IO Feels Like A Human Friend Who Gives Great Restaurant Recommendations

Yelp and Foursquare don’t quite get the job done. We’re all aware of this. Which works out well for IO, the Russian company behind a social concierge app that can answer any question you have about restaurants.

Honestly, if I wasn’t here to tell you that IO is a machine, you might mistake it for a real-life, brilliant human being.

Here’s how it works:

After you sign up, you can simply ask IO any question about a restaurant and, in return, you’ll get an easy-to-understand answer. You can ask something like “Where is the closest place I can get a nice lobster tail?” or “Where can I take my date if she loves Mexican food?”

When you’re at the restaurant, you can also ask things like “What’s the best thing on the menu?” and IO will answer like a friend, as opposed to answering like a machine. But you won’t just get a one-word response. IO will send you a digital card for the restaurant it suggests, giving you access to information like the menu, hours of operation, phone number, location, etc. When you ask about certain dishes, you’ll get a photo of that actual meal to see what you’re getting yourself into.

To learn more about you, IO asks what you think about your experience. The app makes it super convenient by offering two or three preset answers so you can quickly give feedback, or you can type out an original answer.

The company was founded by Eugenia Kuyda, who was an editor-at-large at one of Russia’s biggest media properties, and has chosen to take that knowledge base and put it towards answering people’s questions.

Right now, finding a good place to eat is far more difficult than it should be. You can use guides, like TimeOut, but they normally don’t come with any advanced search functionality to find where you’re going. You can also use apps like Yelp or Foursquare, which are supposed to be good for search, but end up taking a lot of time and effort to filter through things.

IO_animated“Our interface is our biggest differentiator,” said founder Eugenia Kuyda. “We elevate social discovery from taxing inputs to a fluid, natural conversation, and our machine learning system helps us ‘forever learn’ user preferences so the recommendations only sharpens with repeated use. If a user is a vegetarian on a budget, IO will never forget that. With Yelp, you have to plug in the same info every single time.”

With IO, you ask a question and get an answer the same way you would if you were texting with your friend.

In terms of revenue, IO has quite a few options. First, the company has the option to pick up affiliate feeds from reservations and bookings, and then move on to delivering sponsored recommendations. IO can also offer incentive exchanges that will encourage users to visit partners with coupons or discounts.

The service is up and running in Russia, with 1000 users on the closed beta who write 200 messages on average. In fact, 60 percent of the current user base talks to IO every week.

Today, the app expands out of Russia to New York city, with plans to expand to other markets (and verticals, like movies, nightlife, etc.) very soon.

To learn more about IO or IO, head over to the website here.

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