The thing about Yelp is that taste is incredibly subjective: One person's five-star sushi spot for California rolls is another sashimi snob's one-star dump. The review-powered site also seems to be rife with either disgruntled and impatient customers or easy-to-please, exclamation point-obsessed foodies.
Enter Passant, a location-based app that'll help you find friend-approved places near you. Founded by New York-based tech startup vet Serkan Piantino (who just so happens to be the former director of engineering for Facebook AI Research), the app's currently available for iOS and has already been used to curate lists from the Big Apple to Cairo to Fiji and beyond.
"One day I was looking for a place to have dinner and found my way to Yelp. I sorted every restaurant and the top result was the Chipotle on 8th Avenue [in New York]," Piantino tells us. "It's a great Chipotle — possibly even the best — but I saw so clearly that collecting star ratings from strangers was a broken way to figure out how to enjoy my evening. So we set out to re-imagine how to discover places through friends and trust and built the simplest solution we could think of."
The app works like this: Simply save your favorite places — from hole-in-the-wall cafés, indie boutiques, art galleries, and even grocery stores; anything with an address, really — and rank them from No. 1 and so on, or "Star" them to keep them in your general bookmarked locales. You can also keep lists of specific cities and track the spots you've visited. (Our own Passant list is ever the work-in-progress.)
Passant will also automatically save the places you've visited in a private list accessible only by you — and nope, your data will never be viewed or shared. And if you need a trusted rec for your current coordinates, the app's Explore Map allows you to browse nearby places that have already scored your pals' stars of approval.
We recently had a quick chat with Piantino — who's also the creator of collaborative platform Spell, which just nabbed $15 million in funding — to find out more about how Passant got started. Read on to find out how "old-fashioned" Google Docs lists inspired the development of his app, his latest recommendation for the next time you're in NYC, and what's coming down the pipeline for Passant; then download the app on the Apple Store here.
What frustrated you about the other location-focused apps on the market, and how did that inform development of your app?
Almost every app in this space is based around what strangers think. We get a small number of people with lots of spare time to write reviews and then present that to everyone else as a set of objective ratings and recommendations. But in reality, everyone has their list of favorite spots, travel logs, et cetera in Google Docs or starred in maps, but nowhere our friends can easily access them. I wanted to build something where your phone would do the work of helping you maintain that list, and then make it easy to tap into your friends' lists as well.
Can you tell us more about the team behind Passant and what they bring to the table?
We're tiny. There's me, one amazing iOS engineer, and Sarah who runs all our marketing and social. We use our size as an advantage because it means we can be patient and build the right product and we don't have play all the annoying games apps these days play to get users to spam their friends.
Where was the last place you visited for fun, and what did you love about it?
Live Piano Karaoke at Sid Gold's [here in New York]! The fact that someone is playing along with you makes the songs more performative and personal. And there's something about this place that's so committed to being fun I really never have had a bad time there.
What additional features do you expect to roll out on Passant in the near future?
We're working on a lot, but probably the major things are customizable lists and other ways to really capture every way people organize their recommendations. How can we make it even easier to keep your favorites organized? How can the phone do more of the work? We are also working on making it easier to plan travel using the app.
Download Passant for iOS at the Apple Store here.