One of most popular Internet apps is no more. After more than 30 million downloads, Seattle-based Urbanspoon has been gobbled up by Zomato, which has discontinued the name.
As of this week, all of Urbanspoon's content will migrate to Zomato.com, which bought the company for $60 million in January. Zomato, founded less than a decade ago by a pair of business consultants from Bain & Co.'s New Delhi office, was Urbanspoon's leading competitor outside North America, with a search presence in 30 countries.
The Urbanspoon app began life less than a decade ago, when a couple of Seattle entrepreneurs, Ethan Lowry and Adam Doppelt, teamed up to locate and identify nearby restaurants: just shake your iPhone and you'd get a roster of taco stands, or pizza parlors, or burger bars. (They were using the iPhone's geolocation function overlaid with restaurant addresses, a novelty at the time.) Food bloggers were encouraged to link their posts and photos to the Urbanspoon listing, readers could add their own comments. It was a groundbreaking marriage of tech and taste.
Within three years, Urbanspoon was acquired by Barry Diller's IAC Interactive, a $3 billion broadcast media and internet conglomerate, which was vacuuming up search companies like ask.com, dictionary.com, and TripAdvisor. The Seattle founders pocketed their paychecks left the company. IAC installed professional management, which guided the company towards successful geographic expansion (Canada, the UK) and a venture into restaurant reservations, known as Rezbook, as well. "We want to build out the restaurant experience," former CEO Keela Robison explained from her headquarters offices on Lake Union. "Not just for our existing users, with, for example, more explanations of menu terms" and maps to locate restaurants inside malls and airports. Urban knife and fork, in other words.
But competition in the niche sector of mobile restaurant search proved to be fierce. Yelp moved aggressively into online reviews, protected by court decisions that permitted anonymous posts. Foursquare built its business model on "finding nearby friends." Google started running reader reviews, as TripAdvisor had already been doing for some time. Groupon, as always, muddied the waters by allowing cheapskate diners to complain about poor service. Outflanked by behemoth Priceline, which bought rival Open Table for $2.6 billion, Urbanspoon finally sold its struggling Rezbook operation to the same company in 2013.
Still, with 30 million unique site visitors a month, Urbanspoon remained a takeover target. The first-and-fastest pursuer was Zomato, whose CEO, Deepinder Goyal, saw Urbanspoon as a golden opportunity to get into the US market and came from India armed with a a very big check. After five months of tinkering with a new site design for Urbanspoon that didn't meet expectations, Goyal gave the order to pull the plug. There will be some adjustments to make sure ratings remain consistent after the content migrates to Zomato, but one thing that's gone for good is the "shake to search" feature. Nearby restaurant locations still show up, but you no longer have to twitch your wrist.