Independent restaurants don’t typically have the luxury to create their own online food ordering and delivery capabilities or negotiate for lower rates from legacy ordering platforms like the large restaurant chains do.
Here’s where Owner.com comes in. The Palo Alto-based company provides a free online ordering, delivery and marketing platform for independent restaurants that puts them on similar playing fields with the big guys. And unlike the legacy food delivery services, Owner.com restaurants own their customer data and can automate marketing campaigns.
Adam Guild is the company’s 21-year-old co-founder and CEO, a high school dropout and a Thiel Fellow, who originally started by assisting his mother’s dog grooming business that was having difficulties attracting customers. After stepping in with some online marketing methods, her business grew, and is now looking to expand into multiple locations. Guild then wanted to work with a bigger group of people and stumbled across restaurants while helping some clients create online landing pages.
With consumer demand shifting to primarily online ordering and delivery over the past 18 months, online ordering revenue is expected to double from $248 billion in 2020 to $449 billion by 2025. Ordering platforms like Doordash, Uber Eats and Grubhub control 80% of orders and typically charge between 20% and 30% per order to restaurants and additional fees to consumers.
In contrast, Owner.com is free for restaurants and charges customers a 5% convenience fee when they order from the website. Guild explained that larger restaurant chains have the buying power to negotiate lower rates, while independent restaurants do not. With the inability to keep up, some 110,000 restaurants in the U.S. closed in 2020.
Guild initially bootstrapped his company, working with large restaurant chains, like P.F. Chang’s, drive in-store orders. Then the global pandemic hit. He ended up losing all of his revenue and had to let all of his employees go but one. To add to his bad luck, he was then rejected from Y Combinator and other accelerator programs.
“For the first three days, I was depressed,” Guild told TechCrunch. “I had spent two years building a company and now it was dead. In the same way we were disrupted, I began to think there was no better position to be in than a scrappy startup. I didn’t know what the next business would look like, so I started cold-calling restaurant owners, asking how I can be helpful and what type of technology they were looking for. Many of them told me that online ordering sucked, but if they didn’t solve it soon, they would go out of business.”
One pivot and a year later with co-founder Dean Bloembergen, Owner.com closed on $10.7 million in seed funding led by SaaStr Fund, with participation from Redpoint Ventures and Day One Ventures, as well as a group of individual investors including Naval Ravikant, CNBC’s The Profit host Marcus Lemonis, The Kitchen Restaurant Group’s Kimbal Musk, DoNotPay founder Joshua Browder, Figma founder Dylan Field, The Chainsmokers and independent restaurant owners and customers of Owner.com.
Jason Lemkin, founder of SaaStr Fund, said restaurant SaaS was a space in which his firm was interested in investing, but thought it was a bit boring — there were already quite a few vendors in the space, like Toast and Grubhub, and most were just technology solutions. However, when he heard that Owner.com was a break-out company from the monotony, he said he had to take a look.
“The ability to own the customer relationship is that ultimate differentiation,” Lemkin said. “Their ultimate goal is to provide a robust technology platform to increase margins, have people order more and come back often.”
Meanwhile, Guild intends to use the new funding to continue product development and add new features like landing pages, the ability to make reservations and native apps for white-label service.
Since the launch last year, the company has reached a seven-figure run-rate and over 105% monthly revenue retention across over 700 restaurant locations, Guild said. To date, Owner.com has transacted over $18 million and helped its restaurant customers avoid paying $3 million to online order platform fees annually.
“It’s all about empowering the 40% of the restaurant industry that is run by people who started off in entry-level positions, and over the years, worked their way up to own the ‘American Dream,’ ” he added.