Get in My Goldbely: An Interview with Vanessa Torrivilla

vanessa_and_joe_goldbelyWant regional foods delivered to your doorstep such as Magnolia Cupcakes, or how about a Cronut? In the mood for the famous Salt Lick Bar-B-Que? Well, Goldbely is here to make all of your foodie dreams come true. Getting its start as a Y Combinator company, Goldbely had the goal of delivering the nation’s finest delicacies at a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket. They currently offer 75 food brands that will leave you salivating for more.

The food can make amazing gifts, something special for a celebration or a way to spoil yourself silly. Most of it is packed in dry ice with heating and/or cooking instructions in the box. Did I mention that Goldbely was named Time Magazine’s Top 50 Websites of 2013? It’s certainly easy to see and taste why. For all of these reasons and more, we decided to interview Vannessa Torrivilla, who is the co-founder and UI/UX designer for Goldbely. Read on to learn more about her and this amazing company.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get started in your field, and what led you to Goldbely?

Vanessa Torrivilla: I have a Computer Science degree and coming out of college my first job was as a programmer. A year or two into it, I started falling in love with design and branding.  I taught myself all the design programs and decided to freelance to work on creative projects, solely as a designer. I worked with creative ad agencies, fashion brands, art galleries, fashion retail stores and restaurants . I only took on projects that inspired me and gave me creative freedom. Brands like Outback Steakhouse, TMZ, Faith Connexion, Eats.com and David & Goliath Tees.

With my technical background and after working on logos, advertising, print & web projects, I was ready to jump back into building technology. I was excited to marry my technical thinking with my creative abilities.

I moved to New York to be a part of their growing start-up scene. I worked for BuyWithMe who was a heavy competitor to Living Social during the group-buying craze. I became their lead mobile designer and worked with a team of amazing IOS and Android developers who inspired me to design and awesome mobile product. I also worked for Blip.com; a video platform who showcased original web series, kind of like an indie Hulu. I worked on designing their unique embeddable video player experience and well as their ipad and iphone apps.

My Co-Founder (and now fiancé) Joe Ariel (now husband) has been involved in food/tech for a very long time. While brainstorming on his next move after being CEO of Delivery.com he shared with me his vision of creating a marketplace that showcased only the best foods in each city in the USA. He wanted not only for people to discover & try them for themselves, but to share them with friends and loved ones wherever they were. I loved the idea and quickly volunteered to design the experience. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a fun brand, while building a fresh new way of discovering the yummiest eats ever.

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Have you always known you wanted to be a UI/UX designer?

VT:I became a UI/UX designer before it was even called that. I remember having to explain what an Interaction and User Experience Designer was, because those concepts weren’t at all as familiar as they are today.

I had a CS brain and the design sense to make beautiful, simple and branded experiences. Early in my career I became obsessed with designing user experiences that were pretty and smart. They were both, and still are, equally as important.

What was the most challenging thing when you first started with Goldbely?

VT: I had a full time job in New York working for Blip.tv I would work every day until 6pm on a video product and on Goldbely between 9pm and 2am. I did this for a few months and some days it was very difficult to switch mindsets from video and content to ecommerce and food.

Luckily we were accepted into Y-Combinator’s Winter 2013 batch. This was the perfect incentive to jump into my passion full time, I could finally focus on just Goldbely. It was perfect timing, it’s what needed to happen right before we launched to the world.

Your homepage is obviously mouthwatering; what was the thought process behind the layout?

VT: I’ve always thought online shopping should be more like browsing a beautiful magazine, filled with product images that inspire you to own them. I wanted to do what Fab had done for design and Gilt for fashion. Visiting their sites, you are visually stimulated by all the possibilities of color, style, fit and design of what they showcase.

In our case, I’ve wanted people to bite into these yummy foods we’ve discovered. I’ve focused on creating a mouth-watering experience by highlighting textures and layers of all of these amazing foods. It’s not enough to showcase a beautifully lit cake on a table. When it comes to food, triggering people’s memory and imagination of tastes and textures is key. Seeing a slice of spongy layered cake, with a gooey caramel center and slathered with cream cheese icing can instantly transport you to a time you had one just like it; or can drive you to want to gobble it up for the first time, that instant.

