Alums Who Do Cool Things: Ryan Charles ’02

From Brown ID picture to sweet formal headshot.

If you missed the time-waster from a couple weeks back, Ryan Charles ’02 is a Brown alum who does a cool thing. That cool thing is Consmr – a website that lets you finally cement your feelings toward Quaker Oatmeal and any other consumer packaged good with a 1-5 star rating. Yup, shitty healthy breakfasts of yesteryear can finally get what they deserve and you can get Flair  (like this, except it only exists on the Internet). Anyway, we contacted Ryan by e-mail, because that’s just what blogs do, and heard more about the cool thing he does. Interview and Ryan’s Brown favorites list after the jump.

A Few Random Facts to Start:

•  Favorite Professor: Prof. Hazeltine
•  Favorite Providence Restaurant: A few of my favorites are long gone, but Meeting St. Café was always on my list.
•  Favorite Meal Plan Food: Chicken Carberry with Cheese
•  Favorite Place on Campus: The Young Arcade (may it rest in peace)
•  Freshman Dorm: Emery-Woolley
•  Best Brown Memory?: Any night that ended up at East Side Pockets
•  Favorite Movie: Le Pacte Des Loups
•  Favorite iPhone App: MLB At Bat, Zagat for iPhone.
•  Favorite Twitter Feed: FakeAPStyleBook

What did you study at Brown and what influence, if any, did it have on your career path? Was there a particular class that shaped your interests or pursuits?

I’ve often found myself thinking back to a class I took on international negotiation as part of the IR program. There are numerous parallels between negotiation on an international scale and those in business development. Some of those principals have served me well in creating great business partnerships.

What was your pre-Consmr career path?

My first job out of school was at an e-commerce start-up where I honed my skills in digital marketing and business development. After they were acquired, my love of food led me to the Zagat restaurant guide where I eventually took over their mobile programs and partnerships. The apps I worked on became all-time bestsellers on the iPhone and iPad, and the partnerships I built with companies like Foursquare and Foodspotting put Zagat in a prime position for their acquisition by Google.

How did you come up with the idea for Consmr? And what was your biggest obstacle in getting the site off the ground?

Coming out of the recession I found myself more conscious about purchases both large and small. As a result I often turned to websites and apps to help make decisions about things like restaurants, movies and books, but there was nothing for consumer packaged goods. While shopping at the local grocery and drug store I realized the purchase process was trial and error. You might say I was inspired by regrettable purchases ranging from frozen foods to mouthwash. I envisioned the solution as a Rotten Tomatoes or a Yelp for everyday products. When launched Consmr it was often described as “Yelp for groceries.”

When you start a company you’ll have tons of ideas and only a few can be a part of the first iteration. Figuring out what will or won’t be in the product that you first introduce to the world is always a challenge.

Do you think this site has potential to change how people actually shop? Do you think it has particular appeal to young adults and college students?

The average supermarket has 50,000 products. Imagine if you could narrow that down to just one aisle of the best choices. When you add in the product suggestions from your friends it makes the experience even more personal. Your shopping experience has the benefit of crowd-sourced wisdom as well as recommendations from your social networks. It’s like a friend whispering in your ear “don’t buy that, buy this.”

Many college students are buying grocery and drugstore products on their own for the first time. I know my first “real” trips to the grocery store were at Brown. I remember shopping at the CVS on Thayer and diving to the Super Stop & Shop when I was off-campus. The perfect time to utilize a platform like Consmr is when you’re shopping on your own, have no idea what products to buy and have limited funds to spend. It’s certainly a match for college students. Back then I learned that not all veggie burgers are created equal.

Big plans for the future?

In the near future we’ll surface personalized recommendations that will help you discover new products similar to how Netflix recommends movies based on your ratings. While we haven’t announced anything official, it’s safe to say that you’ll one day browse Consmr’s ratings right on your smartphone.

Any advice for Brown students with any interest in new media entrepreneurship?

The first thing I would say is to come work with us! There’s no better way to understand entrepreneurship in the tech world than to start working with one.

Be sure to seek out advisors involved in new media entrepreneurship. Even the major start-up accelerators and incubators provide a network of advisors as an important part of the learning process. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to relevant industry people and ask for a few minutes of their time.

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