The writers of the HBO show Silicon Valley in 2017 spoofed the long process of app development in an episode titled “Intellectual Property.” In the episode, the often odious landlord Erlich found himself in a venture capital pitch meeting with the programmer Jian-Yang, who was looking for investors for his octopus cooking app. The VCs seemed surprised they weren’t being pitched on an image-recognition app that would allow the user to aim a cell phone camera at food and receive nutritional information and recipes.
Erlich and Jian-Yang walk away with $200,000 to develop SeeFood, and they find the app they eventually develop is great for identifying any food item that’s not a hot dog. And thus the developers pivot their idea to “Not HotDog,” an app that is now actually available on the Apple store, and which usually – but not always – correctly identifies which of two pictures side by side isn’t a hot dog. (In Silicon Valley in the 1990s, this idea probably could have gotten funded for real.)
SeeFood is an app that will also actually be available in the coming weeks, but it has nothing to do with the show Silicon Valley. Instead, it comes from the mind of a Salinas man named Robert Guerrero, who graduated from Everett Alvarez High School in 2008, went to Hartnell Community College and then transferred to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he graduated in 2013 with a degree in business and entrepreneurship.
He worked in sales at Solar City for a time before landing at Google, where he works as a recruiter. Along the way, Guerrero found himself at a Japanese restaurant he describes as so authentic and old-school that the menu was written entirely in Japanese and he had no idea what he was doing or what to order.
“I was wondering, ‘Why isn’t there a place where I can see pictures of the food?’ and it clicked,” Guerrero says. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bug and tech is my hobby and passion and I wanted to build a product or service to help people.”
Guerrero built a team by going to hackathons and tech events, asking people about their skill sets and using his recruiting chops to find programmers who could help bring his idea – creating visual menus to allow customers to see their food before ordering – to life. But in a case of life imitating art (this may have been a plotline on Silicon Valley as well) the five-person team fell apart because they had to get actual jobs.
“I was literally heartbroken. It was, ‘We like the project but we need to work,’” Guerrero says. “It was like a band splitting up.”
That was in 2018. Guerrero started rebuilding a team and eating out – a lot – watching diners in restaurants and trying to determine how and why people order when dining out. “I wanted to know, would pictures help, or is this my problem?” he says. “I wanted to know what incentivizes people to order.”
Guerrero (who still has his full-time gig recruiting at Google) and the team are slowly rolling out the app, working with local restaurants that include The Flying Artichoke, The Village Restaurant, Mi Taqueria El Kiosko, Dudley’s and Villa Azteca. (Not only are those places on the app, but Guerrero has been creating short documentary spots and posting them to the SeeFood app Instagram feed.)
Guerrero hasn’t sought funding for his nascent company and doesn’t intend to, yet. He wants to build local traction first. SeeFood has been approved for the Apple and Google app stores, and Guerrero is mulling the official launch for sometime in the next few weeks. Thanks to Silicon Valley, he knows there’s already interest.
“When that episode came out in 2017, I had already started working on the idea, and I created a Facebook page for it,” he says. “When it aired I got a bunch of likes and engagement and I had done nothing to warrant that level of activity.”