A letter on the Origin, Evolution and Future of Citispoon as told by Dapo Kolawole Co-founder and CEO
Citispoon’s story began with a hangry moment– no surprise there, right? On one fateful night back in we had a last-minute hankering to taste something new in town. And just our luck… we battled bumper to bumper just to collect one-hour waits by the handful. Too hungry and tired even for small talk, we settled for a Thai restaurant that got us in right away.
Over that meal, Citispoon was born… as well as two pro-foodies with the intent of revolutionizing the app-to-table journey for foodies everywhere.
Weeks later on a Sunday afternoon, a promo came across my tv screen. Quad Cities Fast Pitch launching a new business idea competition.This could be the place to test out our concept. Never having pitched before, we watched a ton of YouTube videos and read a lot of Google articles on how to do a 3 min pitch!
My co-founder and I started thinking, could we adopt a VIP treatment at nightclubs and bring it over to enhance the dining experience?. Would formal dining restaurant guests pre-pay for their dining so that they avoid the wait. If they paid over 50% of their potential spend, would restaurants guarantee a table because the guest is financially committed? Men, we had questions!!
On pitch day, first round of pitching was in front of judges and the final pitch would be in front of a live audience. My turn came and I was so nervous that I forgot my lines but managed to start over and just get out my pitch. After everyone completed their pitch, we waited to find out who would move on to the next stage. Well, you know that you’ve made it to the next round when the MC comes over and asks “how do you pronounce your last name?”
We came in 3rd place and won $1000 and with that we invested all of it into what we now call Citispoon 1.0. It was at this event, that we were invited to apply to the first cohort of the University of Iowa Venture school.
Four months later, we got accepted and we further conducted customer interviews and validated the original idea. Potential users just wouldn’t prepay half of their potential spend to avoid waiting. We pivoted and created WaitCube; an Android app that helps restaurants post their wait-times so that their guests could know the wait in real-time. But we struggled to get restaurants to use our tablets to post their wait-times and learned some lessons from this pivot, such as;
- Not all restaurants are built equal. Their front-of-house(FOH) staff in charge of posting wait-times, often didn’t charge the tablet.
- Restaurants didn’t have the time to send out updates when their wait-times went up, because they were busy at the most critical time for our solution to work!
- Posted wait-times by FOH staff couldn’t be verified.
- Wait-times in Iowa wasn’t a big problem.
With that, two years later we moved to Chicago with the hope of revolutionizing the restaurant journey of local consumers.
What we found that the average American couple spends 132 hours a year deciding what to eat!, 69% of Americans don’t like going to the same familiar restaurant and are regularly interested in trying somewhere new with different types of food and 61% of Americans still find it difficult to discover new restaurants. Basically, they know we want new tastes, don’t know where to go and are wasting a ton of time in the process!
Because when It’s Friday night and you and your Boo decide you want a dinner date night, all you want to know is: Is it close, will I like it and can I get a table now instead of looking at Google for what’s around you and hitting Yelp to sift through dozens of reviews, and not knowing if you can even get in at this hour! Before you know it, you’ve spent 45 mins searching and Boo is getting hangry!
Citispoon gets guest closer to a decision pronto, and helps restaurants interact with these guests to influence their dining decisions in real-time.
But along the way we realized there was a bigger problem. Restaurants go out of business all the time. In fact in 2017, 38% nationwide closed their doors. That’s 181 restaurants per day! We help early stage restaurants remain competitive, improve customer engagement and get attain from growling stomachs everywhere. Taking a digital and data approach.
Our Machine Learning SaaS platform learns your guest taste buds and matches it with wait-times at restaurants to get good food into your mouth and keeping you and boo hanger free! As well, helps restaurants interact with their guests and influence guests dining decisions in real-time through our geofence/big data approach, providing more customers with less work.
Since our MVP app launch on iOS in May of 2018, we have added significant number of restaurants to our platform and now focused on the user side. And in just 12 months after launching Citispoon, we have numerous pitching competitions taking home over $100,000 in cash and in-kind. As well has been featured in Medium magazine.
So, who are we?Why are we the right people to solve this problem?
I share this story with you to show that we know how to find creative solutions to tough problems. If you want to develop an app but don’t have the money, what do most founders do? They immediately try to raise capital from investors, or maybe they launch a kickstarter, or turn to their family for money. Not us! When we had the idea for Citispoon and knew we needed money to fund development, we saw a way to capitalize on market opportunity staring us in the face – The 2016 presidential elections!
As luck will have it, all the presidential nominees stomped through Iowa, were we lived. So we hatched the idea of creating limited edition presidential nominee cereal boxes. One problem we faced off the bat was lack of funds to create 16 GOP presidential nominee cereal boxes and 3 democratic nominee cereal boxes. So we decided to pick then candidates Donald J Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton as the two we felt will be the leading ticket for their parties, naming the cereal boxes Lucky Trumps (greatness in every bite!) and Honey Nut Hillarios (time to enjoy every bite!).
We headed out to candidate Trump’s rally, and sold both Lucky Trumps and Honey Nut Hillarios cereal boxes out of the back of my wife’s SUV. Each box sold for $30 a box. As the presidential primaries got heated up on the Republican side, the demand for Lucky Trump cereal boxes increased and we adjusted our prices accordingly, charging $50 a box. We eventually created a website and FaceBook pages to increase sales. At the end of the day, we raised enough to start the app development with crazy margins! As well, we called it! Meaning we picked the right nominee for each party. Trump and Hillary. We’re scrappy and resourceful and will hustle, no matter what!
With a hyper focus on Chicago, our goal is to expand to New York and Toronto in 2020.
Citispoon: Helping restaurants remain competitive, improve customer experience and get attention from growling stomachs everywhere.