Arm the rebels [with an app]
The case for launching a big tech competitor in a crowded space
I’m heading to the Restaurant Show in Chicago later this month to moderate a panel on behalf of Square. It’s called “Technology that helps you do more with less" and is on Sunday, May 21 at 12:30pm CT in the Innovation Theater, North Hall, space 5572. See you there?
Several years past the pandemic’s onset, we understand the importance of online ordering. There’s certainly no shortage of ways to order food from restaurants. There’s also no shortage of technology companies willing to build your restaurant a dedicated app. Platforms like ChowNow, Thanx, Lunchbox, and Incentivio offer them as part of broader services. Dedicated restaurant app-building companies like Craver and unspecialized app builders like Koala and Andromo do, too.
When I heard from Per Diem’s co-founder and CEO, Tomer Molovinsky, a few weeks ago, he wanted to talk about “arming the rebels” against the largest delivery marketplaces. It’s in the style (and words) of e-commerce platform Shopify, whose CEO years ago famously warned against a so-called Amazon empire where all the power is consolidated with a few players. Molovinsky has been working on Per Diem for a few years, striking out on his own after successful stints at both Resy and OpenTable. The company went through lauded tech accelerator Y Combinator in 2021.
Per Diem started as a subscription company, later pivoting to ordering. “We still have the same thesis and mission,” Molovinsky told me recently. “There are these big aggregators out there, and that became more apparent during the pandemic when we became reliant on all of them. Now others have caught up to their game.”
He describes Per Diem’s work in a familiar way: “We’re trying to level the playing field.” That is, giving small restaurants access to the same types of tools their larger competitors use, a common value proposition for a modern restaurant tech company. Its first restaurant partner was a coffee shop in Jersey City, NJ, just across the river from Manhattan. The store’s regulars downloaded the app right away and now use it to order daily, if not two or three times per day, Molovinsky told me. If this makes you think of the addictive and popular Starbucks app experience, that’s the point.
Per Diem’s audience, he said, is the “millions of businesses on Square that want to have an app but haven’t been able to do it.
“I think this is kind of like the final piece of the first-party ordering puzzle,” he said, adding an important sentiment: “I used to see it all the time, restaurants underestimate how much marketing power they have.”
Per Diem is new, serving a handful of customers including just-launched Chip City, a New York-based cookie concept that recently landed $10 million from Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments. Here’s more about how — and why — Molovinsky thinks his premise is the future for small businesses.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Expedite: Congrats on the launch. But I have to say, this feels like a crowded space.
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