Crowdsourcing a Restaurant

Fascinating story in the Washington Post yesterday [I still get the Sunday “hard copy” of the newspaper] about a Washington, D.C. group that is crowdsourcing a new restaurant.

Web 2.know-it-alls may sniff at calling this project “crowdsourcing” at all. But it’s an effort to harvest the best ideas of a group of enthusiasts and build a restaurant based on all that group input. The article claims it’s the first use of the crowdsourcing technique to build a restaurant. [I did a Google search and by that undependable measure the claim appears to be true.]

Linda Welch, 49, a serial entrepreneur, had gathered 386 Elements community members who have, the article reports, “helped develop the concept (a sustainable vegetarian/raw foods restaurant), the look (a comfortable gathering space with an open kitchen), the logo (a bouquet of colorful leaves) and even the name [Elements].”

“Most businesses are started because you have a great idea, and you take it out to the public to see if they like it,” Welch is quoted in the Post story. “This is the opposite. We’re finding out what people want and doing it.”

As for the genesis: The article continues,

“The Elements project began in February 2007 when Welch [49], who owns area several businesses in the District, purchased the business and liquor licenses of nearby Sparky’s, a coffee shop that had closed. Welch has helped launch 22 startups but has no restaurant experience. She didn’t know exactly what she planned to do with the licenses, other than open a small cafe. Around that time, Neil Takemoto, 40, another local entrepreneur who had worked with Welch, stopped by to chat. When Welch told him about her plans, Takemoto suggested crowdsourcing the restaurant.

“‘I said, ‘Great!’ ” Welch remembers. ” ‘What the hell is that?’ ‘”

Takemoto runs a business, CoolTown Studios, that helps companies use crowdsourcing and other social media techniques to support community development.

Here’s a schematic illustrating the collective developement process from the site his company created to support Elements:

The Elements project is a fascinating attempt at a proof-of-concept using “wisdom of the crowds” to build a real-life, carbon-based business from the ground up.

It’ll also be interesting to see what happens now that the effort has been publicized beyond the core group of enthusiasts and supporters. Since the article has appeared, about 30 people have signed up.

What happens to the wisdom ofthe crowds–and the value of their advice–as the crowd expands? Crowdsourcing theory says things will get better, as greater collective intelligence is tapped.

We’ll see. I, for one, am looking forward to the opening, sometime next year. Process is good. Product is vital for a restaurant.

Which is to say: I sure hope the food’s good.

Explore posts in the same categories: crowdsourcing, social networks, Web 2.0, wisdom of the crowds

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