I've been talking about packed houses for months now at each Consumer Show, but it turns out I was underestimating what that actually means. Last Thursday, the ATL startup crowd exceeded even my expectations and sold out the fifth Consumer Show — and, in fact, sold it out more than once, as organizers Michael Tavani and Dave Payne raised the seat limit several times to accommodate the companies actually pitching. (Who, you know, kind of needed to be there.) Not to mention some very quiet appearances by some very heavy hitters on the ATL founder and venture capital scene.
So all I can say to you is, plan ahead and get your tickets now for the next show in August!
Also, can we talk about how much I enjoy Tavani's intro and housekeeping sections? From coaxing people to sit down (people who like to stand in the back at events, something to note: If you don't sit down the first time Tavani asks, he will start calling you out by name and trying to assign you a front-row seat), to showcasing some pretty awesome Consumer Show videos by Chil Creative, to talking about SDC's doubled-down focus on growing B2C in ATL, he really kick-starts the event and frames it out for first-time attendees. Just saying, it makes me happy!
Anyway, let's get to it, shall we?
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Gather: Streamline event management at your venue | Gather helps companies like full-service restaurants plan private events. Currently, the process is incredibly manual in connecting the restaurant side and the suppliers, and very inefficient. Gather steps in to this process and lets both sides communicate seamlessly, while driving sales and acting as a CRM and workflow tool.
What did they do really well? Before finding product-market fit, the Gather team just kept going, and stayed in the game long enough. They had four product failures in total, but learned from each one. After finding the right fit, they stayed disciplined, set goals, and measured everything on a time basis. Then they just kept revisiting those measures, refining and setting new goals.
What can the community help with? They're hiring! They have 10+ open positions, including sales, customer service and support. Send good people their way!
— Gather —
At first glance this sounds like a B2B company, and you know Switchyards is all about consumers and design. And co-founder and CEO Nick Miller (owner of a lovely baritone voice) was completely aware of that, opening his pitch by saying that, yes, Gather is currently B2B. But, much of its software actually interacts with its venues' customers: For example, if you, a consumer, go to the Web site for King & Duke and ask for more information on booking a private event, you're using an iframe that Gather embeds in their site to, ahem, gather information, and create a proposal, contract, etc. What's more, Gather is beta-testing a direct-to-consumer model where customers will be able to actually book the venue and sign the contract right then, rather than just sending information and waiting for someone to get back to them. Also, most restaurants actually get 20-30% of their top-line revenue from private events, which is not something I'd really thought about, and that lack of visibility is an additional issue Gather may approach at a later point.
Gather's team spent quite a bit of time on its business model, with scaling as a goal, and what they learned from failures always in the back of their minds. In 2013 they got a small round of funding from friends and family, and worked on figuring out the product-market fit (they even had a first product which got a lot of press but which wouldn't scale, so they ended up scrapping it). In 2014 and 2015 they found the right product and refined their sales model, and now in 2016 they're working to scale as fast as possible. They're growing 10% month-over-month, and closed a Series A round in January with Storm Ventures (for the SaaS experience) and Ludlow Ventures (for the B2C experience).
With 40 people, Nick says they have a great team with specialized expertise. Wanna see for yourself? You're in luck, they're hiring! (And in case you were wondering, no, Nick was not the inspiration for the Nick Miller character on FOX's show "New Girl." Don't worry, you can still apply for a job, you just won't meet Zooey Deschanel. Sorry.)
Real Meal Delivery: No time to cook? Real Meal Delivery to the rescue! | Real Meal Delivery isn't a brick-and-mortar restaurant, isn't a caterer, and isn't some random delivery service picking up your soggy to-go wings order. No, they are a company creating fresh meals completely designed to be delivered in perfect shape, ready-to-eat, straight to your door (well, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, anyway).
Co-founder and CEO Pat Pow-anpongkul says that Real Meal is actually a new category, a "delivery-only" restaurant. While 1950s saw fast food, and 1990s saw "fast casual," Real Meal thinks the next evolution is where real estate is just a small part of the equation — Pat calls it a "storefront in your pocket."
What did they do really well? Real Meal focused on product, and was so good that most customers referred them to friends and family, all without paid advertising (since, as Dave Payne may have mentioned, paid advertising is a tax on having a poor product). This allowed them to study customer behavior without any noise.
— Real Meal Delivery —
The food delivery landscape is competitive, from Zifty to Grubhub to DoorDash and even UberEATS. But there's not enough profit margin there; the customers pay high premiums and gratuities, the services takes about 30% from the restaurant, and the rest is all markup. A delivery-only service is low overhead and passes the savings on to the customers.
Pat says he and his co-founder, Tapan Patel, saw the opportunity created by delivery-only restaurants like Munchery, Sprig and Maple (don't get excited, none of these options are available in ATL). But, they thought, these shouldn't only be in major markets, they should exist everywhere. And the competition is lower outside of major markets, too; 40% of Americans live in underserved, mass-market suburbs, especially busy moms who need a quick, healthy option for their kids.
