Building Delectable: Alex Fishman and Aaron Vanderbeek Brainstorm
“What Can We Do To Make the World a More Delicious Place?“ The conversation started over breakfast in May a year ago, at Gramercy Park, in New York City. Alex Fishman had just returned from half a year working in Dubai, and his long time friend, Aaron Vanderbeek, just happened to be visiting the city on vacation from San Francisco.
Alex Fishman: How Big Data Operates Behind Learning & Loving Wine
Alex Fishman, Delectable co-founder, enjoying life on the go
Not all that familiar with wine at the time, Alex Fishman and his girlfriend had happened upon a bottle in the Dubai duty free shop that they enjoyed. They wanted to remember the wine to purchase again later, but reading the label to sort out the basic information–producer, type, vintage–was daunting. How could they learn more about a wine, if it was hard just to identify what wine they’d enjoyed? It occurred to Fishman that other consumers likely have similar trouble. He was struck with the challenge of how to make it easier.
Fishman’s work history has sorted its way through the realm of big data. In illustrating the reality of such work, he references the success of Paypal. Fishman explains that what that company did better than any other ecommerce money exchange site at its inception (Paypal got started in the late 90s, becoming a subsidary of Ebay in 2002) was fight and prevent online fraud. At the time Paypal started, numerous online money exchange companies were in operation. The difference was that while other exchange sites relied on artificial intelligence to spot fraud activities, the people behind Paypal recognized that anyone determined to defraud consumers would be smarter, more innovative than a programmed computer. Paypal chose, then, to use computers for what they did well–querying and sorting vast collections of data–while people worked with those computers to exercise their human assets–spotting patterns and anomalies in online behavior. The combination worked, setting Paypal as a leader in online financial exchange and security.
The Paypal model led to applications in other forms of security as well, including national security and border protections. The company Palantir, where Fishman worked, was born. What Palantir did was extend the financial security model that Paypal had delivered, into national border defenses to fight terrorism, increase the safety of international monetary exchange, and track crime. Included in Fishman’s trajectory with the company was six months working in Dubai, developing security solutions appropriate to the social environment there. But after several years of working in the realities of border security both in the United States and abroad, Fishman began wanting to use his skills to improve the richness of everyday life within a country’s borders. He decided to return to New York.
Aaron Vanderbeek: The Life of an Entertainment Engineer
Aaron Vanderbeek, Delectable co-founder, on the verge of infectious laughter
After completing an undergraduate education in a Music and Mechanical Engineering double major, Aaron Vanderbeek began developing nano fabrication techniques for the production of memory cards, or d-ram, with the company Samsung. Though he did incredibly well at the project, he realized his heart wasn’t singing from the work, and he decided to return to graduate school to move his career in a direction that tuned in closer to his interests. Carnegie Mellon offered a Master’s Program in Entertainment Technology, offering their advanced students the opportunity to dive into deep study of multiple avenues of entertainment from Theatre to Amusement Parks to Video Games to Television, in order to learn the fundamentals behind creating entertainment. The result of the program was to give successful students the confidence to design all different types of entertainment through all different mediums. That is, what Vanderbeek learned through the program were the foundational skills needed to design experiences.
In completing his Master’s, Vanderbeek made it his goal to find his way to San Francisco to live and for work. The move led to him working for companies in the city first to design hard-core gamer entertainment, like Dante’s Inferno, and then after, mobile social media games. The experience led to Vanderbeek applying his skills with building entertainment systems to the realm of interactive software and social media. Then Fishman called.
A little over a year ago, in May, back in the United States, Fishman decided to call his friend, Vanderbeek, hoping to schedule a Skype chat to catch up. By coincidence, Vanderbeek was actually visiting New York at the time so instead of video conferencing, the two met for breakfast. Fishman began relating his interest in working for the sake of life within borders, while Vanderbeek talked about his work in video game design. By the end of breakfast the two had realized a common goal–to make life more delicious–and brainstormed the early stages of an answer to the question of how to do just that. As the meal came to a close, Vanderbeek made Fishman a deal. If Fishman would move to San Francisco, Vanderbeek would quit his job so the two could work together. By September, a year ago, the two had incorporated their new company, Delectable.
Delectable: The Wine App, 2.0
a screen capture of my recent Delectable wine diary as the system identifies a Vermouth I posted. I’ve been trying it out and been acting tricky, posting pictures of other drinks besides wine and images with lots of corks or multiple bottles. Delectable’s id’ing softwear really does always work. Amazing. This image shows only one screen within the program. Other page views of the app show what friends have been drinking, or recent activity, among other things.
Together, Fishman and Vanderbeek built their iPhone App, Delectable 1.0, offering a way to help users identify and remember wines. The original design allowed users to take and store a photo of a bottle of wine to build a kind of wine diary for bottles to be remembered later. The remarkable element of the app though went beyond simply storing images–the app identified and named the wine for you, recording the producer, vintage, and exact wine type–alleviating the kind of confusion originally felt by Fishman in the duty free shop in Dubai. Since the release of version 1.0, the pair have gone on to develop a Delectable team with other engineers, both from the tech and the wine side, to assist in expanding the functionality of the app.
Today, November 1, marks the official release of version 2.0. With the upgrade, Delectable expands the program to a more community based experience. Much like Instagram, a user on Delectable can share an image to their online community with comments as desired. However, while on Instagram you simply post a picture, on Delectable the wine in the image is identified for you. But further, what Delectable 2.0 does differently is not only identify the exact wine, but also offer a simple rating system for that wine with room to type in comments, and a way to purchase it again. The Delectable team works with the best possible source for locating requested wines at no additional cost to the user. What the Delectable 2.0 app does, then, is combine Image-identifying software with the benefits of social media and online retail, all in your phone.
As Fishman and Vanderbeek describe it, they believe wine is to be shared and enjoyed. Their goal, then, is to make every step of the wine finding-and-buying process easier for the consumer to help increase that enjoyment, while also helping the consumer to connect to smaller wine producers to share in unique experiences. In their view what differentiates Delectable 2.0 from many other wine apps is the source of information and income.
Other wine apps generally make their money, and therefore also direct their marketing, based on resources directly from a wine seller–be it a producer brand, an importer, or a distributor. The reality of that is that mostly larger companies can afford such efforts, and as a result it is often larger producers that direct what is marketed, mentioned or sold on other wine apps.
The difference with Delectable is that it is individuals that get to post for themselves the wines they enjoy, whatever those wines happen to be. Since each user also decides for themselves who they want to follow on Delectable, individuals on the Delectable platform are driving what wines anyone is or isn’t exposed to, rather than marketing companies directing such influence. It isn’t that users can’t post wines made or sold by larger groups–indeed users can share any wine they enjoy. It’s that what is posted is directed by the consumers themselves. In this way, Fishman and Vanderbeek see themselves as helping to fill a gap in the wine world–the opportunity for consumers to connect more directly with wine made from smaller producers.
Congratulations to Alex Fishman and Aaron Vanderbeek, and the entire Delectable team on today’s official release of version 2.0!
The Delectable 2.0 app is free. Check it out!
If you are interested in downloading the app you can do so in the Apple app store here: del.ec/download?ew
Thank you to Alex and Aaron for taking the time to meet with me. Thank you to Julia Weinberg.
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