First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mary Fabro: We are doing fine, thanks! I’m Juggling all the work and parenting responsibilities at once, like many.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Hostme.
Mary Fabro: After many years in the corporate America world, I was itching to join a startup and Evgeny gave me that opportunity with his first startup that he eventually successfully sold to Microsoft. When he decided to start another venture, he contacted me for advice and naturally, I joined Hostme after a few months.
Evgeny Popov: It all started after a quick talk with one of our friends who was the restaurant’s manager. They had issues managing a waitlist. A 10-minute talk gave a start for a long and exciting journey.
How does Hostme innovate?
Mary Fabro: We listen, research and adapt. Our innovation is at the intersection of what our customers experience and want, what our business acumen tells us the market needs and what current events and new technologies are emerging. Our team is nifty but definitely not large. It comes with his set of challenges, but we also are able to react faster to build a reliant and useful reservation system for the restaurant industry.
Evgeny Popov: I believe one of the important things we try to do is to give a voice and to certain degree freedom to absolutely all team members in our company. That allows us to maximize talent utilization and build the best product in the market.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mary Fabro: Honestly, initially, it was quite catastrophic and scary. Our customers were all heavily impacted by the pandemic as we were by association. However, quickly, we looked at the opportunities that came with it. We implemented features to help restaurants manage their capacity, keep a record of their guests for tracing purposes and offered contactless waitlist and reservation solutions. We also launched an online ordering system. The results are quite significant, not only did we fall back on our feet in record time, but our sales are accelerating. One of our challenges now is to keep our top-notch customer service to respond timely and efficiently to our growing customer base, but that’s a great problem to have, and again, we are adapting fast to keep up with demand.
Evgeny Popov: Our reaction was quick and effective. We reduced our infrastructure cost, zeroed our marketing budget and focused on new features that we believed will help us dominate the market when restaurant’s doors are opened again or will help us open new opportunities if doors remain closed for an extended period.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mary Fabro: As I said, we are a small team, and we had to make some difficult decisions on where we are going, which area of the product we would focus on and such. The issue is to get everyone on board with the direction we are taking, and to that extent, communication is key. With COVID, that communication was made more challenging as we were all working from home. But we were already mostly virtual, so it was just a matter of finding the discipline and the processes to make everyone informed and on board with our decisions.
Evgeny Popov: For me, the most difficult and timely choice I had to make, was a decision to allow our customers to pause their subscription payment for an unknown period until they were back in business. And we didn’t regret it. We lost about 80% of our revenue during this time, but we gained loyalty and deep appreciation for that, and we quickly recovered as soon as restrictions were lifted.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Hostme in the future?
Mary Fabro: When you think about the level of the responsibility and stress that surgeons, for example, are dealing with – our problems become laughable, and anxiety backs up. Seriously, in the most dramatic case – we lose the business, investors’ money, team members their jobs; but we are all professionals and will essentially recover starting a new business, getting new jobs – no one dies!
I relieve stress by spending time outdoors and clear my mind every once in a while. We project Hostme to become a major player and the new goto solution for restaurant management that restaurant owners and managers love. So far, it looks like we are going in the right direction.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mary Fabro: Our main competitors are the very large online reservation systems such as OpenTable, Resy, and Yelp Reservation. And while it is always daunting to go after such giants, new technologies and customer behaviors started a wave of change to our benefit, and the pandemic just accelerated it. Restaurant owners are looking for more affordable online reservations systems and guests are not relying as much on the popular restaurant networks. They are turning to influencers or good old Google reviews to find new restaurants. Being a startup has its challenges, but we are also better equipped to adapt to a changing environment and to craft a product that will be beneficial to the restaurant owners as well as to their customers. Our plan is to continue to evolve and guide our customers to help them navigate through their challenges.
Your final thoughts?
Both: Our thoughts go to all the families affected by the virus. Every day, we hear heartbreaking stories about families torn apart by the pandemic, about owners losing their business, about financial and mental struggles. We would like to express our deepest sympathy and would like for restaurant owners to know that we have their backs.