So the two former Trulia employees (who had lots of Droid app experience but no idea how to cook yummy things at scale) hired a professional chef, Thom Carter, and launched Real Meal in October 2015. By May 2016, they had a $500k run rate in revenue, raving reviews (many from a giant Facebook group for moms!), and lots of repeat customers.
There were a couple of audience questions around dietary restrictions (the first pass at the menu was basic American fare, but they have just launched an organic menu with dairy-free and gluten-free options, and they are planning Tex-Mex and Pan-Asian menus to suit multiple palates); who their target customer is (mostly moms with young kids, in the suburbs, as they're ordering for an entire family and tend to recommend enthusiastically); how they're going to scale production (cutting off the daily orders at 4 p.m. allows them to properly estimate volume, and they do batch cooking versus a la carte, so they're making potatoes for 100 and maintaining freshness more reliably); and if they're set up for a franchise model (they've thought about it purely to expand faster, but with delivery it's hard to control quality with transit time, and there are no second chances, so they're growing slowly and carefully instead).
Despite being former Droid app developers, they've gone eight months with just a Web site built on Shopify that isn't even mobile-optimized and doesn't save payment information; they've been focused on getting the food aspect right, and working out the operations and logistics. Not to worry, they have an iPhone app coming soon, and will also be expanding their delivery area — which, sadly, I'm juuuuuuust outside of. I'm not a busy mom but I am a busy lady, and while I love to cook there are definitely nights my husband and I are both working late and need healthy options. So, Real Meal, I've got my eye on you and your "upcoming" delivery area, and I'm crossing my fingers!
Split: Pay your restaurant and bar bills from your phone | Full disclosure: I've written an entire blog post about Split before, purely because I love their app just that much. Why? Well, I have a lot of things I have to get done, so efficiency is important, and that's exactly what their app is: efficient. There are few things that I hate more than wasted time, and one of those areas of life that's always felt "wasted" to me was when you're done with your meal and you're waiting to pay.
I'm not the only one who feels that way: CEO and co-founder Jimmy Patel asked the audience how many had ever ended up waiting forever for the check, and ended up so frustrated that even if the meal was good, the long wait tarnished the experience. Unsurprisingly, nearly every hand shot up. Jimmy added that people usually took to review sites to complain about this wait, which is also bad — he cited a 2011 Harvard study that found that the revenue difference between a restaurant with three stars and a restaurant with five stars on Yelp can be as much as 18%.
What did they do really well? Split bootstrapped and leveraged existing assets, and built a really strong team, as well as a strong board of advisors with experience in related sectors.
What can the community help with? Jimmy asked the crowd who there had used Split, and only a few hands went up; that's where they need the help, so download and use the app! They also need to grow their restaurant base, so anyone with franchise or owner connections should drop them a note.
— Split —
With Split, you can view and pay your bill, split it with friends, order ahead, and never hand your credit card to a stranger again. Obvious advantages there. And if you're the restaurant, you can turn tables faster, see consumer sentiments in real time, and enable mobile takeout ordering as a second-order revenue stream. Split also captures information that the restaurant can use, such as dietary preferences or restrictions, diner number during certain weather patterns, and more, allowing for marketing automation with personalized campaigns. (As an example, if you were a sports bar, whenever bad weather cropped up, you could automatically advertise a happy hour discount within two miles for anyone on the Split app.) For the manager, this is a "set it and forget it" sort of experience, which is awesome. And finally, Split plugs directly into 60% of the point-of-sale machines already on the market, is PCI compliant, and requires no additional software or hardware (they believe "the hardware in your pocket is strong enough"). What's not to like here?
One audience member noted that many people prefer not to download yet another app, and Jimmy said they were addressing that challenge with a mobile-friendly Web site coming soon. That also took care of the fact that "split" is a common word in applications, so sometimes finding them in the app stores can be difficult. Another questioner asked about "dining and dashing," and that's actually where Split shines: As soon as the diner opens the app and checks in that they're using Split, their payment information is on file and their tab is linked to the POS, so there is no way for them to leave without paying. It also allows the server to focus on the actual service, rather than the payment situation. As they're designed for the "casual dining" options like Marlow's Tavern or Willie's, this aligns with the rest of the dining experience, versus a fine-dining establishment that has a more elaborate server interaction.
Split has a helpful little how-to guide on their Web site, though I found it pretty simple to navigate. And if you're feeling a little odd about payment being separate from your meal, don't be, there's definitely a precedent for this: Jimmy says the goal is to make paying in-app for a meal "as common as getting in a stranger's car."
Hello, Uber, you've got some competition for convenience!
Tydee: Never take out the trash again. | Y'all, I am all about convenience, especially at the end of a busy day. So Tydee had my heart almost immediately with an intro slide that said, "Whose turn is it to take out the trash? Ours!" and the premise of just chucking my trash bag right outside my apartment door and having it magically disappear.
