Local start-up taps into city's love of food in creating rate-the-photo game

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 12:58pm

Your phone's full of them: nostalgic remnants of long-digested meals, images of gastronomic beauty that you couldn't help but capture.

Food photos are those moreish delights that we sometimes post on social media and more often leave lingering in our smartphone gallery.

FoodieQuest plays on people's obsession with taking pictures of food
Simon Squibb, nest

But one local start-up hopes to change all that.

FoodieQuest is an upcoming smartphone game that pits food photos against each other. Think the controversial beauty-judgment website Hot or Not, but with suppers instead of hopeful sexy kittens and studs.

In a nutshell: players upload snaps of their finest meals onto the app, while others rate them against competing photos. The winners are those with the most positive votes.

The game is the brainchild of Ben Hall, a British-based entrepreneur who came up with the concept after noticing Hong Kong's fascination with spontaneous, amateur food photography.

But an idea without action is just that, and FoodieQuest wouldn't have come to fruition without the efforts of Nest, a local incubator led by angel investor Simon Squibb.

"FoodieQuest plays on unique traits in Asia, in particular, people's obsession with taking pictures of food.

"People take such shots in the West as well, but it's not as an intense as here," says Squibb, who admits to having more than 1,000 food photos on his own phone.

"We've managed to invest in an idea that no one has ever thought about - it's about seeing people's obsession and creating something around it."

Nest is said to have invested around HK$1 million in the app, along with more than a year's worth of research and development time.

But all of that paid off in September when FoodieQuest was unveiled at TechCrunch's Disrupt, the annual San Francisco technology conference showcasing the world's hottest start-ups.

"All the top players in Silicon Valley came to look at our idea," Squibb says. "Most said, 'Wow, an original idea from China' - because their perception of this part of the world is that everyone's copying what's coming out of the West.

"Validation for us was that we'd come up with an original idea in Asia that could be big in most markets."

Indeed, Nest isn't restricting the app to just the Hong Kong or even Asian scene; they hope FoodieQuest will eventually take on the international titans of the smartphone gaming world. But to do that, monetisation has to fit the business model.

"You have to be careful not to make it all about money; it's about users having a good experience and enjoying the game. But we're currently talking to some brands about working on the app," Squibb says.

"There are companies out there, such as Google Ventures, that'll back something that's working, so once we've proven we're a Hong Kong start-up that's gone global, we'll get their funding. That's the headline we want."

It's a bold ambition, especially considering the number of start-ups that are flooding the local technology marketplace.

But unlike most, Squibb is thinking long term. Alongside the game itself, future elements for FoodieQuest are set to include various cuisine-related challenges that could lead to potential prizes, a social network for obsessive foodies, and a search function to find specific dishes or restaurants.

FoodieQuest is currently being beta tested, and the Nest team expects to have a fully functioning app available to the public by next month.

Time to flex your filters and prepare to take on other snap-hungry foodies.