GrubHub earlier this month landed $50 million in venture capital, money that it will use to try to transform the way people order food from local restaurants on their mobile phones. It’s a hefty sum — an amount that could strike fear into any wannabe rivals.
But that’s not stopping some enterprising Seattle entrepreneurs from dipping their toes into the arena. Last week, Order SM — a two-month-old Seattle startup led by Nick Hughes, Jacques Crocker and Gary Windels — launched their new mobile ordering service.
With Order SM, users can communicate via text message with local restaurants or cafes, asking for coffee drinks, sandwiches or other items. We chatted with Hughes, the 31-year-old co-founder, for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Order SM makes the basic interactions between customers and merchants feel just like texting a friend. Through the mobile web and SMS technology, customers and merchants are able to communicate back and forth – be it a quick order, smooth digital payment, a follow up message, permission based marketing from the merchant, or repeat orders from the customer.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We saw people using mobile devices for text messaging more than voice calls. Once we saw the world going this direction, we knew commercial activity would inevitably follow suit. We also observed consumers and their everyday interactions and realized a widening gap between how we communicate with each other and how we interact with traditional local merchants. We thought everyday ordering should feel just like texting a friend!”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Order SM is self-funded but currently raising a seed round of funding. We have a large vision and in order to accomplish these goals we will need additional capital during these early stages.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our secret sauce can be found in the fact that we flip the economy on its head and start again from the beginning; only the beginning originates with the unique individual. We do this in two distinct ways: First, we watched how people interact with local merchants and we found most people are habitual consumers…. Second, we see the emergence of a mobile economy; one that values both efficiency and high touch. Driven through a mobile web, this platform enables individuals to to reach out and connect with merchants and businesses they care about via text messages. By opening a two-way communication channel based on intent, both parties best interests can be served.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We have decided to not swim in the red ocean app store. With almost a million apps out there, it is becoming more difficult each day for native apps to be found, downloaded and used properly. Sidelining people just because they have the wrong device was not in our playbook, so we based Order SM on the mobile browser and SMS technology and it has given us the highest end user potential with the lowest usage barriers in the market.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “When we set out to build out the product, we built too large of an MVP (minimum viable product). Especially in our market, the tendency is to overshoot the product to the point where it becomes feature heavy and too shiny. For example, we included mobile payments when it wasn’t necessary for customer development and initial product testing with beta customers. All in all, too much time was spent on non-essential stuff. In just a few short weeks we realized these mistakes and quickly correctly course.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jeff Bezos could now be considered the visionary of our generation. He has taken Amazon from a online book seller, to an ecommerce Giant and now into one of the largest web services AND online commerce companies in the world. If I was a betting man, Amazon would be tough to pass on. And same can be said for their leader Jeff Bezos, who would no doubt advise Order SM into a very strong Online to Offline commerce position.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “We are a play on efficiency. As we start to infiltrate Seattle restaurants and local merchants, people will begin to realize how much better their customer experience is using Order SM. In fact, people will very quickly become addicted to using Order SM – they will want to preempt all their visits with a text so they can quickly do business and get on with their life. Once this catches on around the country, nothing will stop society from using Order SM.
Rivals should fear us because: “We believe ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is what matters. We are very focused on building what customers want, not what we think they want. As such, we are committed to listening/watching/observing the early beta usage of Order SM to iterate where necessary and also continue to employ customer development techniques until we hit a strong product market fit.”
We are truly unique because: “We see economic interactions as relationships. Social networks are dynamic platforms built around human relationships. We see the same unique relationships happening each day between customers and local merchants. But just as in a human relationship, it has to be beneficial and valuable for both parties invovled. That is what Order SM is all about.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Landing our first major test clients. In fact, Molly’s Salads on UW campus will be using Order SM to communicate and service University of Washington students. ”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Startups are like experiments. You need to identify a key assumptions and build just enough to test them while maintaining your long term vision. Resist the temptation to build out an entire feature set, polished off with a lot of slick user interfaces and numerous “viral” integrations. Find the “core” of your value proposition and just build enough to prove it. Quickly!”