Waitrr's COO, Tim Davies had the opportunity to chat about Waitrr and his entrepreneurial experience in the Elevate podcast. Follow one of the links below to hear about Waitrr's origins, as well as the digitalization of the F&B industry and lessons from our entrepreneurial journey.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Hello again, and welcome to the Elevate podcast where I speak to founders and business leaders from Singapore and around the world.
So, for today's episode, I'm really excited to have Tim from Waitrr, because it's something that I've had a personal interaction with.
So, for those of you who don't know what Waitrr does, this will give you a quick overview about what they do from a consumer standpoint.
So, I remember I was having a meal at a local pizza place. And of course, because of this pandemic, they had introduced this QR code menu system.
But I remember it having this built-in ordering functionality inside. And this really stood out, as traditionally, QR code menus were really only helpful on the browsing side of the menu.
But it really doesn't help the service staff and the service-related concerns. And so that was my firsthand experience with Waitrr.
And with that, I'm really delighted to have with me, the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Waitrr. Tim, welcome.
Thank you. Good to be here.
Yeah, so let's get started.
So, tell us a little bit more about Waitrr. How and where the idea originated, the process behind setting it up, and how you're doing in recent times, especially with the reopening of F&B outlets in Singapore.
So, the start of waiter was back in 2015. So well before COVID and well before the pandemic.
And my co-founder, Tim Wekezer, his family comes from the restaurant operations business, and he was always looking at creating a startup in the in the F&B space.
And F&B service was the big opportunity for him.
And so actually the impetus was driven by poor experience in a restaurant.
He went to a particular restaurant where everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, like they were seated, and they get their menus.
And then when they wanted to order something, they couldn't get the attention of the staff. And then when they ordered the food, the wrong items came.
And then when they were ready to leave, they couldn't get the attention of the wait staff to pay the bill. All of those elements sort of compounded into a terrible dining experience.
And that was sort of the catalyst for him going, “I think I can solve a lot of these elements with tech”.
And he looked around at some of the tech which was on the market at the time.
So, things like food ordering kiosks, which are relatively recent, they're probably more recent than that. But that was one of the innovations.
The other one was tablets on the tables. And his view was, “why do we want to do either of those options when everyone's got a mobile in their pocket?”, which has, you know, ordering and payment capabilities built in.
Hence Waitrr was born. That's the origin story. I joined in 2017. I joined a little bit after that, and yeah, helping to grow the business, in terms of how things are being impacted by COVID.
And what are the changes been as a result of that? For us, it was really, really tough for our restaurant partners. They suffered all throughout COVID.
2020 was a horrible year for our restaurant partners. And it was a really tough year for Waitrr because the revenue going through waiter declined and took a big hit.
In the short term that really hurts. And obviously we empathize with our restaurant partners. And it's horrible.
The good news for the industry in the long term. And the good news for Waitrr in the long term is that it's an opportunity for restaurants to look at what they're doing, look at how they can improve their efficiency.
And then they call someone like Waitrr. And so, we had a huge increase in inbound leads.
During the pandemic, we've had an increase in utilization of our current restaurant partners, we've had an increase in the number of restaurants that we're working with globally off the back of COVID.
So short term that really, really hurts but long term will benefit.
What you mentioned is true.
From what we can see during the pandemic, companies around the world are trying to digitalize their operations and the F&B industry is no exception.
I think that's just one of the ways the F&B industry can further improve their service operations. With this current success, what are your long-term plans for Waitrr in the future?
How do you plan on scaling your business? And how many countries are you guys in?
We're currently in five countries.
And we'll be adding additional countries in the coming two months.
We launched during COVID outside of Singapore. So up until last year, we were only in Singapore and then we launched in the remaining four countries during it.
In terms of growth, the plan would be to expand further in Singapore.
Singapore has a massive restaurant population and Waitrr can increase our penetration here.
But at the same token because of the digital nature of our solution and fact that recruiting and retaining good waitstaff is a global problem, then Waitrr will go where our customers want us.
Typically, right now, that means first world countries like developed countries where there's a higher cost of labor and higher mobile penetration and high number of POS that we integrate with. So those are our focus areas for now.
