“When you open Fota, you see a stream of photos from restaurants around you,” said the app’s creator and CEO Kevin Zhang ’19. “All these photos are ranked by users who upvote and downvote them, kind of like Yik Yak or Reddit.”
When users select a photo, they are presented with restaurant information such as hours and pricing, as well as ratings and reviews by other users. The app is also linked with Google Maps to provide directions to selected restaurants.
In addition to Zhang, other app founders include Albert Zuo ’19; Head of Engineering Bryan Zhu ’19; Chief Operating Officer Jay Lee ’19; and Chief Design Officer, Zhang’s brother Albert Zhang.
The team got the idea for the app in January, developed a prototype in the spring, redesigned it over the summer, and started beta testing when they came back on campus. In the process, the app was tested by 20 University students.
The app’s founders believe that Fota will cater to the rising "food porn" trend of presenting glamorized pictures of food on social media, and they consider their app to be the perfect app for foodies.
Audrey Shih ’20, one of the students who tested the app, said she likes how the pictures are not professionally shot and don’t make the food look nicer than it actually is.
“A lot of the time my friends and I want to get food on Nassau but we don’t know where to go or we don’t really know what each restaurant serves,” Shih said. She believes that Fota would be the solution to these kinds of situations.
Fota also features a rewards system in partnership with the local eatery Fruity Yogurt, in which users who frequently upload photos and write reviews can get a discount on frozen yogurt and bubble tea purchases. Fota hopes to expand partnerships like this in the future.
The Fota team believes that the app’s emphasis on visuals makes it distinctive in mobile food searching.
“Once they see what the alternative is, I don’t think they’ll go back,” Zuo said.
“It’s just a really easy and intuitive way to find restaurants,” Zhang added.
Pragya Malik ’19, who also tested the Fota’s beta version, said she appreciated the app’s usability.
“I'm someone who loves looking at photos from restaurants, food blogs, travelers, and food magazines on Instagram already,” Malik said, adding, "It was great to take that to a functional use with Fota. I now get to see food photos from my own backyard and decide where I could get it with just a click!”
Zuo said he discovered through Fota “how powerful photos are at conveying information.”
Fota is currently focused on a Princeton launch, but in the future, its founders hope to expand it to larger cities like New York, and even nationwide.
“[The app] combines a lot of interest that already exists in food photos — whether on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, or INSIDER Eats ideas — with a functional purpose,” Malik said.
“I like that it's made by students for students,” added Adam McClain ’21.
Fota is currently a part of the Keller Center's eLab Incubator Program, which allows students to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions. Its advisors include Brian Kernighan GS ’69, a professor in the Computer Science department, and Luke Armour, the founding and managing partner of Chaac Ventures. Fota’s founders received $500 of funding from the University for the app.