Congrats on launching Table Needs. Can you share a bit more about bringing the product to market?
While things got off to a slow start back in 2018, we were in a pretty decent place when the current crisis hit to be able to finish up bringing it to market quickly. I’d say that probably the hardest part was dealing with the POS systems, which we were fortunate enough to be able to bypass with some new partnerships.
What was the original vision for Table Needs? How has that vision changed — or not changed — over the past 6 months?
In many ways Table Needs has not really changed from its original vision, which was to provide complete restaurant service access from your mobile device, helping customers stay happier and reducing costs / increasing revenue for restaurants. There have been many iterations on how best to accomplish this from a customer experience perspective, but I think we’ve stayed pretty true to our mission.
This touches on one of our core beliefs, that we are building this tool to benefit both customers and operators.
What Table Needs capabilities, including software features and functionality, are you most excited about and should restaurant owners and operators also be most excited about?
From a customer perspective, my favorite feature is the ability to remember orders that I’ve made and be able to easily reorder them later. People *really* hate doing the same thing over and over again, especially if it involves a bunch of steps. My favorite thing about software is the ability to automate things so I only have to do a task once, and being able to reorder my entire family’s order at our favorite restaurant quickly is a logical next step.
I think this is exciting for restaurant owners as well, as it:
- Encourages customer loyalty, since it is easier to reorder favorites
- Reduces lag time from seating to ordering, increasing table turn time
- Reduces staff time spent per table
Tell us a bit about your career trajectory. What is your professional background and what led you to launching Table Needs? How did you identify this market need?
I started out as a systems administrator back in college, but I disliked that because in that line of work people only notice when things go wrong. No one ever says “hey, I noticed everything was working today, good job,” but if email is down for 5 min everyone is calling so you don’t even have time to fix it. After that I moved to the bay area to work at a number of startups, but unfortunately, that was right at the end of the dot com bubble. I did a number of years in aerospace, which while interesting from a nerdy point of view wasn’t very exciting technically.
Eventually, Isaac Saldana pitched me to join him in creating SendGrid, which gave me the opportunity to help build a company that ran at a massive scale and is now a core part of the internet (we use SendGrid for Table Needs).
After SendGrid went public I truly intended to just retire and be done, but at my heart, I really like coming up with ideas on how to solve problems I see. I made the horrible mistake of pitching the idea of Table Needs to some friends who are in the restaurant industry, and the next thing I knew I had a team available to build it, and I figured my only excuse for not giving it a try was sheer laziness. I suck at being lazy.
I talked to a lot of people and found complete disdain for the current systems allowing at table ordering/paying. Not a single person I talked to expressed that they were happy with the current state of the art.
We expected to spend a great deal of time figuring out the best flow for customer and operator experience. From recently talking to a competitor I’m pretty sure it would have been even harder than we originally thought. Obviously, when the world fell apart the entire market landscape changed, and I’m glad we are so far along to be able to fill the current needs.
What do you like most about your work as founder at Table Needs? What are the biggest challenges, aside from the current situation?
I think what I like the most is seeing things go from the idea phase to deployment so quickly. The early stages of a startup are the most exciting, with problems coming up and solutions being found constantly.
I think having 2 small children at home to watch over constantly with no end in sight counts as my biggest challenge, but I guess that is because of the current situation.
I would say the biggest challenge for Table Needs has been getting a reliable integration with POS systems. I’ll probably write an entire blog post about that journey someday. Anytime you rely on someone outside of your own company it can be difficult, and this part continues to cause us pain.
What, in your view, are the biggest obstacles restaurant operators are likely to face over the next few years as they look to rebuild their businesses? Can technology help address those challenges?
The key to any business’s survival is customers, and I think the impact the pandemic has had on consumer income is going to be the root problem for restaurants. Many companies have simply closed their doors forever, so even if a vaccine was magically available today many people’s jobs would not return quickly. Meanwhile, most restaurants are stuck in long leases, many for buildings they cannot even let people into. When this is all over having enough customers available to make their business profitable again is going to be tough.
Are you optimistic about the future of the restaurant industry?
Certainly, but in the long run. The next few years are going to be brutal. A bar I was part owner in had to just throw in the towel this summer and close, and I know we weren’t even close to being the only ones. Eventually, as leases end and are re-negotiated businesses can get their fixed costs to a point where they can be profitable again. People will always need to eat, so customers will return, and operators will need ways to increase revenue and decrease costs. I’m proud Table Needs will be there to help get this industry running smoothly again.
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