This week Cambridge, MA-based personalized restaurant recommendation tool Nara announced that it has added $3 million in new funding, adding to the $4 million in Series A funding it raised in June, and bringing its total Series A funding round to $7 million. The funding was led by angel investor Peter de Roetth, who also led the round in June, and the company plans to use it to launch new apps and build out its roster of supported cities.
Nara launched in June 2012 in eight cities in the U.S. and Canada, and debuted apps for iOS and Android in November to help users find restaurant recommendations. It’s active in 25 cities including New York City and San Francisco, and founder Tom Copeman said in an interview that they’ll be using the funding to build out the platform in other cities in North America. They’ll also be using it to hire, adding to the team of 20, and will also begin to extend out of restaurants into a new category, though they aren’t disclosing which category right now.
“Things have been going really well since we announced mobile a month ago, our site traffic has nearly doubled, and our recent pageviews have been growing at an even higher rate,” Copeman said in an interview.
The platform aims to recommend restaurants based on a user’s “digital DNA,” and is based on the Nara Neural Network, a web recommendation engine developed by MIT PhD Dr. Nathan Wilson, who is now the company’s CTO, and Copeman. Users sign up online or on the mobile apps, take a quiz about their dining preferences, and can then give recommendations a thumbs up or thumbs down to help the platform learn their likes and dislikes. The platform is integrated with OpenTable, so users can add restaurants to their wishlists or make a reservation.
Along with today’s funding news, the company also added several features to the web and mobile platforms, including a ‘why’ button that lets users see why a specific restaurant was recommended to them (which will soon be added to the mobile app), the ability to see menus at recommended restaurants, foursquare integration to show users reviews, and integration with GrubHub, an online food ordering platform, to let people order food online directly through Nara’s platform.
As Copeman hinted in November, the plan is for Nara to expand to multiple consumer lifestyle categories, recommending everything from entertainment to restaurants to potentially hotels. Now that they’ve raised this additional funding, the focus will shift to not only optimizing the existing platform, but adding categories into the app to make it a one-stop shop for recommendations.
“Our goal is to have Nara be that personal internet platform that cuts across a lot of fun consumer lifestyle categories,” Copeman said. “Restaurants, we talk about hotels, we talk about entertainment, we also talk about getting into new areas of shopping.”
Nara competes with several startups looking to map users’ interest graphs and make recommendations, namely personal assistant apps like Saga and Cue, social recommendations app Jybe, and personalized recommendations platform Ness. Some social recommendations apps like Oink, which shut down in March 2012, have run into trouble since the first time users open it it isn’t populated, and requires a critical mass of users before being useful. Copeman believes the fact that Nara works without any input from other users or friends is what sets it apart.
With no shortage of apps and websites for people to turn to get restaurant recommendations and reviews, Nara faces a competitive space, and will need to scale out its available cities and supported platforms in order to hit a critical mass. Branching out to other lifestyle categories, likely movies, books, or hotels, though the company won’t confirm which ones, will be key to making Nara the go-to platform for anyone looking to get personalized recommendations.