Secret Sauce for Open Tables

A few weeks back I noticed a review on Techcrunch about OpenTable.

On OpenTable you can search for immediate openings in a given neighborhood. Most online reservations sites have an hour cut off because the systems have to sync together. But OpenTable is the restaurant’s system. It’s the first time I’ve seen OpenTable actually do something for me as a diner that I couldn’t have done any other way, and the new location-aware iPhone app makes that functionality all the more powerful.

The idea of being able to have commercial messaging to customers passing nearby has always had huge business appeal. If my memory is correct it was part of the sizzle around WAP phones in the rush to buy frequencies that never really amounted to much back in 2000.

Not for the first time - technologists had over promised. Still much to the surprise of Telcos SMS messaging really took off since the costs were low enough to encourage all kinds of new uses and since data and voice charges were still too high for most of us.

There is a very good idea that businesses which are set-up to solve a problem often do much better than ones that work around the edges. I've heard this described as the "better to have a pain killer than a bottle of vitamins" approach. (Hat tip to John O'Hara)

Point being the product need/result is instantly understood by a far greater market size and that makes converting marketing activity to sales results a dream. So a very good place to start with understanding or creating a new business is to examine the business model.

Does it solve an easily identified need or need problem and who would the natural customers be? leading on to how do we get to those people and all the usual marketing and operation delivery challenges.

Open Table offers a service that is not readily available outside US, Canada, Mexico or UK at present but see here for a list which shows a small number in other countries and both China and France are listed so they have licensees but no live sites yet. So what are the benefits? (Their description below)

  • Save time with automated reservations
  • Improve service with a powerful guest database
  • Maximize efficiency with table management tool
  • Attract repeat business with email marketing
  • Join the network that seats 2 million diners monthly
  • Gain exposure from more than 75 partners

Most of these benefits come from joining a network and the amplification and network benefits of timely information flow on that circuit. Even though New Zealand is not one of the international territories using OpenTable restaurant booking software it is is only a matter of time before some one here wakes up and sees the opportunity.

I'd guess that there a a large number of restaurants in New Zealand who don't have any real software based booking system. This is a compelling reason to get one very quickly.

In essence pushing bookings data from other systems out to the web should be that difficult and many restaurant application vendors should be able to do this but the real genius is to push to mobile phones. If you have an iPhone or iTouch you can at least download the free application onto your device and have a look at how it all works.

I did this myself a few days ago and checked out some tables in Anchorage Alaska. I was very impressed until I got to the menu section and realised I couldn't "pop" that page out to my Safari browser on the iTouch. The reason for viewing in a web browser is to view in landscape mode and enlarge text so it can be read. Twitterific does this kind of thing very well. On the other hand - if I knew the restaurants and was really a local I would be less interested in the menu than - can I get a booking which is the primary service being offered.

Net result—the Open Table business model is transparent and easy to buy the story so $70m of funding at a time when there is a lot of doom and gloom in the business community. I also couldn't help thinking about Open Source versions of this kind of software and I know that could be done.

Being in New Zealand and Australia I wondered what other kind of project might be around of this kind. There is a list over at secret sauce* and Taggle looks very interesting in this regard

A Taggle is a very low-cost tag that enables consumers, enterprises and governments to use the internet to track the location and status on almost any asset. Taggle Systems (formerly Widentifi) was founded by some of Australia’s leading wireless technology entrepreneurs and is funded by two venture capital firms and private investors.
Secret Sauce has provided a CEO that has led the company through product definition, design and development of a complex hardware and silicon chip solution, business planning and multiple funding rounds.

I remember reading about bicycle security in Amsterdam many years ago and how there were small GPS devices that could be installed in a bike and used to trace them when stolen. Last time I was in Sydney I had my worst ever taxi ride. I needed to go 3 km to a venue and the driver got lost numerous times. The car had GPS but only for security reasons.

Can I suggest the most important asset for a taxi driver especially in Sydney is GPS for navigation!! After 90 mins I finally got to the location but that trip ruined the day totally.

I remember reading about bicycle security in Amsterdam many years ago and how there were small GPS devices that could be installed on a bike and used to trace them when stolen.

An excellent example of going for the vitamin rather than the pain killer.

*Secret Sauce is also a brilliant looking company. On their website they describe themselves as:

Secret Sauce is an entrepreneurial partner for the commercialisation of intellectual property. We find intellectual property that has commercial value, determine the best path to market then generate revenue through licensing deals, IP sales and the creation of new ventures.

I have also been very impressed to reacquaint myself with the people at EveredgeIP who are based in Auckland.

Please we need more Open Tables in ANZAC land—let’s get some more useful applications into the Appstore. Let’s find more easy opportunities around plugging gaps in the network, especially those which solve a problem or need.