Persistence is a key reason why some startups succeed and some fail. It's easy to give up on an idea when the roadblocks come. The most successful entrepreneurs learn to have patient and trust the idea they have will work out.
Recently, I spoke with Rajat Suri, CEO of E la Carte, who started a company that makes the Presto tablet for ordering at your table, about how he stayed the course.
1. When did you know the tablet ordering system was going to really take off?
While attending MIT for my Ph.D., I had dinner with a few friends, and when it came time to pay the bill I grew incredibly frustrated when it took us an hour to split the check between us. It became a running jokes among my friends as to how many MIT students it took to split a check. It was then that I knew there had to be a more simple and intelligent way of paying the tab, and to dining out in general. The restaurant industry has been around for a long time--since the dawn of Western civilization itself. Yet, as our way of life has undergone a complete metamorphosis in today's modern society, restaurants have been slow to adapt to new technologies.
Software is changing all of that, dramatically transforming how people eat at restaurants. There is an entirely new consumer-facing software layer of apps and services being deployed as we speak, which was sparked by the launch of the truly successful touchscreen technology from Apple and a few others, coupled with the demands of the tech-savvy millennials. As a result, I believe we are on the cusp of a complete digital transformation when it comes to how we eat out, ushering in what I call "smart dining."
2. What were some of the ways you proved the concept would work?
My quest to help transform the way restaurants use technology was the key motivator that led me to no longer pursue my Ph.D. at MIT, but to instead learn all that I could about the restaurant industry, inside and out by becoming a restaurant server full-time.
The vision for the first Presto tablet was inspired by the touchscreen revolution sparked by the introduction of Apple's iPhone into the market. Our first generation Presto resembled smartphones like the iPhone 3G, but with a larger screen and a credit card reader. We had roughly three to four different iterations of this version, testing it with local restaurants, before landing on the version that stuck.
It was the trust in our technology, and our discussions with POS and restaurant partners that proved the concept would work. We were able to show that by using the Presto, restaurants could increase their table turn time and check average size, and servers could see higher tips--a win-win for restaurants and their staff. According to a May 2014 study by Hospitality Restaurant, tableside ordering and payment devices are the single largest growth area in full service restaurants, with a third of respondents planning a rollout by the end of next year. Guests are also excited about the technology. According to a recent study by Cornell University that measured guests' reaction to our Presto tablets, 75% responded saying that Presto improved their dining experience and 85% said that Presto increased their likelihood to return.
3. Why is seeing the idea through and being determined important for a startup? Why do entrepreneurs give up on ideas?
I'm quite stubborn and have a determination to see things through from start to finish. But to succeed, I had to build a team of advisers, partners and employees who could share my vision and in whom I could instill my passion. Through the development process, we had to constantly rethink both the hardware and software design.
Some startups flounder because of the lack of vision and motivation, especially when things get rough, or because they feel they have to prove something, instead of believing in the business they are trying to build. Unless you truly believe in your company, it will be a lot harder to convince others to get behind your vision. I never let up convincing my team members that this was going to happen. Build a group of people that are great at what they do and that will inspire you every day.
4. Is there something that would have changed your mind about pushing forward?
As with every startup, we had our share of peaks and valleys. And more often than not, the status-quo is a hard thing to change. So, I have had to develop a lot more patience within myself and across the team. Change takes time, and big changes can often take more time than you might have planned for.
Take our relationship with one of the largest casual dining chains. It took three years for them to to complete their pilot and sign with us. That's an eternity in startup terms.There was even a time when I had a nagging feeling that the deal wouldn't go through. Rather than letting that get to me, I encouraged my team to continue innovating and be flexible--something every startup should do. I never lost sight of the fact that we have a great product that was going to change the restaurant industry. And with the confidence the investment community has in the business, as well as the uptake by several major restaurant chains, seeing it through was the only way forward.
5. What advice do you have for other tech startups in seeing an idea through?
Trust Your Gut. Let's assume you understand the market, have developed a product or service that will serve that market, and have built a solid business plan that can remain in place for the next 1-3 years. Trust the plan and stick to it when things are faltering--especially when they are faltering.