Greg Hong: Co-Founder & CEO of Reserve

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Bio:

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.

How did you get into the Tech industry?

I came to tech from finance, and one of my first jobs was 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. I started Reserve because I wanted to bring my experience growing marketplaces and my work with small businesses to the hospitality space, helping restaurateurs focus on what they really care about — delivering great hospitality.

Any emerging industry trends?

The best new emerging technology companies offer key players in the hospitality industry –– like restaurants and hotels, for example –– the opportunity to be more efficient without losing the warmth and friendliness that make them so special and the experiences they deliver so unique.

Also, we now see technology converging to create a more seamless system with different components that can all talk to one another. Companies are bringing the entire reservation making, hotel booking or car hailing experience together with one click of a button, integrating the ability to get what you need on-demand with a seamless payment experience.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

I often say that the restaurant reservation process is so familiar that it’s easy to overlook the fact that it could be a lot better. We think that aspects of the reservation process should be intuitive and pain-free for everyone, for every reservation, and when we looked across the market there was a clear opportunity there. So we came out with Reserve for Restaurants, a new table management system that offers restaurants more control, enables better hospitality and creates aligned incentives. We also launched Reserve.com, a web destination for guests to discover great restaurants and instantly book reservations, because we want to make it easier on both sides - for restaurants and their guests.

Inspiration for Reserve, and your vision for it?

One night in late 2013, my friend Joe Marchese and I couldn’t get a table anywhere –– we were just looking for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant with some close friends. The complexity, annoyance and back and forth involved in the process of researching restaurants and searching for reservations seemed unnecessary. We kept asking ourselves why no one had come up with a one-stop-shop for that. We knew there had to be a better way and were determined to make it happen, deciding that the dining experience — from getting a reservation to paying the check — needed vast improvement for both diners and restaurants.

The vision for our business is still very much the same as it was on Day One. How can we build a platform the supports both the needs of restaurants and diners throughout the entire dining journey? That platform needs to support servers, hosts, GMs and reservationists, help them do their jobs more efficiently and facilitate a high-touch, hospitable experience for their guests. It also needs to offer diners one intuitive destination for discovering great restaurants, making reservations, paying the check and giving feedback.

What's next for Reserve in the near future?

Our focus is on building a full suite of tools, a reservation product, that will make a better experience for restaurants and diners alike. We recently took a big step in that direction, announcing our table management system, Reserve for Restaurants, and Reserve.com. We will continue to collaborate with chefs, owners, GMs, reservationists, hosts and servers as we guide our product forward. We’ll also be working with our partners to add additional Instant Booking availability to Reserve.com, as well as continuing to add restaurants that accept reservation requests via the Reserve app.

Overall, our plans are to continue to expand within our seven cities (bringing on more restaurants in each market), launch Reserve in more cities, bring Reserve to more people and build more functionality into Reserve.com and Reserve for Restaurants that our diners and our restaurant partners will love.

Your key initiatives for the success of Reserve?

A key decision I made early on was to make listening to feedback a cornerstone of our company culture. 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 from the onset and how to turn each rejection into a learning experience. It can be difficult to stay positive but when you believe so much in an idea, you learn to look at the feedback as an essential part of the process. All the feedback we received helped us refine the idea for Reserve and learn how to best convey our vision and passion. Without any of the tough moments, we wouldn’t have landed where are now, offering a platform that some of the best chefs and restaurateurs in the world now stand behind.

Your most difficult moment at Reserve? (and what did you learn?)

Truthfully, the most difficult moment still is having enough time in the day. Leading a fast-growing company and managing a team at the same time are really two full-time jobs, neither of which can be compromised. One time management tactic I’ve adopted is setting aside email-only time and compressing my meeting schedule. I also believe strongly in empowering the rest of my incredible management team to make important decisions and push things forward.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

We want to make it better and easier for guests to find great restaurants, make reservations and have a great time dining out. Our technology should facilitate hospitality and shouldn’t stand in the way of a restaurant’s relationship with its guests. We also hope our tools allow our partners to run their restaurant the way they want. Our goal is to create a solution that restaurants and their guests love.

How do you motivate others?

I am lucky enough to work with a team of people who are fully invested in the work that Reserve is doing –– 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. Our company is aligned behind a set of core values — we call them the “10 Things” — that guide how we work and what we’re striving towards. It’s also important that all employees, no matter their role, understand their value to the organization and how their work keeps the wheels on the bus. Consequently, there’s a lack of hierarchy in the offices, which allows us to more easily cultivate a sense of community. That openness is key to motivation. The unique company culture we work hard to foster helps us to grow and work together and motivates us as a team through any challenges that may arise.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Put yourselves in the shoes of 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, things you may not be able to understand unless you put yourself in the trenches of their business and witness their challenges firsthand. 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 new to learn.

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