The hospitality industry has taken a hit over the past months, with the COVID-19 outbreak keeping restaurants, bars and cafes closed. Opening up again, while impatiently awaited, may turn out to be a slow start for many of those businesses. Urbandine, a YES!Delft startup, has developed an intelligent mobile ordering and payment platform that allows customers to order and pay directly through their smartphone. A platform that can make work at 1.5m distance that much easier.
FROM A SIMPLE IDEA
Urbandine is the brainchild of Jaikishen Jayesingha, Jay for short, and Bhagya Goonewardhane, two friends who first met in high school in Sri Lanka. While they have known each other for over 13 years, they have not walked the same paths. After high school, they each pursued their own interests – Jay went to the UK to study Mechatronics, while Bhagya made his way to Singapore for a degree in Biomedical Engineering.
While in Singapore, Bhagya made his first steps in the hospitality industry by working on a food discovery platform. He wrote more than 350 for the platform’s blog until it was acquired by the Uber equivalent of the region. By writing all those reviews, Bhagya learned a fair bit about the inefficiencies of how restaurants operate, especially when it came to customer experience.
He knew that technology could improve customer experience and started looking into mobile ordering as a way to do that. Around the same time, he reconnected with Jay and found out that his friend, too, was thinking of starting a business along the same lines. They joined forces and laid the foundation of Urbandine.
“We started out by developing a solution that would allow customers to order and pay at restaurants directly from their mobile phones. At the same time, we were also doing market research and we looked at Singapore as a possible entry market,” says Bhagya. Yet, with some competition already there, they quickly changed course and turned their eyes to Europe. “We had both been to the Netherlands for leisure and had noticed that there were always a lot of vacancies for restaurant or cafe personnel. We thought this might be a good place to start, as there is certainly a product-market fit.”
What also tipped the scales towards choosing the Netherlands were the possibilities that it offered to non-EU entrepreneurs. Jay flew in in late 2018 to meet several facilitators who could help them apply for the Startup Visa. YES!Delft was one of them.
In proving that they can add business value to the Dutch market, Jay and Bhagya applied for YES!Delft’s Blockchain/AI Validation Lab, sailed through their Selection Day and joined the program in early 2019. The rest is history.
The Validation Lab turned out to be exactly what Jay and Bhagya needed to establish their solution on the European market. “During the 10-week program, we got to meet with over 60 restaurant owners and validate the need for our product,” Jay says. “We quickly identified beach clubs as a potential market segment, as they often have large terraces that are difficult for waiting staff to service at all times. We ran a pilot with two beach clubs in Scheveningen, starting in August 2019, and managed to bring in new revenue lines for them.”
While beach clubs rely on customers to sit down and order at their location, with Urbandine they could also get orders from people on the beach, thus getting a boost in sales. This finding proved to Jay, Bhagya and restaurant owners alike that there is unexplored value to be derived from a solution like Urbandine.
Still, having only beach clubs as customers was not going to be enough to run a self-sufficient company. It is a seasonal business and the two co-founders knew that rather well.
TO A GROWING COMPANY
Between the end of the season for beach clubs, which is around October, until February 2020, Urbandine made itself known in a different market segment. “We offered our technology for use at events and made it possible for visitors to order food and drinks from a number of different vendors,” Bhagya says.
One of those events was Horecava, the largest annual hospitality trade fair in the Netherlands. For the vendors at the event, having Urbandine as the solution to order food and drinks meant more business, while for the event organisers, it meant more interaction on the floor.
For Urbandine, the buzz generated by this move was crucial. It was an opportunity for them to have restaurant owners, who were the key target audience of the event, experience their solution from the other side of the table, as the customer. “The feedback we got was invaluable,” Jay says.
It would only be fair to say that Jay and Bhagya have made leaps of progress since they first moved to the Netherlands just over a year ago. They have also secured a convertible loan of 100,000 euros from six Dutch investors and UK-based entrepreneur Agash Navaranjan, who has since joined Urbandine as co-founder and CTO.
To keep growing at the same, and an even higher pace, the team needed to kick 2020 off strong. For one, they wanted to make sure that they open the season together with terraces in the Netherlands. Yet, nobody could have predicted a global pandemic slowing them down as it did.
“March has been quite dormant for us, but that doesn’t mean that we have not been working on our proposition,” Jay says. “We have stayed in close contact with our customers and are jointly looking for ways to restart operations once the current measures have been lifted.”
“We want to offer Urbandine for two months for free to help restaurant and cafe owners to get back on their feet as quickly as possible,” Bhagya adds. “So far, restaurant owners have reported a loss of about 90% of revenues due to closing down their physical locations and they’ve had to cut ties with a lot of their flexible workforce. It is much harder to bring workers back than to let them go, so we want to help owners in this transition phase. We are preparing the restaurant market for a scenario where they would have to work with fewer waiting staff and keep 1.5m distance to their customers.”
At the moment, the team is talking to more than 150 customers and is aiming to launch their solution with them as soon as the restrictions have been lifted. Urbandine wants to make it easier on restaurant, bar and cafe owners to do their job post-COVID-19, but they also want to establish themselves as the go-to solution for even better and more efficient customer service.
Given their growth and business approach so far, even in difficult times, it is clear that Urbandine takes challenges in stride and turns them into opportunities. And it can only go up from here.
Jan 2019 – POC pilots in Sri Lanka
February 2019 – Joined YES!Delft’s Blockchain/AI Validation Lab
June 2019 – MVP built and validation completed
July 2019 – 100K pre seed convertible loan secured
August 2019 – Beachhead market pilots at Beachclubs
October 2019 – Joined YES!Delft’s Accelerator Program
October 2019 – Exhibited at CES Unveiled in Amsterdam
November 2019 – Agash Navaranjan joins Urbandine as co-founder and CTO
November 2019 – First trade show as partner – Strand Nederland Beurs
November 2019 – Selected to represent The Hague at Web Summit ALPHA AI stream
December 2019 – First flagship location – Stads Koffyhuis
January 2020 – Official launch of Urbandine at the Horecava Innovation Lab and Expo
February 2020 – Exhibited and partnered with HorecaBeurs trade show in Goes