Yeah, so this is an interesting point, because in the same place where I had the pizza, I also went for another meal in the same mall, Scott square, called Wild Honey, and Waitrr was also implemented inside.
So, I can see that you guys are continuously growing, and I hope that you guys will continue to grow, because it's a great idea.
And one of the things that I came across while reading articles and researching for this podcast is that, and I quote, Waitrr orders often yield 20% extra higher ticket sizes.
This is an interesting quote, because what does this really mean? And how does the psychological aspect of ordering through a phone play a part increasing ticket sizes for F&B?
There's a couple of elements that we sometimes get into conversations with restaurant owners about how does Waitrr compare to a really well trained staff member.
And I think a really well-trained staff member, who understands their audience and understands the elements of their menu, could probably achieve a 20% uplift as well.
The challenge is that you can't recruit and retain those people, they're really hard to find.
And even if you do have a great employee, sometimes they have off nights where they forget to provide that premium level of customer service.
Whereas a digital solution means that it's always available, it's always upselling.
And it's always providing that premium level of service. And so, there's two components or three components really.
One is automated upselling. Which means that when you add an item to your cart, if you structured your menu correctly, then it will automatically prompt you with modifiers.
The stereotypical example would be you add a burger to your cart. And normally, you just say I'll get the burger. But with the system, it'll say the burger is X dollars.
Would you like to add avocado for 50 cents? Would you like to add an extra slice of cheese for 20 cents? Would you like to add some beetroot for another 30 cents?
And so just by offering those options in a really easy, really fast way to order, means that people automatically add them.
You can do the same thing with any menu item. A coffee could have, would you like soy for an extra dollar? Or would you like almond milk for an extra 50 cents? So those elements are things which it's difficult for a staff member to ask.
Even the really good ones. It's difficult for them to act that without it coming across as pushy and salesy.
Whereas when it's nice and seamless and built in, it doesn't feel like an intrusion. So that's part one.
Part two is the cross selling, and so that you would have seen it in a number of different avenues.
But, you know, when you add a particular item to your cart, the system can automatically recommend things which pair nicely with it or can recommend popular dishes.
That's the second bit and then the third one would be freeing up staff capacity.
If you use a solution like Waitrr, where you're automating the transactional elements, which is automating the payment processing, then you're freeing up staff time to provide that premium level of customer service.
On top of the automated elements, the staff will be available to provide recommendations and answer their questions which will lead to increased customer satisfaction and likely increase ordering.
Yeah, I think something interesting that you mentioned was the opportunity to upsell.
And I wanted to ask, do you think that you're targeting specific markets within the F&B industry? Are you targeting like every restaurant because some restaurants require more sort of TLC compared to others?
Yeah, it's totally fair.
So, we don't go after fine dining as a general rule. We do have a couple of fine dining establishments on waiter. And they're offering waiter as an option during COVID. You can have contactless ordering, but it wouldn't be mandated.
And it's certainly not even encouraged that you have to use it. It's just if you want it, it's available for fine dining.
But as a general rule, there's not a good alignment between Waitrr’s ordering and payment solution and the fine dining segment as at today.
Because when you go to a fine dining establishment, typically you want a level of service and you want to be able to, you know, verbally place your order with this staff and you'll provide that premium or you'll get that premium level of customer service, inclusive of the order taking which, while Waitrr can demonstrate proof of customer service by using our tech.
It's not a good fit with the fine dining environment and establishment people just don't like ordering their phones in a fine dining place. We typically avoid it as at today.
Who knows in the future when adoption goes higher, and it becomes the norm and the speed and efficiency, it might become the norm in fine dining as well. Especially if your solution is presented well.
We also don't go after hawker centers or roadside stalls in other countries.
And the reason behind that is the average ticket size is pretty low, which means the cost of credit card fees is almost an insurmountable barrier.
And also, you've got some challenges around educating the stall owners about using tech. Again, not an insurmountable barrier.
And you certainly have a large number of hawkers who use all the delivery platforms and can be up for it. It's just it is more difficult when there's lower average ticket size.
