I’ve been asked a lot about the recent transaction to bring Koala under the Chowly umbrella and to be honest, it’s one of the most exciting moves I’ve been part of in my career. The combination of these two companies has the potential to bring the restaurant space forward in its digital journey in a meaningful way.
Over the years, I’ve looked at 100’s of online ordering products. I’ve talked to 1,000’s of restaurants about online ordering. And I distilled much of what I learned into the following; online ordering tools are extremely important to the success of a restaurant, but fall into two buckets. If you look at it from the standpoint of providing two experiences: One is to the consumer (front-end) and one to the restaurant (back-end). Almost all online ordering products are good at one or none. I had yet to find one good at both.
Even Olo, the biggest of them all, struggled on the front-end side. That was basically why Koala was created; to provide a premium consumer experience on the front-end.
Over the years, we have partnered with, re-sold, and referred so many tools to try and solve this problem. I was constantly asked “when will Chowly come out with an online ordering product” and we evaluated that exact question for years. I believed we didn’t have the expertise on our staff to truly build a great consumer experience and staffing up for that would be expensive, time-consuming and risky. These online ordering tools are deceptively difficult to build and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I saw so many other businesses make.
When the opportunity to combine Chowly with Koala came up, I got really excited. Koala is a platform built to elevate the consumer experience (front-end). It transforms the digital ordering experience in a thoughtful way, focusing on delivering an exceptional and consistent user interface for the consumer across web, app and kiosk to meet the consumer where they are..
Chowly had gone through a really interesting series of events on the product side of the business. Most people don’t know that when we hit 10,000 locations, we only had 4 engineers on the team. On one hand we were proud to be so lean. We built things smartly and were maniacal about what we built to maximize impact. On the other hand, we didn’t have enough resources to really innovate and push the envelope. And we saw competitors off the backs of large fundraisings catch up to us, and even surpass us. This was hard to admit to ourselves and a tough hole to dig out of.
But we dug out of it. We had such a strong culture that people raised their hands and asked how they could help. Some came up with ideas, some referred great engineers, and others grinded out their existing tasks despite the uphill battle they knew it would be. We made investments in our product, and then we started climbing out of that hole. We started releasing new products, getting happier customers, and catching up with the competition.
As we’re making this progress, the Koala opportunity comes up and we make the decision to go after it. The defining moment for me wasn’t that the products meshed, the orgs complemented each other, the happy customers I spoke to, or even the deal terms. Those were all critical for sure, but the moment for me was when I learned about their mission statement.
Democratize premium digital ordering for restaurants.
That’s when it clicked. Not only did I love that mission, I saw with such clarity that we could help them to accomplish that mission. We had the sales team. And we had the access to SMB restaurants who Chowly has been fighting for since day one; the independents, the aspiring entrepreneurs, and family businesses we all love in our neighborhoods. We could bring them technology previously relegated to the biggest brands. I thought that vision was so pure and so crisp. We could simplify something complicated and bring something so special to ALL restaurants for Koala’s mission.
This would truly allow our SMB’s to punch above their weight class – the entrepreneur’s calling.
We would bring the premier undeniably best-in-class product to the SMB space. And more than that, we could help restaurants on their next step in their digital journey. I’ve said for years that restaurants had a digital journey they needed to go on to be successful. It so often started with adding third-party marketplaces. It was just easy. You turned on a tablet and sales just came seemingly out of nowhere. Then you add another tablet, and another, and then you start diving into fee structures and it gets complicated fast. Chowly simplified all that for customers. So that was step one. Step two was first-party online ordering; control your customer experience, don’t pay commissions, own your data. We helped 1,000’s of restaurants with this. Then build your loyalty and marketing efforts (Step 3), then catering, virtual restaurants, and more which I would consider “expert level stuff”.
Chowly is now going to make moving to step two as easy as a few clicks of a button.
We know that our customers care about their customers as much as we do. We understand the challenges and the joys of navigating a highly competitive industry as an SMB. We’re passionate about providing the technology that will bridge the gaps between everything a restaurant has to offer and establishing a loyal customer base that grows steadily. And that is why bringing Koala under the Chowly umbrella was a no-brainer for us: best-in-class solutions for best-in-class restaurateurs who care about people.