visited by the user.

major rival is Yelp! Gvidi hopes that its app’s ability to read off interests
via Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare will give it an edge over Yelp!, which
bases its recommendations only on Facebook.

Solodky, CEO of the venture fund Life.SREDA, believes that Gvidi should compete
with services that offer reservations in restaurants.

looks as if, with technology and a team, the project managers are trying to
monetize the technology… by using it for more focused sub-projects, such as
reservation of restaurant tables,” says Solodky.

the United States,
restaurant reservation services (such as OpenTable) have soared in popularity
with clients and investors. Several projects in Russia are trying to occupy this

question for Gvidi is whether it will become the leading service in a still-to-be-developed
niche,” says Solodky. If this service takes off in Russia, “not just the first, but
the second and third players on the market will get investors,” he says.  


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Mystic Maggie

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