I had five volunteers and the sprint began. We had a dedicated lean team within Lunchbox to get this up and running. It was an all weekend effort to go from design to dev to live, but come launch day the site was live. We had a few hiccups, like how there was so much traffic after Jack Dorsey tweeted about us that Google flagged our site as hazardous. Needless to say it was stressful but rewarding. It was the most joy I felt since launching my company a year ago!
How has it developed? Did you expect to get 121,000 restaurants online?
The day we went live we had a 100 or so locations. It was crowdsourced by our team with our favorite restaurants. Our partners and siblings helped! Our goal was the same in the beginning as it still is today. Help as many small businesses that need help, as soon as possible, and make it easy for the customers to show their love. We launched with just New York City and quickly grew into New Jersey, Philadelphia, and then out West. As you said, we are now nationwide with 121,000 small businesses live on the site.
How big of a lift can gift cards provide restaurants, especially if we’re talking about those that are closed right now and not equipped to use off-premises business to recover lost revenue?
Gift cards provide immediate financial support for a lot of these businesses that are either fully shut down, or like restaurants lost their primary revenue stream. When a guest buys a gift card through helpmainstreet.com, 100 percent of the money goes directly to the establishment.
We also banned gift card companies that were bad actors and did not immediately reimburse the restaurants. Does it save a business, no god no! We are restaurant people, we know it is not even close to enough. But everything helps. And with the first party ordering sites, we are excited to create repeatable and predictable revenue for restaurants on our site.
What’s the response been like? Is there a lot of pent-up consumer demand for people wanting to support local restaurants, but perhaps not knowing where to begin?
Consumers really wanted to help. We sold over $400,000 in gift cards. We also released online ordering listing to make sure we increase awareness against third party companies like Grubhub. Restaurants don’t know that they are hurting their favorite restaurants.
We also had chamber of commerce, governors and mayor like Ravinder Bhalla of Hoboken, New Jersey, who are all involved and helped us with their community listings. It really does take a village.
And in particular, what kind of response have you gotten from restaurant owners themselves?
The restaurant industry has responded really positively. So many mom-and-pop restaurants across the country are hurting, and they needed somebody to help amplify their voice to get the help they needed and deserved.
Some of them have also created videos to help us promote the site like CEO and founder of Bareburger.
Talk about the Stella Artois partnership, in addition to some other initiatives you have going on and coming down the line.
Our partnership with Stella Artois has been a dream come true! Sessions @Home recently launched with Eva Longoria host the first one and giving helpmainstreet.com a great shoutout, we’ve seen tremendous growth since that partnership took off.
I see Helpmainstreet as a project that will live on even after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Providing customers the ability to order directly from their favorite restaurants via their first-party solutions is what the restaurant industry dearly needed but was never to rally around. Helping restaurants avoid those outrageous third-party fees that are crippling even during “normal times.”
Let’s shift gears to Lunchbox. The platform was developed out of frustration with the struggle of solving omnichannel digital ordering. Walk us through what led you to get started on a solution.
One of my big projects while I was CMO at Bareburger, was to build our own digital ordering system just like sweetgreen has accomplished. As I was trying to build the system I realized I was having six different conversations with 6 different companies in an effort to create one product; web ordering. When the time came to add app ordering, I was told they wouldn’t be able to work together and the data couldn’t be shared.
It was a completely fractured system that was a headache to market with. That was the source of my “lightbulb moment,” I just thought to myself it has to be simpler and easier than all of this. So I pulled together a team with my cofounder Andrew Boryk who was at Johnson & Johnson at the time, and we got to work on an MVP of the product.