So, our sweet spot is anywhere between quick service restaurant up to pretty fancy casual dining.
We play in those areas in all of the different cuisines and all of the different styles, restaurants, cafes, and bars in those buckets.
Yeah, and I'm sure that with the increase in digitalization in the F&B industry, I wanted to find out more of how you guys stand out from the crowd.
Because there are quite a few competitors in Singapore, that while they may not do exactly what you guys are doing, they're pretty similar.
For example, you have your Tabsquare, your novelty. So how do you guys stand out from the crowd? Is it sort of a better mousetrap?
Yeah, a lot of it comes down to understanding of the industry.
The fact that Tim W comes from restaurant operations means that our solution is very restaurant friendly. And we're optimized for dine in.
If you look at some of the other players in the market, they don't handle large menus quite as well.
If you're dealing with, for example, a delivery style menu where you've got side scrolling, it’s not well suited to a restaurant that has 40 different categories of menu items.
And that's the categories alone, not the menu items themselves.
You could have hundreds of menu items. If you look at, you could have you know, pasta dishes, plus meat dishes, plus starters, desserts, and then a whole bunch of different alcohols. All those things can lead to a really big menu.
So, waiter is optimized for really fast navigation. So that's one, optimized for dine in, hence the name Waitrr. The next one is POS integrations. In the dine in environment, there's certain sophistication that you need, in order to efficiently bring food to the table, so you can provide that great customer service.
If you look at, I'm using delivery as the example, they'll often provide just a single tablet or single printer, or a single device.
And in a fast-paced big kitchen, that wouldn't cut it. Because if multiple guests are placing orders, and they need to go to multiple stations, just having it all appearing on a single station is inefficient and doesn't work.
So, POS integrations is a big part of what we do. And then the third one would be providing white label solutions. We provide solutions that are branded to the restaurants that we work with so they're not just building Waitrr’s brand, they're building their own brand, and Waitrr’s powering their tech.
Yeah, for sure.
And not just to like, lick your boot or anything but out of all the QR code applications or menus that we see in restaurants, I have to say that waiter offers the best user experience At least in ones that I've come across and that's great.
And something that has been really important, maybe in the last decade, is the presence of venture capital firms, especially for new startups.
I've read that you're involved with Accelerating Asia. So, I wanted to know more about how that experience was like, and how this experience has benefited you and Waitrr as a whole.
Yeah, so me personally versus the company.
I mean, we're a relatively small company. And there's not much of a difference between the co-founders and the company as a whole.
In terms of the benefits that we received, the program, Accelerating Asia, is its beautiful alignment between us and them in that they invest in the companies that they accelerate.
They sort of put their money where their mouth is. They've got a vested interest in growing you because they've put money into your company.
So that's part one. The next one is that the style of the investment is that they target a certain level of development of your company.
All of the companies in your cohort are of a similar level of development, which means that you can learn off each other and you're probably experiencing similar challenges or opportunities so you can bounce ideas off your, you know, the other members of the cohort and learn from each other as you grow, which is pretty cool.
The next one is Accelerating Asia is a pretty tailored program.
I didn't speak about our origin story before, in terms of I mentioned that we are all about enabling people to order and pay for food and drinks on their phones.
A big change for waiter was that we used to be B2C so people had to download the waiter app in order to place orders at our restaurants, which was a massive barrier for a dine in environment.
And so, in the beginning of 2019, we switched from being B2C to being B2B, meaning we changed our pricing model, we changed our text, and we enabled people to order and pay on their phones via a browser.
So, you scan a QR code, it brings up the menu in a browser. In that transition, using someone like accelerating Asia, we're able to get their advice on, “Okay, we've already made the switch from B2C to B2B.
But now we want to accelerate our growth. What advice can you give us or how can we learn about two elements?
One is improving our fundraising, which we've successfully done. And the second one is, how can we accelerate our sales with a B2B approach?” Because prior to that we were relatively B2C focused.
Yeah, I think that really showcases the benefits of going through these programs, as you then have the opportunity to well, in this case, change your business model, and to change the way that you're thinking about these issues.
