When trying to figure out marketing and tech pain points for SMB verticals, it helps to have people on the ground, working at these businesses, who can tell you exactly where the pain is coming from. This was the genesis of Omnivore, a platform that connects restaurant mobile apps to the major POS systems.
Omnivore’s founder and CEO, Mike Wior, had been working with Chris Sullivan, the founder of the Outback Steakhouse and Bloomin’ Brands, and was tasked with integrating a service called MenuPad into the company’s existing systems. He discovered quickly that point-of-sale integration was going to be a major problem. He had to hire three different contractors who lived in different parts of the United States on an hourly basis so that they could write multiple integrations from MICROS, Aloha, and POSitouch — the result was that all three were written in completely different languages with different sets of end points.
Figuring that his problem was probably something that others in the industry were having, Wior and his team created a integration service that could made it easy for the hundreds of thousands of apps like MenuPad to connect to point-of-sale systems.
We recently caught up with Wior to talk about the unique issues facing restaurant tech, and how Omnivore’s tech can enable more experimentation and innovation.
Tell me a bit about the scope of Omnivore. Is it basically just code connecting apps and POS systems?
Omnivore started out as very simply a interface that you would write to that would translate whatever connection that you wanted to whatever point-of-sale systems we supported. So the app only had to care about one set of endpoints, regardless of whether or not they’re talking to POSitouch, Aloha, MICROS, Dinerware (and the list goes on and on). And as we continue to add new point-of-sale systems and new support for new versions of those point-of-sale systems, the app wouldn’t have to worry about those changes. That would all be done seamlessly for them by the Omnivore service.
And that was kind of phase one of Omnivore. From there we saw it as an opportunity. Not only are we reducing the barriers for apps to connect to point-of-sale systems, but we’re making it easier for restaurants to test new technologies. In the past, every time they wanted to test a new integrated technology, they have to go through this whole integration process and testing and use their resources to make sure that whatever it is they’re bringing in interfaces their point-of-sale system — was it going to be compatible and was it going to cause problems with other things that were already running there?
And so we really realized that we were starting to reduce the barriers for restaurants to test and deploy new technologies across their system without having to go through that process over and over again every single time.
When you’re talking about restaurants, are you mainly talking about bigger restaurant chains?
When we first started, our targets were those larger chains. Now that we’ve come and brought together this large group of technologies. We have over 100 different restaurant applications in production today running in every restaurant technology category. It’s even more important for an independent restaurant to install our software and leverage that marketplace because ultimately smaller independent restaurants have almost no IT resources, so making that process simpler for them is critically important.
Do you find that these smaller restaurants are savvy, or maybe more savvy than they used to be in terms of this kind of stuff?
Absolutely. I think all of these new restaurants, especially the guys that are opening their doors today and billing and looking at how they’re going to build a business around this, are looking at technology first. Before they even open the doors they’re trying to figure out whether or not they’re going to leverage this delivery company or that delivery company, what loyalty they’re going to put in place, how they’re going to bring the efficiencies to the restaurant that technology is really the only system that they can leverage to find these efficiencies and margins in these new revenue streams.
As we work with these new smaller point-of-sale systems, their targets are these new restaurants. So if you look at a Toast! or you look at a Solucao, they’re trying to find new restaurants that are opening their doors. And if they can’t support these third-party technologies, they’re not considered as an option for these restaurants to use — because they’re looking at it as “If you can’t support DoorDash, for example, and bring delivery to my kitchen, then that’s not a point-of-sale system I can use.” So the smaller point-of-sale systems have really started to come to us as kind of our third constituency saying, can we be Omnivore-enabled so that we have access to this large portfolio of app technologies?
What’s the main way that using technology can help these restaurants increase revenue?
I don’t know that there’s any main way. I mean, there’s certainly the more common categories, right? Loyalty, delivery, online ordering are all extremely popular right now, reservations obviously and certain categories are really critically important. And like anything else, just like your iPhone. If I’m looking for an application in a particular category, there are multiple options for you to try and see what you like and what works for you.
I think it’s really important these days as we look at different technologies to offer an open platform of best-of-breed technologies that can be used to see what works for you. All restaurants are so different. All of them are so used to customizing every aspect of their business. Technology really needs to be the same way for them, and if they go through this tedious process of integrating a technology that they decide ultimately really doesn’t work for their business, it’s very difficult for them to go through that process all over again in the same category to find a technology that works for them. So by able to use a common interface that’s already good to go allows them to find and select the category and the technology that’s really right for them.
Restaurants are a very specific category. They run on very tight margins and they turn over very easily — although some stay on forever and make lots of money. What do you think are some of the key issues between the ones that succeed and don’t succeed and how does technology play into that?
Chris Sullivan, our lead main investor and my partner, obviously been around for a long time and really believes that technology is the best way for these restaurants to innovate and find efficiencies and margins. We have increases in minimum wage, increases in healthcare costs, and one of the most personnel-dependent categories that I think are out there is in retail and hospitality. So them finding efficiencies and new revenue stream through technology is I think critically important for their success going forward and how they participate with their consumers.
Really interesting things are being done these days, like kitchens that are being built in delivery areas that don’t even serve food on site. Their whole purpose is to build a kitchen where you can come and take out and pick up food or delivery drivers like Uber and Amazon Restaurant or DoorDash will come and pick up food and serve to that area. They don’t even have servers on site or hostesses on site. There’s simply a production line. …
Delivery I think is more than anything else really changing the map of how we’re going to receive food going forward. I mean, this new generation is really interested in eating on-premise food but at home. They don’t necessarily want to go out, they don’t want to necessarily get in the car, and the ability for them to bring this new channel for orders into restaurants has been really spectacular to watch, and really just bringing massive amounts of orders to a kitchen that would overnight see 20 or 30 more covers because UberEATS has moved into their market.
You were saying before that you would potentially move into other verticals. It would seem that kind of the connector between a POS system and kind of like a cloud of apps would be kind of applicable to anybody who has a POS system eventually, no?
Yeah. There’s no doubt. It’s not the first time somebody … has tried to create a marketplace for their customers to consume. The problem is, is it’s really inconvenient for apps to consume it in that way. To not have a kind of neutral third party area where they can advertise their application and connect to many different point of sales systems, it has been really difficult for them to consume it in the past. The reason why Omnivore works in that situation is that we really create an addressable market across point-of-sale systems.
Are you essentially like the App Store for restaurants in that way?
That’s really what we’re looking to become and we really think that the value for Omnivore multiplies by bringing this opportunity for restaurants to install Omnivore once and try and play around with all these different technologies that they can feel confident that will be supported for their system, and will use an interface that is already trusted by them and is good to go.
David Hirschman is a co-founder of Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.