When to Change Course: DC’s Venga Launches New Product

March 21, 2012

10:30 am

Venga spent 8 months “gold plating” their first product: an app for browsing nearby restaurant specials and events. It had the catchy feature names (like A List and Rutbuster), the exclusive deals, even a prize involving a Top Chef – and was available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry all at once.

But as Venga worked with restaurants, they heard another complaint over and over: systems like OpenTable and the seating/ordering program (aka point-of-sale terminal) weren’t talking to each other, so restaurants didn’t know who their star customers were or whether they liked scallops or pasta.

So in February, with support from Fortify, Venga launched a new product: software for restaurants to create a loyalty program and keep track of customers. Diners get coupons on their receipts that can be redeemed online or by SMS, where they can also give feedback on the overcooked steak or too-attentive waiters. Combining that with ordering information, restaurants can send out tailored emails rather than generic blasts.

But a new product also means new obstacles. Cofounder Sam von Pollaro says that figuring out the details of loyalty programs takes some “leg work”: a few weeks per restaurant to choose rewards like free oysters, drinks on your birthday, cooking classes, or even a trip to London. That’s after designing the software to integrate with point-of-sale terminals (they currently work with Micros and Aloha). For the time being, Venga will also continue to support their first product.

In addition to pivoting product-wise, Venga has also become leaner. This new version took 2 months to produce and will be tweaked based on feedback. Von Pollaro says they took a lesson from other entrepreneurs and, unsurprisingly, the lean startup movement.

These days, you can find Venga exchanging wisdom with their fellow tenants at The Fort accelerator in DC.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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