And I guess next, I wanted to know more about yourself, where you came from your early career, what made you jump into the startup space, given that you've worked in different MNCs?
My undergrad degree was in Information Systems and Business. I was an iOS guy, and a business guy.
And then I joined a bank, where I was working for six years, across a range of roles, mostly in analysis.
And then I went and did my MBA at a school called Babson College, which is number one in the world for entrepreneurship.
That was where I met a whole bunch of people who were right into the startup scene and into entrepreneurship and I was excited about it.
But I wasn't quite ready to jump across to startups. And I got excited about marketing, so I used the lessons and the courses that I took, and some of the real-world experiences that I got, because we got to do some consulting to real businesses to build some, you know, literally experience my resume in marketing.
When I finished my MBA, I moved across the Unilever. So that was working in brand management for a food brand for Unilever, and brand management in a big FMCG like Unilever is kind of like running a small business within a bigger business.
When I was ready to leave Unilever, my wife and I moved to Singapore and that was the opportunity to jump into startups.
I joined my first startup when I arrived in 2014, and then moved across to Waitrr in 2017. And the way I joined Waitrr is I got to know Tim Wekezer just through the startup community.
I met him in an event, we were meeting up pretty regularly to share startup stories and then we became friends. Then his wife was pregnant and due to give birth, and he needed someone to run the team in Singapore while he took paternity leave, so I joined and then I've been growing the business ever since.
Why did you choose this particular Waitrr project, as compared to the many other projects and startups out there?
Two main things. One is Tim himself. I knew him, he was a friend, I respected him. He was a smart guy and I saw what he could do. I saw the potential in what he was doing. So, it was a lot of respect for him as a founder. That's number one.
And number two was, I tested the tech itself. Before I joined, I played with Waitrr, I visited something like seven restaurants and I ordered using Waitrr, every single one of them. And I saw that it worked.
And I saw the key pain point. And I was like, I knew the size of the opportunity. And so it seems pretty compelling in in his in his enthusiasm for the product and for the solution.
And so you know, when he describes how, how big the opportunity is in the f&b space, globally, plus combined with their tech, it was it was those two things.
Great and yeah, I think having experienced so many industries and companies and even accelerating Asia and starting Waitrr, it'll be cool to know what has been kind of the best piece of advice that you've received in regards to your career to Waitrr.
And I think this would be pretty applicable to any potential entrepreneurs out there.
The best advice when it comes to startups is, is get it into the hands of customers as soon as possible.
So build a simple solution that solves the core problem and get it in the hands of customers as soon as possible. Because you'll learn a lot.
And you'll start solving their problems faster, they'll appreciate it and then you'll be able to build more solutions on top of it.
So there's a whole range of thinking around it. And it's all associated with this minimum viable product idea where you identify the core problem or the core feature that you need to provide.
You deliver it, get in the hands of customers, get their feedback, and then build on that and continue to iterate really fast really regularly while maintaining focus on the core solutions.
So the reason that's the best advice for Waitrr is it's what we do in every aspect of our business. So from the tech to the sales to our expansion, each of those things are like what is the core element that we can do and we can get in the hands of customers fast and get their feedback fast.
And it means that we are able to provide a stable solution because we're not trying to solve every single problem on the planet, we're trying to solve those core problems.
And we're able to do it really fast and in a really streamlined way. So one of our restaurant partners told us, we were able to deliver a white label solution in 10% of the time that a competitor was quoting them.
And the only reason we can do that is because we build only the core functions, and we focus on mobile ordering and payments and we just make sure that we do it really, really well.
Yeah, I remember seeing somewhere on your website, you're able to deliver it in two to three working days that you can have the entire menu converted into the website in a really short span of time.
Yeah, that wouldn't be a white label solution.
So we're not quite as fast as two to three days for building a branded solution for a restaurant partner yet, although that's something we do want to achieve.
Even faster, if possible. As at today, if you've got a menu in any format, so you could have a menu which is a PDF, or you could literally take a photo of the menu on the wall.
Yeah, we can digitize that and have it branded with Waitrr, like using our stock standard off the shelf, waiter product, we could have a restaurant ready to go live in two to three business days.
