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NoWait's mobile notification platform lets diners wander while they wait

With a focus on giving diners their valuable time back, a new app called NoWait is helping restaurants retain walk-in customers on busy nights using a simple mobile notification platform.

Instead of giving out archaic pagers or constantly updating waiting diners to let them know how much longer it will be, restaurants can use the iOS app to input the customer information, estimated wait time, and phone number, allowing the customer the freedom to go do something else in the area while they wait for their table. Once the time is up, NoWait automatically sends a text message to the customer’s phone to let them know their table is ready.

In addition to notifications, NoWait provides valuable analytics that restaurants can use to improve performance, and will even let customers get in line before they’ve made it to the restaurant.

We sat down with NoWait president and CPO Robb Myer, who shared the research and footwork that went into creating the company’s innovative app, his personal insights into the value of time management, and how he likes to relax with a few rounds of Ms. Pac-Man.

What is the backstory behind NoWait?

NoWait started as an idea in my head when I was visiting San Francisco, walking around with a group of friends looking for a place to eat one Sunday. We went door to door into a lot of different places and there were long waits, reservations, places that subscribed to the “put your name on the list and just wait here” kind of concept.

One of restaurants said, “It’s going to be an hour. We’ll take your phone number, go walk around and we’ll give you a call when the table’s ready.” I thought, That’s great, nobody’s ever done that before, that makes perfect sense to me. So we walked around and they gave us a call and we felt like we weren’t actually waiting because we were doing something else.

I started thinking about that concept, making it scalable for restaurants, and then tying in real-time data about what the wait was and even the ability to get into that wait list before you arrive via your mobile device. That’s kind of how NoWait was born.

It started with my idea and then I enlisted one of my friends, who’s now my co-founder, and we started going to restaurants in the Pittsburgh area, saying, “Hey, we’re a couple of guys from Carnegie Mellon, we’ve got this idea, tell us what you think about it.” We outlined it and at that point got a little bit of validation for our idea.

We were very open-ended. We said, “Here’s our idea, because we’re consumers we think this would be cool. Tell us about what it’s like to run a restaurant, what are your pain points?” We started learning a lot about how complicated it is to manage a busy restaurant.

Restaurants said when they’re busy and there’s a crowded lobby they lose that next customer that walks through the door. They see the crowd and think, Well I’m just going to go somewhere else. Those are all lost customers. We started learning about this and very incrementally started the company.

When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

My background is in electrical engineering, so I’ve always liked to build and create things on the engineering side. I worked for a few years as an application engineer program manager in the San Francisco Bay area.

After four years I went back to business school at Carnegie Mellon. It was around then that I really started getting interested in entrepreneurship, in creating not just products but whole companies and businesses.

It was really when I went to Carnegie Mellon. That was almost 10 years ago now -- I think it was 2004 that I started.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do as an entrepreneur?

That’s a great question; there are so many hard things. I think in general, as an entrepreneur starting a business from scratch, the hardest thing to do is making decisions on where to invest time and resources. Whether to do it in marketing, sales, product development, features.

Time is the scarcest resource that we have, and it can become even scarcer than money. Just allocating that for myself, for my team, just meeting those challenges of being an entrepreneur and an effective manager.

What do you like to do to relax after a hard day of work?

I mainly do mountain biking and road biking in general. I do that during summer months when it’s not too cold. I like to travel, usually get really into that.

When I have time to relax at home -- I have a 100 year-old house in Pittsburgh, which I got about six years ago, so it’s a continual, long-term project to renovate that. I’m working on a couple of projects, doing some painting, tiles, and all kinds of stuff. I find that kind of relaxing.

I also like to play Ms. Pac-Man. We have an old standup console in our office.

What are some of your main motivations each day?

I’m motivated by changing the world. We’re not curing cancer or saving babies but I really believe that in five years’ time or less, everyone in the United States and maybe the world is going to be using NoWait. We’re complete changing the way that people are going to have to wait for a seat at a restaurant, how they get seated. I feel like we’re really giving people back their most valuable resource: their time.

I’m really motivated by taking our little sliver of the world and changing it for the better. That’s what gets me excited. I get excited when we get feedback and testimonials from one of our clients that say, “Using NoWait in our restaurant has just changed everything. It makes our life easier, our customers love it. Thank you so much.” We get dozens of these testimonials and feedback from our customers over email and verbally and people write it on Yelp about our restaurants. That really motivates me to get the word out, get NoWait into as many hands as possible throughout North America.

Everyone’s excited about what we’re doing. It is something really cool, really new. Our business is exciting in the sense that it’s one of those kind of obvious business that when you tell someone about how it works, everyone says, “That’s awesome. I get it. That’s super easy to understand.” They usually say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It’s a very tangible, useful consumer value that we have, so the whole team is excited about building the product as quickly as we can and getting it into everyone’s hands as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of excitement around the office to do this.

Who are some people that inspire you?

He’s not alive anymore but I’ve gotten a lot of great advice and clarity and wisdom from a lot of stuff by Peter Drucker. He was a professor for a long time and I think he passed away a few years ago. He’s generally considered the father of modern business or modern management. He wrote a lot throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s about management and theory. He’s written books on entrepreneurship and general management.

What’s next this year for NoWait?

We’re transitioning from a startup company to a growth company. We have about 15 employees now so we’re getting to that size where we’re putting more processes in place; we’re building better, more sophisticated business metrics. What’s next for us is really expanding our reach, our customers, and our users across the US, building an even stronger foundation for the company, really maturing from a startup to that growth company phase.

It’s extraordinarily exciting, as any entrepreneur knows. It’s hard getting that first product out there but there are all these opportunities to quit, to fail, to go out of business along the way, so we’ve reached our next big milestone maturing as a company, getting to this next stage of company growth.

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