Birds of a Feather: Why Lauren Rosenthal’s Recommendation App is Taking Off

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The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies.

Lauren Rosenthal, Founder and Chief Chick of Birdie, is leveraging the power of recommendations in decision making.

As a process engineering expert, finding ways to streamline systems came naturally to Lauren. After spending one too many nights scrolling through her TV guide trying to find something to watch, she knew there had to be a better way. So she created Birdie, an app that helps users quickly find their next binge-watch using the power of friends’ recommendations.

We asked Lauren about her journey in building her company from the ground up, strategy in hiring, and advice for others seeking to succeed where others have failed.

Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: What led you to start Birdie?

I started Birdie because I truly believe it can address the paradox of choice in our everyday lives. My long-term vision for Birdie is to expand beyond TV and movies into all other categories where our personal network can support and expedite decision-making.

Whether it’s finding a dentist or a florist for our wedding, we are all inundated with too much information. It overwhelms us and we end up spending unnecessary time and energy performing research.

If you could add a Birdie extension to an internet browser, perform a search for “plumber in San Francisco,” and then have verified recommendations from the people you trust, you could narrow down options in minutes, not hours.  

Analysis paralysis has countless negative effects on our lives, including time wasted and stress and anxiety. It’s a butterfly effect that Birdie can combat head-on. Long term, I want the term “Birdie it” to be like “Google it”—it’s what you do to quickly find well-vetted answers from those you trust. This concept can have a material positive impact on society. Just think what we could all do with another 15 or 20 minutes in our days. And that’s just for TV and movie search time—it’s the tip of the iceberg.

Q: What problem does your company solve, or aim to? What are some of the most meaningful impacts your company has had to date? 

Birdie addresses the paradox of choice in everyday decision-making so you can spend less time held captive to your device, and more time enjoying life. We are starting with what to watch next given that people spend more time consuming entertainment content than anything else other than sleeping and working. And it’s doubled since the pandemic began. Since Birdie has launched, I’ve heard from countless users that the app has lived up to its promise, helping them quickly find something new and great to watch. 

The best part has been how often I hear that starting a new show with their roommate or significant other has provided a much needed escape from the redundancy of pandemic life, and a nice change from just streaming “Parks and Rec” or “The Office” yet again.

Q: In what ways do you think differently about your industry than others do? In what ways are you disrupting your industry?

Birdie is a utility, not an experiential app. Unfortunately, a lot of people have tried and failed at the “friend’s recommendations” app concept because they’ve approached it as the latter. We don’t overwhelm users by encouraging them to upload pictures or videos or add public comments. It’s self-service, pure and simple. By selecting a few filters you can limit your options. With fewer options, it’s easier to make a selection and you ultimately feel more confident about your decision. The whole process takes less time, too.

Ultimately, we all want to have a quick answer that we feel good about, and no one else does that like Birdie. We believe the social dilemma is real and it’s scary, and we’re doing our part to help people spend less time on their devices. We’re starting with finding your next binge-watch, but look forward to helping solve analysis paralysis in countless other parts of everyday decision making.

Q: At what point in your business did you decide to fundraise? Why was this the right time and right approach for your company? 

I’m in the process of kicking off fundraising following Birdie’s launch in March. I wanted to get the beta out into the world first and test out some of our organic growth plans. But I’m a solo founder without a technical background. Having a full-time developer working on Birdie is critical to taking it to the next level, and that requires funding.

I have also learned that as scrappy as I can be and as many growth hacks I execute on, Birdie is a community that needs to be nurtured properly. That’s a true skill set and one that I do not possess, which is the other reason I decided to fundraise—to properly invest in marketing and community building.

Q: How important have you found branding to be for the success of your company? What are the most important branding lessons you’ve learned along the way?

From the start, I wanted Birdie’s branding to be clean, approachable, and fun. It’s evident in our color palette and playful terminology. We call ratings “chirps” and the people you follow your “flock.”

Although we wanted to use familiar terms as much as possible, it was important to communicate that ratings and comments on Birdie are different from your typical review site because that’s not our competition; group texts are. A chirp is what you’d text back to a friend asking for a recommendation. That’s it—a one liner.

Most people have a visceral reaction to being asked to write reviews. But when you frame the process differently, it’s a whole new conversation.

Q: What are the three most important things you look for when bringing on a new hire?

First, do they pass the airport test? Is there basic rapport with them? Working on a startup is rough—there’s tremendous ambiguity and pressure and long, tedious hours. Without that baseline level of actually enjoying one another’s company enough to crack a joke once in a while, it just isn’t going to work.

Next, do they pass the Van Halen M&M test? I bury a task in the job description. I delete any application that is generic and doesn’t include a response to my M&M. Detail orientation is critical, I don’t want a cookie-cutter application that 50 other companies received. I want someone on the team who has the patience and cares enough to devote time to reading job descriptions. That’s not asking too much, yet 90 percent of applicants fail this test.

Finally, do they genuinely believe in Birdie? Birdie is doing something very different and not everyone is a believer. I want to surround myself with those who “get it.”

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?

I would tell anyone who is thinking about starting their entrepreneurial journey to talk to people in their network who are a year or two into launching a startup as well as a few people who failed. We all know about the unicorns. But for every one of those, there are thousands of brilliant ideas that still didn’t make it.

It’s no secret that being an entrepreneur is hard, but reading about it in a book or article isn’t the same as hearing about the experience from those you trust. It’s one of the most difficult professional routes you can take. You need to hear not just the good but the bad and ugly too. Best to go into it with eyes as wide open as possible.

Lauren Rosenthal is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.

  • Originally published April 15, 2021