I went from product and web designer to CEO. My startup gives 3,000+ restaurants the digital tools they need to thrive.Featured

Hi I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of BentoBox, a startup providing restaurants with digital tools to connect with guests and drive revenue. We’re a team of 80 people serving over 3000 restaurants worldwide. My background is in product and web design – before founding BentoBox, I worked at a number of digital agencies in New York City. Ask me about scaling my company, being a product/design focused founder, fundraising or something else!
- How did the idea for BentoBox come about? The idea of going to the restaurant business seems quite terrifying!- How has your experience in design contributed to your role at BentoBox? And what advice would you give to other founders who have similar product/design background?
I had been working on various web projects back in 2013 when I had my own small agency. One project that came through was re-doing the website for a well-known restaurant in NYC. Through that project I started to deeply understand the pain points restaurants were feeling online. As third party apps and platforms (Seamless, Opentable, Yelp, etc) were becoming more popular - they were frustrated that they weren't able to own their brand and the experience with their brand online. They also were giving up their direct relationship with their guests to these third party platform - and most importantly they were giving up their revenue as well. They wanted to solve all this with their website because it was the only place online they had total control. And I, as a service provider, was unable to easily give them the solution they wanted with the horizontal CMS platforms available at that time (Wordpress, Squarespace, etc). Restaurants had very specific features they wanted online and it would be too costly to customize those platforms to do exactly what they wanted. Anyway, I hacked together something on Wordpress for them that they were happy enough with. A few months later, a few other well-known restaurants contacted me to work on their websites after they saw the work I had done. They had they same pain points and frustrations - the pattern was very clear. It was going to be easier and more effective to build a platform from scratch that solved their needs exactly - and that's what we did. Those two restaurants (The Breslin and The Meatball Shop) were the first two customers on BentoBox.
Thank you for the insight, Krystle! Great to hear the background story.
To answer the second question about design:I've actually been trying to write a blog post (my first ever!) about how a design background has been a major differentiator for me as a CEO. Firstly, the innate problem solving framework one has built after a decade of solving design problems can be applied to solving business and strategic problems pretty effectively. It's not obvious how at first, but design is very process driven and ultimately about people and communication - and so much about building a company is about that too. The advice I would give is to understand the advantage you have with a product/design background and to reframe it apply to operating a business. For example, how can you apply the design process to solve a rising customer retention issue? Approaching this same way you'd approach a product/design problem can be really powerful.
Hi Krystle! We have a growing audience is in the food service retail category. Our platform s hyper focused on guest intelligence across digital and in-store channels. My question: to grow what channels worked best for you?
Hi! Sounds like a really interesting platform. A lot of our early growth came from "powered by BentoBox" in the footer of our customers websites. This was crucial because it was organic and low-cost. We also established a key partnership with a food service provider with a massive customer base early on that gave us access to prospects we wouldn't have been able to reach. Focusing on that top of funnel early on was critical.
@Krystle that makes total sense. We're seeing success with a handful of our key partners across the different retail categories. Powered by is def helpful! If interested to explore a partnership feel free to email me at [email protected] We've only seen one of our customers on Bento. All our capture channels can easily integrate with Squarespace, Bento, WP, Shopify etc. which we the feed into our omni-channel guest intelligence platform. We have POS integrations too! With GoGoGuest, data driven insights, localized and targeted marketing becomes possible for a lone marketer/operations person in an independent craft brand, a growing team of marketers/operations or even an agency.
Curious as to what you wish you knew when you were first starting to fundraise?
I wish I understood the behaviors of an investor that had true conviction/interest in my business. The first time you experience that, you realize how much you misread and spun your wheels in situations and conversations that were never going to pan out. And that's all time that is taking you away from your business (or investors that are truly interested!).
Were you a big fan of customer sales or fundraising? Any lessons learned in regards to fundraising successfully?
Haha noooo! Sales I liked in the really early days because I was using it as a way to build the product. I do believe it's important for a CEO to do every job, but be very aware if they are not the best person to do it at scale. One of the first full-time people we brought on was someone to own sales and business development - because my co-founder (CTO) and I knew it was our weak spot.Fundraising is a little different because it's one of your core responsibilities as a CEO. I found that the more prepared I was the less painful it was. I've also reframed my approach to it. Every rejection was a way to improve as a leader - rather to get scared and frustrated. It's easier said than done: I was definitely very scared and frustrated most of the time. But being able to extract some personal growth from it helps make it more worthwhile.
How did you start building your team? Who was first in? How did you pay etc...
Our first hire was a young hustling generalist who loved what we were doing. Generalists are great early hires because you need people to be happy doing everything. Even the first sales focused hire mentioned in the previous question above was a generalist in that he owned sales, bd, partnerships even a bit of marketing. People who are entrepreneurial and flexible are key. And engineers. So basically Generalists and Engineers first. Like most early companies, we paid pretty below market at first and over-indexed on equity. People who really connected with our mission and the restaurant industry were ok with that. We had revenue before every taking outside capital, so that helped.
I wanted to learn about your co-founder. Did you start the venture together? did the other founder(s) join after you started it? I'm asking because I've already started my venture and now I'm looking for a co-founder.
My co-founder Pierre (CTO) wrote the first line of code for BentoBox. In the early days, before we raised money, it started more as a side project. That was 2013. In 2015, we did Techstars in NYC and were both able to focus on BentoBox full-time.
What was a big hurdle which you had not accounted for in the current state of Bento Box?
Laws. Seriously. The internet is still pretty new and constantly evolving from a regulatory perspective. GDPR, ADA, Taxes etc. Shifting to accommodate these things in the moment from both a product and business perspective really throws things off. We had to shift our entire roadmap to accommodate GDPR regulations earlier this year. It was really frustrating.
What are the new trends you see in the restaurant industry and how are you thinking about how BentoBox will evolve to serve your current and future customers?
Restaurants have operated in the same way in the brick and mortar for a long time - but now are starting to take more ownership and expand their businesses beyond the brick and mortar. Even becoming lifestyle brands in a way. That's something that we help support our customers in some ways now: giving them ways to create new revenue streams through merchandise, ticketing, catering etc. Helping them do more of that through ordering and marketing automation is something that we're focused on. Supporting restaurants in evolving their business to encompass more than the meal at the brick and mortar.
As a CEO how do you approach finding new hires? Are there some best practices you can share with founders especially around recruiting for positions which are highly competitive like engineers? πŸ‘©πŸ½β€πŸ’» thanks!
Engineers are really tough - and I put that in my co-founder's court since he's the CTO. We grew the engineering team pretty slowly because of how competitive it was. I've built most of our leadership team from referrals (seeing who's connected on LinkedIn) and cold LinkedIn messages. It's pretty time consuming but you can't wait for everyone to come to you. We hired our first in-house recruiter a few months ago. I wish that we had made that hire a year ago (when we were 30-40 ppl).
Thanks for making time, Krystle! And thank you to everyone who participated. This AMA is now over.
Krystle – thanks for joining us for an AMA!As a reminder: this conversation is part of our ongoing series featuring experts from our community.Krystle will be answering your questions later this week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so we'll be sorting questions by popularity (based on most emojis!).