“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed.”
Booker T. Washington
As a child, my father told me inspirational stories of my grandfather – an immigrant who came to America with nothing and built an empire as an inventor and entrepreneur. He invented Skytyping, a process that utilizes five skywriters to “puff” out the World’s Largest Billboard in a dot-matrix format; he grew that company to be an internationally recognized advertising media company that is still in operation after 50 years. I knew at that point that I wanted to be successful like him and started to ask myself: “If he could do it, could anybody be a success?”
Like my grandfather, I enjoyed coming up with outside-the-box solutions and was passionate about seeing them come to fruition. In 2000, I graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree and worked for Boeing designing military satellite power amplifiers. All throughout my life I envisioned how things could work better and while I was able to save my employer millions of dollars through innovation in engineering, I still felt my creativity was stifled. I wanted to find a way for my own ideas to reach the public domain and concluded that I needed to learn how to start a business so that I could bring my own ideas to life.
I looked at the best schools for Entrepreneurship and when I found out California State University, Fullerton was both the largest business school in California and provided a world-class education, I was definitely intrigued. Since I went to USC for my Master’s degree in Engineering, I wanted my MBA experience to be comparable. I was sold when I found out I would be the first class to start in the new state-of-the-art Steven G. Mihaylo school of Business and it had the hands-on curriculum that would provide me the resources I needed to be successful.
Immediately from the start of the program I grew close to my advisers and the successful business mentors who helped me in my projects, especially during the Venture Creation and Venture Launch courses. While I had many ideas and didn’t know exactly what business I wanted to start at first, I did gain a better understanding of what would succeed and what wouldn’t so I was able to refine my thinking.
Halfway through my program and specifically in my queuing theory class, the mathematical study of wait times; I came up with the idea of ordering drinks through a mobile device to “skip the wait.” In that class I met my business partner who persuaded me to consider including restaurants and introduced me to his friend and our soon to be programmer who later created our iPad and iPhone app. After flushing out the idea for a couple semesters, I then refined our business plan and launched immediately after graduation.
The first six months I literally went door to door talking with hundreds of restaurant owners and they had no interest in changing the way they did business. While we knew wireless ordering would increase table turnaround and profitability, owners were too afraid of the change and I felt a pivot was needed in order to get our solution in the door. I started from the ground up, looking at what restaurants were interested in learning about when I stumbled upon a term called “menu engineering” and learned that people order food based on where their eye looks at the menu. I then noticed our iPad app interface was different from our competitors in the way that we had an array of photos vs. listing items. I felt people would choose the most appetizing photos, especially based on placement from menu engineering, therefore increasing sales on the items restaurant owners wanted to feature on our iPad menu.
This led me to build marketing strategies around our distinct product and sell our system as “menu optimization” software. It was at this time I went back to CSUF and asked my former adviser, John Jackson (JJ), for advice. He had me discuss my plan with his students for feedback and leads and shortly after he found some restaurant clients who had hired the CSUF entrepreneur classes for strategic advances in their businesses and thought they might be interested. One restaurateur in particular told me “no” when I was going door-to-door, then changed his mind and said “yes, I trust JJ’s recommendations and would be happy to try it out.”
That fine dining restaurant was my first beta test and using our menu optimization software, my team and I were able to improve sales for a stellar performing server by 24% and 36% for an underperforming server. In that environment, I personally introduced our digital menu to over 500 end-users (restaurant guests), all which gave me positive feedback, most notably how our menu was easy to use and see in the dim lit restaurants without putting on reading glasses.
In my next beta test, the owners of a casual dining restaurant recorded samples from 125 random customers – they reported to me they received an average increase in guest checks (sales) of 21.3% throughout the month. My next proof of concept came when a restaurant using our system told me their Margarita Pizza sales were slow and wanted our help. I asked them what was wrong and they told me their Margarita Pizza wasn’t selling because it wasn’t on my iPad menu system – this told me items on my menu system were selling more than items solely on their paper menus. Within 5 minutes of them sending me a photo of their pizza, I was able to have it remotely synced up and placed on their iPad menu. After a week, they told me the Margarita Pizza sales went up 225%!
These were the proofs of concept I needed and with the help of the CSUF staff and mentors who had decades of restaurant consulting experience, they helped me create marketing material that got restaurant owners’ attention. With renewed confidence, I started creating channel partnerships with restaurant influencers. These partnerships became our sales channels which allowed us to reach into international markets and expand Tap Tap Order.
Reflecting on it all, I definitely realized the power of networking and how much CSUF was more of a valuable resource beyond just an education. I was able to refine my business concepts and it gave me the knowledge I needed to understand how to make my concepts valuable and to whom. My suggestion for even non-business majors is to enter the business plan contests that are open to all majors; the entrepreneurship program was the only way I had a chance at success and I know it would do the same for others who aren’t afraid of following their dreams.
In closing, I’d like to say our ordering platform was finally seen as a success too, the tablets are just used by waiters instead of customers to wirelessly send orders into the kitchen to reduce the waiter’s redundancy of walking back and forth from the tables to the kitchen. Tablet and mobile devices are here to stay, every child in America is exposed to one of these and it will continue to be prevalent in the future. With a robust ordering system platform in place, I still believe consumer ordering, especially at bars and nightclubs, is the next trend and I’m looking forward to making that segment our next successful beta test – hopefully soon after an owner who wants to leverage technology reads this article and contacts us!Phillip Stinis ’11 MBA Managing Partner of Tap Tap Order email@example.com