Conference Connection – Sarah Norris and Justin Cunningham
The theme of the first year of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference was “Connecting” and we are happy to report many of you did just that! If you are considering attending this year and want to know if it is a worthwhile event, don’t just take our word for it. This year’s conference theme is “Celebrating Others” so we wanted to celebrate and spotlight a few attendees that credit the event with some exciting opportunities and experiences.
We started with the story of Kate Hufnagel connecting with David Lurie of SunCups. Now we are sharing Justin Cunningham of the iPhone app YoDish (he and his wife Emily are both food allergy advocates! Emily writes at Allergen Menu Mom) and Sarah Norris of Gluten Free & Dairy Free Walt Disney World. The post below is a Q&A between Homa Woodrum, Co-Founder of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, and Justin & Sarah. You can also check out Sarah’s Q&A post from last year prior to the event!
Justin Cunningham, founder of the YoDish mobile app (2013 FABlogCon sponsor), and Sarah Norris, owner of Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW, connected about a possible collaboration online but it wasn’t until the 2013 Food Allergy Bloggers Conference that the two were able to make it happen.
Homa: Sarah and Justin – Thanks for offering your perspective about FABlogCon and how it provided you the opportunity to kick off your collaboration, especially for those who haven’t been before. What were you thinking as you made your decision to attend last year?
Justin: When I look in the rear view mirror at myself, debating whether or not to attend the first Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, I just laugh. I laugh because there really wasn’t anything to think about – it was a no brainer.
Nonetheless, I was intimidated because I was a complete newbie to the food allergy blogosphere (in fact, I hadn’t written a blog yet!), and it didn’t help knowing that I would be in the incredibly small male minority. Secondly, it seemed like a big expense at the time given that I wasn’t sure how connected I would be to the community once I got there.
Fortunately, my insecurity was put to rest shortly after signing up. The first thing I did after registering was to post that I was attending in the Comments section of the FABlogCon “Who’s Coming” page.
I had wanted to add myself to the list for a long time but couldn’t since I hadn’t committed. For some reason, I was a little nervous about putting it out there. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen. I guess I expected to hear crickets, and then to hear people asking “who is that guy?”, but that is exactly when the group started to surprise me. Not long after I commented that I would be there, Caroline Moassessi of the blog, Grateful Foodie, replied with, “Just a warning Justin, you’re going to fall in love with this group!” And that was true, I did. From that point on, I felt completely welcome, and I was very excited to meet everyone.
Sarah: Like Justin, I was also debating on whether to attend the conference originally, but fate intervened for me. On a whim, I entered a contest on the Amazing & Atopic blog – Selena Bluntzer was giving away a free registration to FABlogCon – and one day I got an email from her saying that I had won. Well, how could I say no to an amazing opportunity combined with the amazing generosity of a fellow blogger? Immediately, I was blown away by the support and welcoming nature of this group that I would soon be meeting.
Homa: It’s a great group of people. We’re so excited to get everyone back together again for FABlogCon2014 so that others can feel as welcomed as you two were!
Justin: Right, exactly! As to networking, the conference far exceeded my expectations. The great thing about FABlogCon is right from-the-start everyone is walking together on common ground with a common purpose. Extensive work by Simon Sinek and others has established this truism: when you work with people who believe what you believe, the stage is set for innovation and extraordinary achievement. FABlogCon is the perfect setting for us to come together to take the food allergy community another step forward.
Beyond the common purpose which brings us all together, FABlogCon’s format drives interaction among attendees, making it easy to make new friends.
Sarah: I couldn’t have said it better myself, Justin. There is something so fantastic about a community that works together on so many levels. And of course, FABlogCon’s format really did bring us all together. By the end of this conference, I came back with so many new friendships and plans to embark on new partnerships!
Homa: That’s why Jenny started it! How did FABlogCon enable you to launch your collaboration?
Justin: I had reached out to Sarah via email months before the conference because I knew based on her blog that we shared a passion for helping people safely expand their horizons when it comes to dining out. I was inspired by Sarah’s blog – an incredible collection of hundreds of gluten free, dairy free restaurant reviews at Walt Disney World – and I was looking for feedback on an early version of the app. Later, we developed capabilities within YoDish to help bloggers extend the reach of their content to app users looking for restaurant dishes nearby. So, I reached out again to propose we collaborate.
Well, we were both busy – like we all are – and we weren’t personally invested in making progress because we didn’t know each other. Since we were both attending FABlogCon, we agreed to connect there to talk it through.
When we met face-to-face at FABlogCon, everything fell into place. You just can’t establish the same rapport online as you can when meeting face-to-face.
Moreover, in the first panel, Joel Warady of Enjoy Life Foods mentioned Sarah as an example of a blogger who is professional and on top of her game. That immediately confirmed for me that working with Sarah would be productive and enjoyable. I might have stumbled across a tweet by Joel saying the same thing, but hearing it in that setting had a much stronger impact.
When we announced that Sarah’s dish reviews were available in the app, people reacted so positively and many joined the movement. Today, Orlando is the most active community on YoDish.
It has been a great pleasure to work with Sarah. It is a privilege to interact with someone who demonstrates such consistent professionalism and possesses such a strong focus on quality.
Sarah: When Justin initially reached out to me, I was intrigued by his work developing YoDish and the possibilities that he had proposed about the project. But, like he said, we were both busy and investing in making progress on a collaboration wasn’t really progressing along without that personal connection. It’s so true that when we met at FABlogCon, things really did fall into place.
The first thing that struck me when I met Justin was that we shared common goals, passions, and a desire to bring continued awareness to the community. Hearing about his family’s food allergy story really connected us in a much more personal way than any email or business call would. His strong drive to create something unique and impactful on the community was evident immediately. And his approach was so professional and thoughtful. Not only did we share common goals and experiences but we easily began to think of ways we could work together to make the Orlando area reviews a robust resource for local residents and visitors. There was synergy going on, and I think we both knew pretty early on that this collaboration would be a great one.
In this day in age, we’re always working collaboratively, especially in a virtual environment. And in this kind of environment, you look to work with people who you can trust and feel confident in collaborating with, and for me this completely describes my partnership with Justin and the YoDish brand. What has and continues to impress me about working with Justin is his continued dedication to the community and the quality of work that he provides. He has made working on this project such a pleasure, and I look forward to continuing our collaboration serving the food allergy community for years to come!
YoDish, a free iPhone app, enables people with gluten intolerance and food allergies as well as vegetarians and vegans to share their restaurant dining experiences while on-the-go. YoDish is socially driven and leverages FourSquare’s global locations database to provide users an instant list of the restaurants near their current location. Users can post their dish reviews in the app as well as to Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare. Justin and Emily Cunningham, whose daughter has been diagnosed with severe allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts, understand the challenges involved in eating out with dietary restrictions. Learn more about and download YoDish at http://bit.ly/YoDish.
Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW was founded by Sarah Norris in 2009 and is the top source for gluten free and dairy free dining information at the Walt Disney World Resort. Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW contains reviews, tips, tricks and trip planning resources to assist those visiting Disney with a special diet. In addition to resources found on the Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW site, those interested in special diets at Walt Disney World can also find on-the-go information through the site’s podcast, found on iTunes.
Thank you so much Sarah and Justin! Don’t forget to register today (be sure to check out our new schedule system that lets you build your own schedule of events and panels to attend) and we’ll see you in September!