Fudha to Raise More Money for Charity, Expand into Cincy

Fudha has made quite a splash since its launch nearly twelve months ago.

In that time, the Columbus-based internet company, which offers one dining deal a day, has partnered with more than 70 independent restaurants and raised thousands of dollars for charity.

“Our first year has been really exciting,” says Tanisha Robinson, Fudha’s founder and CEO.

“We’ve learned a lot and been fortunate to work with, and have the support of, the best restaurants in Columbus,” she adds. “We have been able to donate over $13,000 to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Based on that alone, we would definitely call this year a success.”

Read our interview with Robinson to learn how living and working abroad impacted her approach to business, which local restaurateurs contributed to Fudha’s early success, and what Fudha customers can expect in 2011.

Melanie McIntyre: What inspired you to launch Fudha?

Tanisha Robinson: I saw the Groupon/Living Social craze coming, but felt that their models don’t necessarily work for small, independent businesses– restaurants especially. Add in my love of the great food in Columbus and a background in Internet marketing, user experience and website monetization, and Fudha was the perfect way for me to apply my skills to support an industry and businesses I love.

The charitable component comes from the fact that hunger is a huge –and growing– issue locally, and I’ve often felt that many people are more comfortable addressing hunger in far away places instead of in their own neighborhoods. We’re really driven to raise awareness and money to help the families in Columbus that need it most.

MM: What resources did you use to get Fudha up and running?

TR: I lived off my savings and my partner, Jed Haldeman, the technical brains behind our operation, was willing to work for equity, which definitely made Fudha possible from a financial perspective. Fudha is the epitome of “bootstrapping,” for sure!

MM: Did you rely on any local advisers, role models, or mentors for advice and input when starting Fudha?

TR: There are so many inspiring entrepreneurs that I interact with and gain support from on a regular basis. Columbus is such a great place because there are so many great people that are willing to be accessible and offer help and advice. Specifically, though, Fudha would not exist without Liz Lessner of Betty’s, et al., and Jeff Mathes of Due Amici and Barrio, who were invaluable to helping me figure out how we could make Fudha work for restaurants. They also offered their restaurants to be our pilot offerings, which allowed us to validate our concept. Also, Jason Ross of JackThreads has always been a great resource on building a strong web-based brand with passionate users.

MM: What were you doing professionally before you founded Fudha and how has that work experience affected the way you do business?

TR: I served and bartended and washed dishes at several restaurants around town while I attended Ohio State University, which gave me a lot of exposure to the fantastic restaurant scene here in Columbus. That experience really helped me understand how these small business thrive and certainly informs how we structured Fudha. I also lived abroad in Syria and did a lot of work in human rights. It was a really powerful experience and it is a huge reason why philanthropy will always be a major component of my work.

MM: A philanthropic component is what makes Fudha different from Groupon and other deal-of-the-day websites, right?

TR: The major reason Fudha is different is that we give $1 of every Fudha sold to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, which is the equivalent of two meals. Another way we’re different is that we’re more like QVC in that we have limited numbers of discounted certificates available. It’s more of a frenzy than a free-for-all. We don’t do spas, teeth whitening, stripper pole class, spray tanning, etc. We only work with wonderful and locally-owned, independent restaurants.

MM: What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced in the last year and how did you overcome it?

TR: Our biggest challenge has been trying to keep up with adding features. The site is drastically different than when we first launched it. Customer and restaurant feedback has us working to constantly improve and fine-tune the site. For example, feedback has brought us to offer credits for referrals, gift certificates, gifting Fudhas, and offering more deals per week. We’re also in the midst of some other really cool features, like a mobile version of the site and tracking return customers.

MM: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of owning your own business?

TR: I get to work with phenomenal restaurant owners and chefs who are passionate about, and so good at, what they do. We’re thrilled to have such supportive partners and be able to help them bring in business during their slow times. Plus, I get to enjoy the best dining Columbus has to offer and work with someone I really like.

MM: What would you like Fudha to accomplish in the next year?

TR: We’d like to continue growing in Columbus, expand the number of restaurants we work with –there are still so many great ones we haven’t featured yet– and increase our donation to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank for our second year. And we’re also preparing to launch in Cincinnati soon!

MM: Anything else you think I should know?

TR: We’re moving into our new office at Workshop Co. soon and really excited about our new space!

To learn more about Fudha, visit Columbus.Fudha.com.