Raise your hand if you have trouble making decisions. Anyone without a hand up, you’re a liar. It’s the bane of our existence: opportunity cost, the thing we all learned about in our Intro to Econ courses. Having multiple options to choose from is both a blessing and a curse, and very often the cause of arguments between families, friends and couples. What bar should we go to tonight? What CD do you want to listen to on the roadtrip? What’s for dinner?
It was during a very similar predicament between Gary Mendel and his friends when he came upon the idea for his company, Yopine.
“It was the perhaps cliche moment where you’re sitting around with your friends – in our case talking about our annual ski trip and we start trying to decide where to go,” Mendel said. “The emails pile in, the text arguments occur and eventually all is forgotten or lost. And since no decision could be made of that, you’re forced to make a hasty decision because you’ve run out of time.”
Mendel needed someone, or something, to help facilitate and make the decision for them. From this came the light bulb moment. If only there was a social polling app in which you could pose a question to a crowd of people –public or private – and get their opinions based on the choices. Take this hypothetical: you’re in NYC’s East Village for one night and you want to know the best restaurant to try on the block. Instantly, you can post your questions to Yopine, which is a loose Spanglish translation of “my opinion,” and people can respond what they think is the best.
That’s where it all started, but since his roadmap has expanded to focusing on trade shows and even educational uses, as well. Trying to decide who should be the keynote speaker at a conference? The organizer can send out a poll via the Yopine app to everyone registered via their cellphone numbers. University professors love to use polling in their classrooms, but often require spendy iClickers, which students will literally never use again. However, with Yopine, a teacher can poll a class of students on a potential test question to gauge their understanding of the material for free.
“With Yopine you can ask anyone whose contact, Twitter or Facebook you have to join a poll or brainstorm,” Mendel said. Though, to actually create the polls and questions, you have to have downloaded the app.
Mendel is currently a resident of 1776 and working on Yopine as a completely lean startup. That, he said, is one of his biggest challenges. It’s hard “saying no more than yes” because the company’s funding is completely bootstrapped by its founders. And since unveiling the initial versions of the application – it’s in version 1.5 now, Mendel said – holding back from chasing every new direction he can take the company in has been hard. And that is Mendel’s goal – to make his product as utilitarian as possible, so it can help anybody make any decision.
But he’s been working hard, spending most of each day at 1776 to improve Yopine, with little time for leisure activities like working out, riding his ’77 triumph and playing bass. Plans are in the work for an “ambient Yopine,” which will make the app even more hyperlocal he said. “Your phone will recognize a network – like the WiFi at 1776 – and even if its not connected, it can be grouped for a certain poll,” Mendel said. This means better geographic validity to a generally addressed question. So if that college professor wanted to quiz a class, he or she wouldn’t have to enter each contact into the Yopine app, but rather connect with the ambient group and question away.
This isn’t Mendel’s first try at startupland – he’s had experience in both success and failure, from which he’s confident he’s building a great product.
“You have to love the space you are in before you can honestly lead your company…and I do,” he said. “We are moving into education, government and anywhere there is any sized group you’d like to poll or obtain feedback on any question or topic imaginable. 2020 or bust.”