A Q&A with NoWait co-founder Luke Panza. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–based company was founded in the summer of 2010 and just raised $2 million in Series A funding in late August. Investors include Birchmere Ventures and Sand Hill Angels.
SUB: Please describe NoWait, and the value proposition you offer to restaurateurs and patrons.
Panza: NoWait is a cloud-based iOS restaurant seating app that helps restaurant owners optimize turnover while liberating diners from long queues. It’s simple to use. Once a diner enters the restaurant, the host inputs the customer’s name and cell number into an iPad running the NoWait Host app. Within seconds, guests receive a message indicating the wait time until their table is available. If they have a smartphone, the system will send both a text and a link to ‘What’s my Place?,’ a feature unique to NoWait that not only indicates the estimated wait, but also a diner’s position in line. This frees up guests to visit retailers or bars nearby, reducing both congestion and the frustration of waiting. Once the table is ready, the diner receives a text to return to the restaurant to be seated without delay.
For restaurants there are three value points. NoWait’s ‘What’s my Place?’ feature extends the time guests are willing to wait since waiting becomes less burdensome. This allows a busy restaurant to effectively seat more customers. Second, because NoWait is a mobile wait list accessible on any iOS device, hosting teams can notify and seat guests from anywhere—e.g. the restaurant floor—thereby seating guests faster and increasing table turns for restaurants. Still third, while it may not seem so to the average restaurant patron, seating guests when the restaurant is very busy is a challenging and hectic job. NoWait takes the frustration out of the seating process by simplifying the process with its app.
For restaurant patrons, NoWait removes the burden of waiting with NoWait’s ‘What’s my Place?’ feature. Since guests can wait remotely, it makes it seem as if there is no wait at all. Even further, NoWait provides a real-time view of the guest’s place in line, providing a first time look into the wait list.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Panza: The typical NoWait user is the host, manager, and/or owner of a non-reservation, casual dining restaurant. NoWait works with the busiest casual dining restaurants in the country. We are looking to disrupt the restaurant pager and buzzer market.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Panza: There are a few competitors such as Diner Connection and Mobully that have similar wait list services. Traditional wait list management incumbents are in the restaurant pager and restaurants buzzer market that NoWait is disrupting and include LRS, HME Wireless and Jtech.
SUB: What differentiates NoWait from the competition?
Panza: Three key things: speed, set of features, ease of use.
The NoWait Host App is a native iOS app, thereby delivering fast operation with a more responsive user-interface than web-based apps. NoWait has more features—like Sync, ‘What’s My Place?’, Daily Analytics, etc.—than the competitors, and NoWait’s software is also the most easy to use. For these reasons, NoWait has far more clients across North America than any other competitor.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Panza: Our first step was identifying and sizing the market. We discovered the pain restaurants felt managing their busy seating process. The restaurant buzzer and restaurant pagers weren’t cutting it for the majority of restaurants we interviewed. Restaurant pagers are the Sony Walkman of the restaurant tech world. Like the Walkman, they were great in the ‘80s, but had become dated and stale.
We founded NoWait in June 2010. With the right idea and team, we worked to get our first beta tests in market as quickly as possible. Within five months of founding the company, we had made our first sale with NoWait.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for NoWait? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Panza: NoWait started when our CEO Robb Myer was trying to find a table for brunch in San Francisco. Robb wanted an OpenTable-like experience for non-reservation restaurants. Robb enlisted a team of technical and market experts to build NoWait. We have worked with 100’s of restaurant owners and managers refining the solution to be the most effective in the market today.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Panza: We went through many iterations to find just the right name to capture the essence of our vision. Our vision is to completely transform the seating process at no- reservation restaurants. If you’re not forced to wait on site, if you can do something else you enjoy, we contend you aren’t really waiting. You have a ‘no-wait’ experience. Thus the name NoWait was born. We wanted to express the end user experience without limiting ourselves to the restaurant industry or buzz words. Our vision is to create a NoWait experience at the 100’s of thousands of non-reservation restaurants in the U.S. and beyond.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Panza: We bootstrapped NoWait for two years only raising $300K in Seed funding. Balancing a lean budget with our desire to move quickly was our biggest challenge in the early days. We wanted to emerge as the market leader before raising institutional money.
SUB: You recently raised $2 million in Series A funding. What do you plan to do with the new funds?
Panza: Our goal is to disrupt the restaurant pager market by innovating the process and not the status quo product—hockey puck pagers. This funding will help us get there faster. Up until this point, NoWait has spread by word of mouth and the occasional trade show. This funding will allow us to invest in marketing and advertising.
SUB: Do you plan to raise additional outside funding in the near future?
Panza: Only time will tell.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Panza: We’re an innovative SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) play. Unlike traditional restaurant pagers that require a large upfront investment of hardware and a monthly replacement fee, NoWait is a simple monthly subscription service. We have pricing tiers to cover all types of restaurants. In many cases our monthly fee is less than what a restaurant is paying in ongoing maintenance. It’s your classic example of expensive hardware solutions being replaced by software and cloud services.
SUB: What are your goals for NoWait over the next year or so?
Panza: We’re going to put restaurant pagers out of business and continue to deliver the best product at the best prices to as many restaurants as possible.
NoWait – www.nowaitapp.com