Dining can be a way to celebrate, catch up, meet new people or just grab a little nutrition, and while there is a restaurant for every occasion there is not an app for all yourrestaurant needs. With Reserve you pay a small price and exponentially increase your dining experience with restaurant discovery, concierge, tip splitting and more. So don’t plan another get together without taking advantage of the Reserve benefits to eat and drink happier!
We spoke with Founder Greg Hong about Reserve to get the inside scoop on what it is all about as well as the company’s latest round of funding.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
To date, Reserve has announced $17.3M (a $2.3M seed round and a $15M Series A) from institutional investors like Expa, First Round, Google Ventures and individual investors like Jon Favreau, will.i.am and Jared Leto. Additionally, we also recently announced a strategic investment from Diageo Technology Ventures. That raise was part of a convertible note, distinct from our Series A.
Tell us about your product or service.
Reserve is a dining concierge service that helps you find great restaurants, make a reservation and seamlessly pay the bill or split the check at the end of your meal. The Reserve app is available for Android and iPhone, and we work with about 500 restaurants across the country, in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.
What inspired you to start the company?
My Co-founder and I were trying to make a dinner reservation for a group of friends – we kept going back and forth – looking for good places, checking availability, researching more places and so on, and figured there had to be a better way. We started Reserve because we believe there is an incredible appetite for a more elegant, end-to-end solution that serves both diners and restaurants.
How is it different?
For our diners, Reserve is a one-stop shop that helps you from the minute you think you might want to go out to a restaurant all the way through the end of the meal. We help you find a great restaurant, get a reservation and seamlessly pay the bill (or split the check) at the end of the meal. Additionally, as a digital concierge service, we can help you find just the right spot, let you know if alternative seating times are available if what you requested isn’t available and help you communicate with the restaurant if you have particular dining preferences or it is a special occasion.
From a restaurant’s perspective, Reserve is more cost-effective, allows them to have more control over their dining room and incorporates industry feedback to make sure we’re addressing the real problems and issues faced by restaurateurs today.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
There are about half a million seated dining restaurants in the US, and hundreds of millions of people who go out to eat every year. In particular, we see millennials dining out more than any other previous generation.
What’s your business model?
Reserve charges a flat $5 fee for a completed concierge experience, meaning that we have helped you discover, reserve and pay for your meal. The concierge fee is a flat amount regardless of party size or restaurant and is only charged after your meal is complete.
This round was funded by a the venture arm of a corporate. What considerations did you have when raising from a strategic?
As a first principle, we look for investors who have common interests and care deeply about the problems we are trying to solve in the hospitality space. Diageo Technology Ventures was designed to solve existing business challenges and unlock new opportunities for future growth by working with emerging tech companies and entrepreneurs. Because of their extensive experience as the global leader in beverage alcohol, they have a unique perspective on the industry and we are very happy to have them on board.
What was the funding process like?
It was really great to be able to talk at a deep level about the industry with an investor who has the kind of breadth, depth and understanding that Diageo does. Whenever we talk with potential investors or partners we always look for people who share our interest in improving hospitality and solving problems operators face.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Truthfully, it’s having enough time in the day. Leading a fast-growing company and raising money at the same time are really two full-time jobs, both of which are critically important. One tactic that helped keep all the wheels on the bus was setting aside email-only time and compressing my meeting schedule. I also focused on laying the groundwork and empowering the rest of the management team to help make decisions and drive things forward when I was fundraising.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Reserve is the first company that actually shares the vision of hospitality and creating an amazing dining experience with the restaurants, and the response has been tremendous. We work with some of the best restaurants around the country, and take a very partner-first approach to our business.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Our plans are to continue to expand within our seven cities (bringing on more restaurants in each market), launch Reserve in more cities, bring Reserve to more people and build more functionality that our diners and our restaurant partners will love.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Really take the time to focus on your business plan and think critically about how you’re going to continue to advance your business. You should make sure you have a clear path to profitability (and if you don’t, go back to that business plan again) and are being clear-eyed and realistic about your growth and the competitive landscape. Make sure you have enough runway to solve or realize at least a part of your vision. Showing you can execute at least on part of your strategy or hit early milestones will be key in getting future investment or attracting the customers or advertisers who can help you succeed.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Every day we talk with our partners and customers to listen to their needs and see how we can best serve them. As we look forward to a busy spring dining season, which includes Mother’s Day, the biggest day of the year for dining out, we want to make sure we’re continuing to think about how we can help our partners and their guests, and be top of mind any time a potential diner is hungry.
Where is your favorite fall destination in the city?
I love going for a run in Central Park or along the East river.