The world today is going increasingly digital, to such a degree that even quick serve and fast casual restaurant chains are eager to connect with consumers online, via smartphone, and even in their stores--so that they can better get to know you, market to you, and encourage you to visit. To help them with that, Los Angeles- and San Diego-based Tillster (www.tillster.com), which until recently was known as EMN8, has been developing a wide range of technology in the area. The company's President and CEO, Perse Faily, told us how digital ordering now means not just restaurant kiosks (which the company has been developing even before the dawn of the smartphone), but also the Internet, mobile phones, and other devices, and how that has changed the company's business and strategy.
First of all, let's talk about Tillster, for those who haven't heard of what you're doing. What is Tillster?
Perse Faily: The genesis of the company, is it was initially a kiosk company. It was founded by Paul Sidlo, who is from Los Angeles, and it's very much a Southern California company. The vision early on was about fundamentally changing the restaurant ordering experience, by developing a more engaging experience on a kiosk. Several years ago, we evolved that thinking to what we are doing now, which drove the name change. We morphed from a kiosk company, to a provider of a fully digital store platform for the restaurant industry, and in particular, multi-unit restaurants. There are people who are focused on long tail and individual restaurant chains, however, we're focused on multi-unit chains, such as large quick-serve and fast casual restaurants, as well as mid-sized brands as well. Our platform encompasses several things. One, is an e-commerce engine which enables ordering, promotions, and loyalty programs. We believe tha restaurant customers are multi-channel nowadays. They interact with you in your store, on a kiosk, place orders on a mobile devices, and sometimes place orders online. They might call your call center and talk to an agent. We have actually develops all of those channels, which enables a customer to pick any channel and enable an order, digitally or through a call center. Additionally, we track if a consumer opts in. If you opt in, we can track your identity and your transaction history, and we apply analytics so that we can deliver a much more personalized experience for guests.
What's the benefit of that?
Perse Faily: For me, it makes it feel much more relevant. If you come into a restaurant and normally order burgers, or maybe you prefer to order a salad, those are the things we'll recommend to you on the screen. Additionally, we allow guests, based on their preferences, to see a more personalized view of the menu. For example, gluten free items. For the brands who want to enable that, it allows their customers to get a more personalized, contextual view, which provides higher value to those guests. That adds value to a brand, because they can now track your purchase history and identity, and target and segment customers, not only personalizing their experience, but also delivering offers and promotions which are relevant to the customer. At the end of the day, that drives increased guest engagement for the customers of the restaurant. We also leverage a database we have of customer behavior and transaction history and tie that with an analytics engine, promotion engine, and loyalty engine.
Our analytics capabilities are also about putting together a full scale program, to figure out how to leverage your reach via email, mobile, social, and in-app to drive targeted behaviors, and reach guests, and influence meal choices, ultimately driving them back to the store. We want to encourage behavior a consumer otherwise wouldn't be doing--for example, if you always come to lunch, we want to incent them to come back for dinner. In a nutshell, we're not only a kiosk company, but a company with a full digital ordering and digital engagement product. We're enabling channels, loyalty, promotions around coupons, analytics, and customer relationship management. We bring that into an integrated package for restaurant operators, which allows them to pick and choose where they want to start, but knowing over time they can add additional channel and marketing ability seamlessly.
You received some significant amount of funding last year, can you talk about that?
Perse Faily: Historically, our customers had been large, quick serve restaurants, what you might think of as fast food companies. Over time, we'd built a relationship with another entrepreneurs who we respect, who had built an online ordering company for the fast casual segment--think of the CPKs of the world, versus the burger kind of fast food. The thought was that it made perfect sense to put the companies together, and form the leading player for digital ordering technology for multi-unit chains, whether they were a fast food or fast casual company. By bringing our platforms together, we could take in some additional technology and bring it into the fast casual segment of the business. That funding was really raised to help us fund in part the acquisition and growth of the combined company as we scale. That was also the driver of the name change. In term sof growth, it allows us to grow not only domestically but in international markets. The large chains who are our customers have pulled us into those markets. The first half of the year we are going live with a rollout of the platform in Canada with a large, quick serve restaurant. In Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and in Europe in Spain and France, our customers are also pulling us into stores. So, having a team to help us with that international component of our business will be important in 2014.
Your company started before the rise of the smartphone. How has the smartphone changed how you approach this market?
Perse Faily: With the advent of smartphones and other digital technology, we've found that customers increasingly are used to engaging with brands wherever they want, on whatever devices they want, how they want. That's been an impact that is even more broad than smartphones. We saw that a couple of years ago, of moving beyond the kiosks to broader digital platforms on those devices. That was what drove me to join this team as CEO. We began to extend the platform not just to mbile, but to other digital channels. In terms of mobile, we have seen a significant uptick in restaurant customers using digital technology to transact and engage with brands, including on smartphones. In fact, we commissioned a study with Harris, and found that 40 to 50 percent of the restaurant customers in the fast casual area were very apt to use that type of technology.
In addition, for some of our segments, purchasing is very impulse related. So, a smartphone is an important toolset. It allows not only ordering by smartphone, but also digital coupons on applications, and loyalty applications. Today, I think it's much more important as part of the engagement, but by 2015, I think ordering volumes will pick up. For us, the mobile channel is a very important part of how we enable restaurant customers to engage and transact.
Where does all this fit in the world of your restaurant chain customers?
Perse Faily: An important point, and one of the fundamental things that we believe, is that digital is a big part of the solution set for our restaurant customers. It has to be a unified experience. When you order at a kiosk at breakfast, and later order from the mobile app at lunch for the same restaurant, the order in the morning should appear in your favorites, and as a result you should have coupons delivered to you, so you can early loyalty points, and so a call center agent can pull up your profile and see all the devices you've ordered from, your favorite menu items, your favorite locations, and the lifetime value, so that they can deliver a much more personal experience. All of your information should be stored in the cloud, and follow you from device to device, whether that's mobile, or a kiosk on-premise or off-premise.