With three of the six co-founders (all Kennesaw State University grads) onstage pitching, things got really fun. The crowd enthusiastically responded to co-founder Clark Williams' interactive portion, alternatively shouting "Tidy up!" and "Make me some money!" Why? Because, as co-founder Josh Guilbaud said, "The secret sauce is you!"
What did they do really well? Tydee kept the vision consistent, and didn't start investigating other services too quickly (though recycling is coming). They got the right people on the team (no "wannapreneurs," thanks) and worked to validate the business premise early on.
— Tydee —
Basically, the Tydee model works by having a marketplace of "partners" pick up their neighbors' trash, three times a week between 8 and 10 p.m. Tydee is focusing on college students for the partners, who the founders say can earn as much as a standard minimum wage job, in just a quarter of the hours per week. As a user, for $9.99 per month you can just open the app, hit "schedule," and your trash will be expertly whisked away on your behalf, no more "raccoons gnawing on your chicken bones" or waiting on your sulky teen to get motivated.
The current big competition in the space is Valley Waste Service, but the founders are quick to point out that they're not a trash company, they're a service company. Valley and other companies already concentrate on the complex management and owners, but they are overlooking the actual users, who have to pay $40/month for the privilege of walking across a parking lot and dropping trash into a dumpster. "Money guy" Des Mccain said they're a subscription service with a 55% profit margin (compared to 25% for the competition), and as they scale they will likely be able to increase that.
And though many complexes don't allow trash outside doors, Tydee has cleverly, um, "circumvented" this by picking up after the management offices close for the night and before they open the next day. (You can also enter instructions or code accesses in the app to allow entry, just as you would for the pizza delivery guy.)
The app has been testing in the Kennesaw area, and will shortly be expanding to the ATL metro: They're officially launched as of last Thursday, starting with the iPhone (they love us Android users but, you know us, we're a bit more difficult). They're targeting apartment complexes for now, but an extension to single-family homes is coming soon. An audience member questioned if they'd expand services to include cleaning, but they said they're focused on "what comes out of the apartment, not what goes in," and that other local companies (like Hux!) are doing very well in that space already. Love the local support there!
Tydee, I'm waiting for the Android app, but you had me at "doorside trash pickup!"
Walkabout: Interactive mapping for festivals, events, and destinations. | Co-founder and CEO Tres Crow knows that you don't think maps are sexy. Not even the digital ones from Google. But Walkabout is determined to change that for users, turning ordinary marketing collateral into interactive adventures.
The main difference? Walkabout has the element of time, Tres says, allowing you to filter not just by what you're looking for (i.e., "where to get a hot dog or a funnel cake"), but also by what's next based on your time and location. Instead of an app, Walkabout is just a mobile-optimized URL, so any Web-connected device works. The events they've so far partnered with (53 in eight states, which include Atlanta's Dogwood Fest, Jazzfest and the Peachtree Road Race) typically splash the URL around on the festival grounds, so attendees just look it up via social or scan in a QR code. And since attendees are going to use a map regardless, Walkabout's only competition is really just a paper map.
What did they do really well? Walkabout listened to their customers, working slowly, discovering what's needed, and responding to those needs. They've had to do a lot of hard work and sometimes swallow their pride when clients didn't want what they were providing, but instead wanted something else entirely.
What can the community help with? Well, money. No, but seriously, they need more customers; it's "hand-to-hand combat" out there, and with cities as their biggest customers due to economies of scale, they need to start expanding. Got some connections? Send them their way!
— Walkabout —
As a buyer of these interactive maps (which typically run $499-$1,000/year for a single map, though bulk discounts are available), you can add customized menus and feature your event sponsors in different locations in the site, thereby getting the maps to pay for themselves. It's not really about mapping for city tourism managers, but more about helping them showcase to the public what's they've visualized about their event or city. In Phase 2 and Phase 3 of Walkabout, they will also include vendor and sponsor marketplace and management.
The biggest questions from the audience were around Walkabout's focus on transient or temporary events versus static campuses such as schools or historic areas. Tres said they thought those were low-hanging fruit (and a $50 billion industry in the U.S.), but it has turned out that cities and chambers of commerce (basically anyone who wants to control the data flow) have been big users, buying maps in bulk for not only events but also standalone maps of specific city areas, like downtown. Of course, that means someone has to reach out to city event coordinators — in this case, Tres says it's Andrew, who is calling all of them in the U.S. (Poor Andrew, wherever you are!) Fortunately, it also turns out that city event planners have a high rate of return so far, as well as referrals to other planners, and Walkabout has been connecting on Facebook for cross-selling purposes as well.
I'm interested to see whether the next ATL event I attend uses a Walkabout map, because I love the time-specific aspect, and I definitely want to know where to find a funnel cake. (I'd keep you guys informed, but the fewer of us who know where to find the funnel cakes, the better!)
Okay, guys, that's a wrap for the fifth Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time? (No, but seriously, it was sold out last time. Get your tickets now!)