So you've mentioned moving to Singapore, having worked in Unilever. So what made, because a lot of startups and moving to the US. So what made Singapore the starting ground for Waitrr.
So destination for me and destination for Waitrr are two slightly different things.
Destination for me, I'm married to a Singaporean girl. And so that that was part of the reason.
So my wife and I, we were talking about where we were going to live.
And we were assessing the UK, Singapore and USA. And ultimately it came down to practical reasons. My wife was a citizen so she could find work really easily.
We had family here who we could live with in the starting days, it would be pretty easy for me to get permanent residency, because I'm married to a Singaporean.
And so that was the deciding factor was practical reasons why we as a family came to Singapore.
And we love it here. So well that worked out quite nicely in terms of why waiter started in Singapore.
So Tim W is starting his MBA at INSEAD, the Singapore campus of INSEAD, and he launched waiter during his MBA, he won the INSEAD case competition with the Waitrr idea.
And so, the reason why Singapore itself, there's a pretty strong startup community here, including access to capital and things like that.
But also from a purely practical perspective for Waitrr. Singapore has a really high mobile penetration, it has a high cost of labor.
And it historically has difficulties with f&b service because f&b in Singapore is not an attractive segment for people to work in.
You know, people don't go out and they won’t want to work as a waiter. And culturally, people don't typically work part time as a waiter while studying, it's just not something which is regularly done in Singapore.
So there is this big need for quality waitstaff and so there's this challenge that needs to be filled in. So Waitrr can solve that.
Yeah, for sure.
Those are great points as to why you chose Singapore. And so since we have a little bit of extra time, let's go with something a little bit more personal.
So you've mentioned that you worked at Unilever, and you have a wide array of brands. So what's your kind of favorite snack or anything that Unilever provides?
Yeah, obviously, it's a massive brand with or massive conglomerate with many, many brands.
I think my favorite brands would probably be Ben and Jerry's.
So it's got a really strong social element to it. And the product itself is really good. And so like, obviously, I like the ice cream even though it's crazy expensive.
But the brand elements, so Ben and Jerry's isn't afraid to make a stance, which is amazing given that it's part of Unilever. And so during the time that I was working there, it was extremely pro, I can't remember, it was like pro sustainability. It was pro, you know, equal rights marriage, it was pro everything.
It's a pretty bold brand for a multinational. So Ben and Jerry's just because I like the fact that it's bold, you know, has sustainability elements to it. And it's a good product. I think that'd be my number one.
And then there's a bunch. Magnums, pretty good product as well. I just named two ice cream brands, but that's the ones that came to mind first.
This maybe why you're leaning towards ice cream.
Yeah, that's right. When you work for Unilever, you get free access to ice cream, which is pretty nice.
Yeah, that sounds really great. And I 100% agree on the brand image point.
And I think one of the most recent things that they did that really outlines this point, which, you know, might be a little bit controversial, but it's regarding Israel where they stopped selling ice cream due to the whole conflict. So yeah, they really aren't afraid of making bold statements.
And on sidetrack, having lived in Singapore for a while. What is your favorite Singaporean food?
Oh, favorite food.
There's a huge amount of food in Singapore. Whenever I've got people coming into town I always take them out for like there's probably chili crab Chicken Rice, roti prata, chee kueh, those would be my top four things that I would typically consume, I would say.
Yeah, I guess Singapore is kind of like the Unilever of food to a certain extent
Yeah I love Singaporean food so yeah. What is it on sale in a hawker center is most commonly eaten and I can't afford to go out for chili crab every week.
Well, you know, maybe in the future you would if things with Waitrr go super well, but yeah, I think with that, you know, I just want to thank you so much for being a part of this podcast and I know that Waitrr is going to be a continued part of this post pandemic f&b world, and I know that you know and I think that what you guys are doing is really cool and really special.
And yeah, I wish you guys nothing but the best going forward. So yeah, thank you, Tim.
Awesome. Thanks a lot Xavier. Great talking to you.
And so that brings us to the end of this episode. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I'll catch you in the next one.