Why We Invested: Bbot
Bbot is building the only pure API, pure white label food/hospitality payments tech infrastructure platform in the market.
The Bbot co-founders, Steve, Luke and Greg, first met as officers and nuclear engineers while stationed at Naval Reactors in Washington, D.C. The three of them worked on instrumentation and control systems for submarines and aircraft carriers.
They kept in touch for many years after leaving the Navy, ultimately working together to develop the original Bbot, a ceiling-based robotic delivery system that delivers drinks to tables in restaurants. The robot evolved into software that allows guests to order and pay from wherever they are located on the property.
Today, Bbot offers a robust, configurable solution that helps 500+ restaurants, bars, hotels, cinemas and other hospitality organizations create digital menus and provide contactless ordering and payment from the customer’s smartphone.
Bbot is simultaneously building the only pure API, pure white label food/hospitality payments tech infrastructure platform in the market. We believe there are a number of companies out there who want to spend their time building end-consumer technology, not the underlying infrastructure to manage order and payments.
Bbot is building this fundamental infrastructure platform on top of which other companies can build — similar to Stripe or Twilio, but for the food tech industry. Any food tech company in the world could leverage what Bbot is creating.
Rally Managing Director and Bbot Board Member Justin Kaufenberg recently caught up with Bbot Co-Founder and CEO Steve Simoni. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation.
Justin Kaufenberg, Managing Director at Rally Ventures: How did you and your co-founders start Bbot?
Steve Simoni, Co-Founder and CEO at Bbot: We wanted to get into software and tech after we left the Navy, so we moved to San Francisco. I joined Marketo as a sales engineer, Greg was at Salesforce and Luke went to Stanford. And then we spent our nights and evenings building an overhead robotic delivery system. We spent about a year building the robot at Luke’s apartment in San Mateo before launching it in a nightclub in Cincinnati.
Part of the original product was an order and payments system, so the robot knew where to go. When we tried to sell it in New York City, the bar owner didn’t have a ceiling to install the robot, but he wanted the software to help his staff work more efficiently. We then pivoted into developing the product with him for a large outdoor bar in Brooklyn, and, in the process, uncovered a whole new opportunity.
Justin: You come from a mission critical background having been in the Navy. What about that experience prepared the three of you to build a B2B software company?
Steve: We still think of ourselves as building a mission critical system because we power the infrastructure for small businesses. Having exceptional ordering software is their mission critical system. It looks a lot different for a small business than it does for the US government, but to them it is a nuclear reactor — it can’t go down.
Justin: You and your cofounders are about three years into Bbot and have clearly done a lot of things right. You’ve had remarkable growth over the past 9 months, in particular. When you look back, what are some of the best decisions you’ve made?
Steve: Moving to NYC, which brought us closer to the customer. No doubt about it. I know there are restaurants everywhere, but NYC has the most density. Many major restaurant groups have a presence here, and a lot of other tech companies serving hospitality are also here. It’s a big ecosystem of companies with whom we can partner.
We were also remote from day one, which means we don’t have to compete in major markets for the talent and the prices. Our entire team is remote and because we leaned in to that, it made things easy from the get-go.
Justin: How would you describe your personal leadership style?
Steve: Front lines. Ask any of the team at Bbot. I want to help them accomplish their goals. I can’t always be on all of the demos with the sales team, but I love it when I can join. We’re a remote company, but we’re on the front lines with the team.
Justin: I love getting that answer from founders. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people ask whether you’re a product-first or a sales-first company. It’s an outdated question because any successful company is a customer-first company. In order to serve the customer, you need to build an amazing product and then get it to them through sales and marketing. The idea that you’re one or the other is a sure path to failure.
So you’re caught up to current state. You’re in market, you’ve found product/market fit, you have hundreds of customers, millions of dollars in ARR. What are you most excited about for 2021?
Steve: When the pandemic ends, I’m very excited to see how restaurants and the product we built react to the new normal. We started pre-COVID and really spent a few years trying to understand casual dining. I’m most excited about seeing how our product holds up in a post-COVID world. I think it’s going to shine even brighter because of some of the features we built before the pandemic began.
Justin: COVID has taken your industry and accelerated it by an order of magnitude. What is your vision for this market when the pandemic ends?
Steve: I love to dine out. I think a lot of Americans share that. My prediction is that things won’t be all that different, but there will be a new segment in dining. Pre-COVID, our customers were trying to figure out a better guest experience. COVID accelerated this new segment of casual dining by providing people with the ability to order and pay on their phones. The key question we’re trying to answer is: how do you bring in the tech seamlessly but also keep that hospitality component?
Justin: One thing that has made me really excited for Bbot is your technology’s ability to help save local restaurants, which, in many ways, are the heartbeat of a community.
Shopify built a platform that allows the independent merchant to compete with the largest retailers in the world. It puts them on even footing from a technical perspective, which is what’s required now. You are doing the same for the multi trillion dollar food tech market.
Steve: I agree. Shopify nailed the use case for retail. When you talk to restaurants, they want the same high quality e-commerce systems as the retail store, but they have different needs. It’s been really awesome to talk to them about building this platform.
Justin: When you do step away from work, what do you spend your time doing?
Steve: I’m a competitive card game player. I was the 2013 Game of Thrones card game national champ. They actually designed a card in my name. I unfortunately lost the world championship to the Spanish champion.
I’m also a big reader of fiction. One of my favorite books is A Confederacy of Dunces, which I read every other year. It’s a funny book and just really enjoyable.
I like fiction because it takes you to a new place, but any good book also mirrors some reality. I think more people should read fiction. It really helps with creativity.
Justin: I agree though I often fall back into the habit of reading more non-fiction. I like books about partially successful military leaders. The flawed leaders who we didn’t spend a whole lot of time learning about growing up. I take inspiration from understanding how they persevered despite their flaws — or in some cases, failed to overcome them.
I’m inspired by their struggle, and take more from that than the outcome itself.
Justin: Looking forward, what is the big vision for Bbot?
Steve: The big vision is to help hospitality operators meet all their e-commerce needs and help future entrepreneurs who want to build products for small businesses be able to do that easily.
It’s not easy to build a product for small businesses because they all use different hardware. That’s the big problem that we’ve faced, and we’ve just had to grind it out while solving it. If we do our job right, any entrepreneur will be able to pull up the Bbot API and start building a new innovation for all small businesses. That’s what we’re laying the foundation for this year.
Justin: I think you three are brilliant founders, and I couldn’t be more excited about the company and the way you’re building it. Rally is thrilled and very proud to be invested in Bbot, and we’re looking forward to what’s to come.