Meet the 12 digital disruptors of the restaurant industry


Noah glass

Olo

Founder and CEO

Back in the pre-iPhone days of 2005, Noah Glass had a decision to make. Working at Endeavor Global, a non-profit organization that functions as a venture capital firm targeting high-growth entrepreneurs, Glass presented its Olo prototype to investor David Frankel.

Frankel said that if Glass believed in Olo enough to withdraw his admission to Harvard Business School, where he was due to attend this fall, and quit his job at Endeavor to pursue Olo full-time, he might have the capital to start.

“I just knew it was the right time in my life to take an entrepreneurial risk like this,” says Glass. “And I also knew that this was really the only time in human history when we were about to see the smartphone become ubiquitous in the population.”

Years earlier, Glass got his first glimpse into the restaurant industry as a high school pizza delivery driver at an independent Newton, MA restaurant called Pizzaman. During Glass’s college years he worked as a bartender and cashier, but the spark for Olo didn’t happen until Glass was in New York after college.

Carrying a PalmPilot, he began to imagine that in the future, everyone would sport a device that could show restaurants as points of interest around you. He had no idea what we would call these “smartphones,” but he had the foresight to identify that this technology could be more than just communication – it could be transactional on-demand commerce.

“It was the original idea, this idea that I now call on-demand commerce, the idea that we would be able to have a device with us at all times that was connected to the internet, geo-tagged, personal device, and that would allow the consumer to be able to order and pay in advance and get their food faster or their coffee faster at a local restaurant or cafe, ”says Glass.

From a new concept, operators could become more efficient and customers would have better experiences. Although Olo was founded on the premise that smartphones had ubiquitous potential, it was still a few years before the iPhone rolled the curtain (January 2007). Glass says they had to work backwards, creating an SMS ordering system as the initial concept for what mobile ordering would look like.

In the beginning, users created a profile with a credit card and received a personalized menu. They would respond with a corresponding text message and could even respond by text if they wanted delivery, pickup and a time of their choice. As smartphones gained momentum and apps like Uber opened consumers’ eyes to location-based digital transactions, larger restaurant brands joined in, Glass said.

Top players in the fast-casual segment like Five Guys, Noodles & Company and Shake Shack turned to Olo to meet the long lines of customers who wanted to buy food at peak times with drop-order options. ‘advance. The concepts of casual dining followed.

Quick-service brands came last, says Glass, because when Olo started they already offered the most convenient way to order food. But Olo allowed them to avoid hiring delivery fleets, and they could just log into all on-demand couriers and use a smartphone as a tool for a new delivery model.

Over the next 16 years, Glass witnessed the digital transformation take shape. Olo’s growth curve was exponential: in 2017, it processed 50 million orders. In 2018, 100 million, and in 2019, 200 million. In 2020, as customers searched for digital outlets more than ever before, Olo pushed 500 million.

Over the past year, says Glass, he’s started to think about Olo, which went public in March, in a deeper way as he continues to support 400 restaurant brands (with 74,000 individual restaurant locations).

While some may doubt whether the industry’s digital rush will continue, Glass knows this movement was gathering momentum long before COVID.

“I think it’s easy for people to think of virtual space as some kind of fad or some kind of outcrop of the times we live in with COVID and social distancing and the closure of dining rooms and c. ‘is what led to it, “says Glass.” Given the longer term horizon I’ve had to observe the growth of digital in the industry, I don’t see it that way. I think it’s a lasting trend, I think it’s an exciting trend.

Virtual brands are innovating in light of this increased demand and the capacity for growth is monumental, he says, whether in an established restaurant brand or a concept backed by celebrities.

“The days of putting it together and seeing what works will continue, but we’re also going to enter a much more professionalized phase, a lot more sophisticated in terms of the tools that brands use to manage their platform. numerically controlled, “says Glass.

In the years to come, restaurant brands will seek higher levels of digital IQ, incorporating metrics that relate to a consumer’s lifetime value and benchmarking them against customer acquisition costs, Glass said.

“All of this is really cutting edge right now, but will become mainstream, and these skills will become essential skills that until now have been differentiators for these truly forward-looking brands,” said Glass. “I think it’s going to hit the general public very soon because it’s really about survival in this industry.”

Restaurants will need tools to personalize experiences based on consumer data. They will also continue to compete with delivery markets and strive to attract consumers to their direct channels.

“The north star that I articulate is what I call ‘digital wholeness’, which envisions a future in which Olo has the ability to touch every deal, add value to every deal and leverage revenue from every transaction in this industry, ”said Glass said.


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