Greg Hong: CEO & Co-Founder of Reserve

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Greg is Reserve's CEO, Co-Founder and Board Director, responsible for setting and executing the vision for the company. Prior to starting Reserve, Greg was a small business consultant and the Director of Business Operations at true[X], where he ran their ad operations team from pre-revenue to $20 million.

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How did you get into the Tech industry?

I came to tech from finance, and started my career working at an ad tech company running their operations and helping them build a two-sided marketplace between advertisers and publishers. I helped the business grow from pre-revenue to $20 million, and it really whetted my entrepreneurial appetite. I then went into consulting, founding my own firm and helping small businesses figure out how to create operational efficiencies so they could focus on the things they really cared about. With Reserve, I brought both my experience growing marketplaces and my work with small businesses to the table. As I sat down with many chefs and restaurateurs, I realized that many of them faced the same problems as my former clients, and that there was an opportunity to build a company that would both make dining better for guests, as well as support the restaurant community.

Tell us about Reserve. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

One night in late 2013, and my friend Joe Marchese and I were thinking about going out to eat. We were in the mood for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant with a few friends. After a little research, we picked a place that looked good and started checking around to see if we could get a table. When we couldn’t, we researched a new spot and tried again. After the first few attempts, it became clear that this simple meal out was becoming way too complex. There had to be a better way.

So we got this idea to create an app that makes every part of dining better — both for guests and restaurants. The Reserve app makes it easy for you to go out for a great meal by curating a list of the best restaurants in each city to make sure that no matter where you go, you'll have a great time. We also automatically handle payment at the end of the meal, making it much more elegant.

In terms of our vision, I think we just want to be able to connect people with small businesses in a way that feels seamless, easy and enjoyable for everyone involved.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Reserve's success?

We partner with the best restaurants in the country to bring our diners the best dining experience possible. The restaurants and chefs we choose to work with are known for great food and incredible hospitality. Strategically speaking, by choosing to partner with industry leaders, we’ve been able to deliver a consistently exceptional experience before, during and after the meal. That’s why people keep coming back.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

With 14 million people currently employed in restaurants (1 in 10 workers) and one million restaurants in the U.S. and growing, the restaurant industry makes up a huge part of our economy (4% of GDP). Most of these places are small businesses (7 in 10 are single unit and family-run operations) that are often struggling just to turn a profit. If we can create tools and platforms that allow restaurants to seat more diners and deliver enhanced hospitality, the effects of that technology manifest in increased revenue. This eventually trickles down from restaurant owners to restaurant employees, and ultimately, out to the economy as a whole.

For a long time, some people in the restaurant industry saw technology as the antithesis of hospitality. But we’re seeing this start to change in a few ways. First, diners really want easy ways to make reservations, and technology can help with that, so you’re seeing a wave of restaurants make more of their tables available through services like ours. Second, the rise of photo-sharing, checking in and other forms of social media have really made an impact on restaurant marketing, and now savvy restaurants have their own hashtags and Twitter handles and run contests to help make turn their most popular Instagrammers into regulars. And finally, we’re seeing a lot of interest in automating payment at the end of a meal, if it can be done properly. Key for a restaurateur is not disrupting the atmosphere and not taking more of the server’s time so the dining room can keep running smoothly, and we’re really at the vanguard of this kind of solution with Reserve.

Life Motto?

Enjoy what you do most days, or go do something else.

Reserve's Motto?

A better dining experience.

Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Reserve? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

When we first started Reserve, I talked with a lot of potential partners who thought that the idea wouldn’t work and said they weren’t interested. I had to learn how to deal with getting turned down and figure out how to stay positive and learn from the experience. In the end, I tried to listen to all of the feedback I was getting, refine my idea for Reserve and most importantly learn how to talk about it in the right way. Doing that helped me create a vision that some of the best chefs and restaurateurs in the world now stand behind, and made Reserve into what it is today.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Listen to the people you work with, and the people you want to work with - whether it be vendors, potential customers or even potential hires. They often know things you don’t. When you can aggregate all that information together, that’s really when you’ve hit on something special.  I’ve learned a lot from conversations with our restaurant partners about hospitality and how to run a business, and my goal is to always listen to them and to our diners. It keeps me honest and grounded, and I always try to find something I can learn from.  

Describe the ideal experience using Reserve.

After our diners secure a table at the restaurant of their choice in one of our five cities, they arrive to the restaurant and are warmly greeted by the front of house staff, who are anticipating their arrival and treat them like regulars. Gracious service and excellent food come with the meal. Seamless payment rounds out the experience, eliminating the awkward and time-consuming transactional end to an otherwise hospitable experience, saving the waitstaff time and allowing the diners to leave whenever they’re ready. And of course, we hope they leave the restaurant with the intent to dine with Reserve again soon, for an unparalleled, ultimately better dining experience.

How do you motivate your employees?

I am lucky enough to work with a team of people who are fully invested in Reserve’s mission –– they all have passion and purpose for what they do, and because of that, our offices feel more like centers of collaboration rather than traditional workspaces. We communicate to every employee that each and every person is both valued and vital to keeping Reserve running and making it better every day. Consequently, there’s a lack of hierarchy in the offices, which allows us to more easily cultivate a sense of community. We’ve created an enjoyable and unique company culture, and the emphasis that we place on a close, team-oriented environment helps us continue to consistently work together and grow –– both as a company and as a team.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

That’s a hard one. I would probably say sushi and water - it’s important to stay hydrated!

What literature is on your bed stand?

Not just my bed stand –– I have everyone on my team read “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” by Danny Meyer. It’s a great look at the business of hospitality from one of the most successful restaurateurs out there today and is full of great lessons about teamwork and what it takes to navigate the competitive New York restaurant scene.

Role model - business and personal?

Honestly, it’s the people I work with everyday - including employees, investors and restaurateurs. I enjoy learning new things from all of them, and everyday I go home having learned something new. I’ve been very deliberate in how I’ve built my team and my company, and it makes me happy every day.

Current passion?

I’m laser-focused on Reserve, but still make time to check in on my teams from time to time - I’m an avid sports fan.

Favorite travel destination?

Santa Ynez, California. The setting is idyllic and the wine’s not bad either.

What's next for Reserve?

We continue to focus on growing our presence in New York, Boston, SF, LA and Chicago — both in terms of reaching more diners and partnering with more great restaurants. By the end of the year, you can also look for Reserve to expand into new cities. We’re also always working on new features and plan to do even more to make your dining experience better.