Initially, did you have any idea that Goldbely would be as successful and well received as it is?

VT: I thought people would like the concept but I had no idea that it would be like this.

However, it does make sense. We live in a time when people are craving food experiences that go beyond their local reach. So many shows on The Food Network, Travel Channel and Cooking Channel are about discovering incredible unique eats all around the world but the experience on TV just ends there, you just learn about them.

Goldbely gives people the ability not only to discover these places, artisans and dishes people are head-over-heels obsessed with, we enable everyone to try them and share them with loved ones, even if they are not in the same city.

How did it feel when Goldbely.com was listed as Time Magazine’s Top 50 Websites of 2013?

VT: OMG, I was stunned, honored and excited beyond belief! It had only been a few weeks after our Y Combinator Demo Day, and we experienced a sudden surge in traffic one random early morning. It came as a complete surprise. No idea how they even knew about us, we had just been live for a few months.

During that time our team of 4 was living and working together in the same house. Needless to say I worked in my PJs the entire day, but happily. It was a real honor to have our idea be embraced the way it was.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator always said to us, “make something people want”. That day, it really felt like that’s what we had done.

What is it like having the perk of being able to try some of the best food in the world, do you have a top five list of unforgettable ones?

VT: The most unbelievable perk ever, we literally try all the foods showcased on Goldbely.

Everything we feature has been shipped to our office in San Francisco and taste-tested by everyone on our team. We have tastings almost daily and everyone gets a say. We ultimately just feature the products that ship well, make amazing and unique gifts and are the best things we’ve ever tasted.

We did some analysis recently and found that of all the products our amazing purveyors make, we showcase only about 5% of them. This is to give you an idea of how curated our site is. Our ultimate goal is to be the go-to-source for the best, cult-following-worthy foods in each city in the USA.

It’s pretty hard to come up with just 5 unforgettable foods, I’ve discovered so many amazing things I didn’t even know I LOVED since we started this:

  • Dominique Ansel’s famous Cronut, which we shipped as a special flash sale very recently.
  • Momofuku Milk Bar, EVERYTHING from their location in Brooklyn. I can’t pick just one of their items, I’m obsessed with them all.
  • Vienna Beef Hot Dogs from Chicago. It’s really the best I’ve ever had. I didn’t even like hot dogs until I tried this one.
  • A Four Berry Pie from Achatz in Michigan is the best berry in all the land. It’s hard to find a pie like this anywhere else, the berries are juicy and gigantic
  • A Coconut Cloud Cake from Caroline’s Cakes in South Carolina… seriously, swoon-worthy. I love to gift this to everyone I know.

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What advice would you give to readers who want to get into UI/UX design, and work for a successful startup?

VT: Jumping into a start-up with very little to no pay can be hard for most people. I know it was for me, especially living in NYC. However, I was so passionate about our mission that I spent every free moment of my time, dreaming up and designing our Goldbely brand and experience. I was lucky to have come across this opportunity and I immersed myself in it , wholeheartedly.

My advice as a designer is to get involved in projects that you feel passionate about. It doesn’t even have to be your full time gig. Just try different projects, work with different teams during your free time and see where that leads you. Only accept projects you are excited about, where you can see that your knowledge and experience can really help.

I was stoked to create a brand, a story behind the name and an exciting food discovery experience people could aspire to having. I followed my passion, and so has the rest of our team.

What does the future hold for you?

VT:Well, there’s still so much to do in building this Goldbely dream, we’ve only just gotten started. I’m working on new food photography, video and constantly improving our platform to offer a super smooth experience for all our fellow food explorers.

We believe in creating a fun food exploration and tasting experience from the moment you land on our site, until you receive your box filled with quite possibly, the best bites you’ve ever had. I will be working on perfecting our platform for as long as I possibly can. I love this and can’t imagine doing anything else any time soon.

When life gives you lemons, you?

send them to one of our amazing food purveyors to bake us a sweet & tart lemon cake, obvs!

It was an honor to interview Vanessa, follow her and Goldbely on Twitter. Trust me, you’re missing out if you don’t visit the site! So tell us, what Goldbely offerings leave you drooling?

All images courtesy of Goldbely

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