When Owen Parry founded restaurant-booking app Obee in 2010, he didn’t want to do things the traditional way. In contrast to the typical idea of entrepreneurialism — which endorses a growth-at-all-costs mentality — Parry instead set out to build a business that offered work-life balance.
He also wanted to deploy a technology tool that provided a valuable service to the restaurant industry. By playing to Obee’s core strengths of customer service, listening and adapting to market needs, organic growth became a by-product of his unique business strategy.
It’s that iterative approach that helped Obee ride out the storm in 2020 — a remarkable feat, particularly given that their hospitality clients, such as Attica, Fonda and chains like The Sporting Globe, were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Here, Parry shares tips for business owners looking to make strategic tech investments in 2021.
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Moving beyond the challenges of 2021
In Parry’s own words, 2020 was a year of extreme unpredictability for the restaurant industry.
“Victoria was hit hard, but there were plenty of other states that had their snap lockdowns,” he says. “Restaurants were doing one thing on Friday morning and then by Friday afternoon their plans had to change because there was an announcement that took them by surprise.”
His clients yearned for a return to normalcy. They wanted to go back to their regular nights of trading without having to worry about switching to purely takeaway orders, or laying off staff, or having to shut down indefinitely.
Despite the panic and disruption, Parry says there was a silver lining for many: “2020 did enable venues to focus on what was most important for them. For example, a lot of restaurants had wanted to move into deposits and prepayments before 2020 and last year enabled them to do that.”
To help you take advantage of those silver linings, here are Parry’s tips for investing in tech tools.
1. Invest in tech that supports your customers
Because of the ultra-competitive nature of business tech tools, it’s sometimes hard to find one that matches your specific needs. For Obee, partnering with Pin Payments was a turning point in their business journey. That’s why Parry recommends doing your due diligence and investing in tech that supports your customers.
“When we started shopping around for a payment gateway, we needed a tool that would give our customers a first-class experience.
“Pin Payments were relatively new at the time, but their API was modern, clean and crisp, and it was future-proofed so that as our payment service evolved we could add on support for customised online vouchers.”
2. Choose the right communication platform for your remote workforce
Obee has been a remote-friendly business for half a decade already. With 2020 seeing a major shift towards remote work across most industries, Parry advises that you support your team by investing in tech that offers the right communication and collaboration tools.
“Slack has been our little virtual office for the past five years,” he says. “No matter where the team is around the world, they log into the channel and we can collaborate.”
Parry says the most critical step is to treat everyone as a remote worker — even if some members of your team are in the office.
“Some days we have two people in the office and six people off-site. You’re used to going over to someone’s desk for chat, but this excludes the remote people. So you need to create an inclusive environment online.
3. Simplify your tech stack
Since we’re constantly hearing about the ‘next big thing’ in tech, it’s easy to get swept up in the pandemonium and waste money investing in every new tool. But Parry says consolidation is far better than spreading yourself too thin.
“My biggest piece of advice is to keep your tech stack simple. Focus on the core of your business and don’t get distracted by some hot new tool.”
Obee uses an email app called Front: “We spent a fair bit of money on that, but it’s where our team spends most of their days, so it makes sense to have a sleek email platform that integrates with our other products.”
4. Be smart about data capture
Finally, Parry says business owners need to understand the inherent value in collecting customer data — but recommends you don’t overdo it.
“Venues are really interested in big data and analytics,” he says. “They want to capture every single data point, but they often don’t overlay common sense across the data. An example is forcing users to give you their postcode when making a reservation when you don’t need that data.
“In contrast, collecting their email address and then knowing they’ve dined with you — that’s a really valuable data point that lets you re-engage with them.”
Pin Payments is Australia’s first unified approach to payments for small to medium-sized businesses. It supports over 12,000 businesses in Australia and New Zealand to accept payments from debit and credit cards bearing the Visa, MasterCard and American Express brands without requiring a merchant account.