Securing funding is always a challenge for entrepreneurs, particularly when you are trying to move from “friends and family” to angels or venture capitalists. It can be the proverbial “make or break” point for a start-up.
Two local entrepreneurs – Joey Natour and Seth Elliott – are living that challenge every day as they seek $125,000 in early stage funding to move their DineTouch, LLC start-up to a large scale test.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Natour described their year-long journey to secure capital to take their idea from a single beta test to a multi-site test where they will integrate their unique mobile app into a restaurant’s point of sale system (POS).
Natour and Elliott won several University of Tennessee (UT) business competitions and last November’s Tech 20/20’s “Throttle-Up” competition. They have presented at regional events such as the Southeast Venture Conference in Virginia in February and the recent “Governor’s Innovation Conference” in late April where they won the “People’s Choice Award” in their track at the Nashville event.
The clock is ticking, according to Natour. They have to secure the funding they need, an amount that he sees as small relative to DineTouch’s potential return to investors in a relatively short period.
“We really like what we are doing,” he says. “We believe in it.” Yet, the duo is facing the reality of exhausting the prize monies they have accumulated over the past year.
The concept behind DineTouch is to be a service to both the restaurants that subscribe to its software app and their customers. Originally conceived as an Apple iPad application, the founders have converted it to a mobile device app, in large part because the hardware responsibility shifts from the restaurant to the customer.
As Natour explained the app, a customer or group of customers enter a restaurant and are seated. There is a card on the table that has a unique Quick Response (QR) code for the restaurant. The customers use their mobile device to scan QR code and can immediately access the restaurant’s menu. They can review it electronically, order their food, make requests to their server, and ultimately pay their bill if they want to do so.
Natour said that the restaurants benefit by addressing their biggest challenges – table turnover and more revenue per table.
“They need to maximize their efficiency,” he said.
Natour knows the business. He’s worked in his father’s iconic downtown Knoxville restaurant called simply Pete’s Coffee Shop.
“I’ve had the privilege of working in the restaurant for a long time for free,” he added.
Taking their idea from concept to the stage where it is today was challenging for Natour and Elliott during their senior year at UT, Knoxville. The two, who met as freshman roommates, complement each other. Natour has the restaurant knowledge and business skills; Elliott is the computer scientist.
“We stayed-up until three in the morning for weeks,” Natour said. They conducted their initial beta testing at Café 4 on Market Square Mall.
To move to the next step, they need funding for expedited software development and to pay a fee to integrate their app into the POS package that is the most widely used by area restaurants.
“Once we secure that funding, we will be in restaurants within two months,” Natour says. He has one local restaurateur with multiple locations who will let him do the next testing. This will allow the team to prove their concept and begin to scale DineTouch’s customer base by at least four restaurants a month.
The big chains say go test on the small chains,” Natour notes.
The DineTouch founders believe in their vision and, with an angel or two, they firmly believe that success is reachable very soon.