Despite the fact that Facebook, Twitter and even Pokémon Go are all packaged neatly within our phones — making certain no waking minutes are left unfilled — when you’re actually waiting on line for something, none of that really matters. People still just don’t like to wait.
This is not lost on TRAY cofounders Peter Kellis (CEO) and Philippe Dauman Jr. (COO). Their growing 12-person startup is seeking to reinvent service businesses for both customers and proprietors by bringing a different experience to the table. With backgrounds from MIT to Google & Twitter, the team has been working three years to deliver a cloud-based “self-service checkout made easy” by providing a suite of modern solutions allowing businesses to integrate with or entirely replace their POS systems. The company’s beta concluded at the beginning of the year.
We recently posed questions to the pair about how they chose to dive into mobile POS and why social elements are important to payments. We also found out how one of the founders made his way into the Guinness Book of World Records.
What was the genesis of TRAY and why did you focus on hospitality?
Peter: I have lived all over the world during the past two decades, and wherever I went, I got frustrated having to wait to order a drink or to get a bartender or waitress’s attention — or just to pay my bill so I could leave. In early 2013, I waited 20 minutes to get a drink at a crowded bar where I was a regular. The TRAY app was born a few months later! We followed with our handheld server tablets, self-service kiosks and POS terminals, all geared towards making both self-service and server-facilitated ordering and checkout faster.
What’s the offering to restaurants and other venues?
Peter: TRAY is a complete, self-service or staff-assisted ordering and POS system. We offer customer self-service ordering kiosks, and even a mobile app that allows customers to order and pay right from their own smartphones. We also have sleek and powerful mobile handhelds, complete with EMV readers and receipt printing, that allow servers to send orders wirelessly to the kitchen or bar. And of course, we have fast, full-featured desktop or wall mounted POS terminals.
All of this comes with built-in reward, loyalty, and customer-marketing features. And everything is tied together by a modern, cloud-based configuration and reporting system, allowing our partners to manage their business online from anywhere in the world.
Philippe: TRAY also makes it easy to upgrade your whole system, or just incorporate the pieces you want. Let’s say you already have a POS system like Micros or Aloha. We integrate with your existing POS so you can start allowing your customers to order from their smartphone with the TRAY app, or add a customer self-service kiosk to your venue to make ordering more efficient.
What we’ve found is that, once a venue starts using TRAY, owners and staff want to use more of it. We’ve had clients who started with TRAY handheld ordering tablets for servers that ended up replacing their entire POS with TRAY terminals. We’re unique in that we offer out-of-the-box solutions that work with existing POS systems, but can also completely replace them.
There is a social element embedded in the service, perhaps table stakes for a millennial-focused product. What’s the goal here?
Peter: This was frankly born from my own personal desire to meet people when I go out. There’s always a social component to eating and drinking at an establishment, and I felt it was important to integrate that into the TRAY experience. We have been among the first to combine social and self-service within the same experience, and have several patents protecting the technology. Interestingly, some of the world’s largest food service providers are trying to solve for social interactions, especially in university settings. We’re working with them to leapfrog the competition by integrating TRAY in their locations.
Besides restaurants and hospitality which categories are you looking to tackle?
Philippe: We’re seeing great traction increasing F&B sales in venues where the main experience is not just about food, such as water parks, amusement parks, bowling alleys, and golf courses. TRAY is also a clear fit for quick service restaurants, hotels with room service, resorts with poolside service, beach cafes, and the list goes on.
How many businesses have signed up thus far?
Philippe: We have dozens of partners across the US and are doubling our volume almost monthly. Some of our clients have multiple locations we are expanding into, but of course we want to make TRAY accessible for all businesses.
What is the most popular setup chosen by clients? The app? Kiosks? Handhelds?
Peter: It depends on the industry. For water parks and bowling alleys, it’s been self-service kiosks, which enable ordering in large venues even when a server isn’t nearby. For restaurants with table service, handhelds are popular because they make it easy for servers to place orders and spend more time with customers. Bars and hotels have the biggest usage of the app, which allow customers to place orders when the bar is too crowded, or from the comfort of their room. But the majority of our partners use more than one of our products together, and any business can benefit from our lighting-fast, easy-to-use terminals.
On your site you note ‘In several of our case studies we found that TRAY pays for itself in the first few months’ … Could you talk a little more about the economics there?
Philippe: Absolutely. We provide our hardware effectively at cost, and charge a low monthly fee to maintain service. This is significantly less than the cost of hiring an additional server, yet TRAY provides the same benefit as hiring two or three new staff members — so there’s an immediate monthly cost savings. In addition, when customers use our self-service ordering, they order more and our partners’ revenue generally increases by 20% or more. So TRAY benefits both the top and bottom line.
Peter: Let me give you an example: e’s Bar in NYC has a room in the back with no servers. Users see table tents that prompt them to download the app and order for themselves. Some days we’ll get over $2000 in orders placed from this one room at e’s bar. And the monthly fee they pay for TRAY is a tiny drop considering the increase in sales and customer satisfaction, without hiring any additional staff.
Who are you competing with today and do you feel like the other players are stuck in the past?
Peter: We think what we are doing is completely unique, with no competitors offering a complete solution. Frequently we are competing with doing nothing, helping venues who have been using outdated POS system to upgrade their service and become more relevant with millennials.
Even some of our more-recent iPad-based competitors are stuck with expensive, limited device choices—and no one offers all the form factors that we do. Being Android-based allows us to deliver a complete system at the least cost for our partners. Our powerful, cloud-based back-end is what enables all these components to work together seamlessly. POS downtime means lost sales for owners, so I built TRAY to be a mission-critical, enterprise-class system, which constantly monitors all its components and alerts if there’s any issue. That’s just not how other systems are built.
Philippe, How did you decide to leave Twitter where you were Director of Commerce to come to TRAY? What caught your attention?
Philippe: Commerce is going mobile: I saw it firsthand on the Google Wallet team, and then at Twitter, where I helped build our Commerce initiatives. Consumers, especially millennials, want the ease and convenience of conducting transactions on their phones, and they don’t want to wait for service just because a business is using outdated technology. This is powering the growth of businesses like Uber, AirBnB, and even Amazon.
But TRAY isn’t just empowering consumers, it’s also fundamentally changing the dynamics of businesses large and small. Before TRAY, no one had built a complete system to make ordering, payment, and customer loyalty both more efficient and less costly. That got me excited about the potential to revolutionize the whole system.
Where are you going next with the product suite?
Peter: We’re always laser-focused on improving our technology. We’ve recently added EMV (chip credit card) readers and upgraded our terminals to be even faster, with larger screen options. Soon we’ll be adding contactless payment options, as well as dual-screen systems that allow customers to sign digitally while staff take their orders. We’re also spending a lot of time ensuring our support experience is the best in the industry. We want TRAY to be the easiest and most advanced self-service solution.
So Peter, are you really in the Guinness Book?
Peter: Yes. I’m the oldest of three in my family — my sister is a year younger than I am, while my brother is a year younger than her. We were all accepted by MIT within two years of each other, and that was apparently the fastest acceptance rate from a single family. After we were included in the Guinness Book of World Records, they featured us in the evening news in Greece, where our family is from. Our parents, who devoted their lives to our education, were happy — so that’s what matters most to me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.