When COVID-19 closed down restaurant dining rooms, it forced restaurants to adapt to a new digital world. That opened up a range of new possibilities, from simple marketing to ghost kitchens and virtual restaurant brands, but it also created a new set of headaches. Orders now come in from disparate channels instead of just in-house, and operators suddenly needed to maintain multiple digital storefronts, instead of just their physical one.
One company helping restaurants contend with the digital shift is Cuboh. The Victoria, British Columbia-based company makes products that route all digital orders through the POS system and allows restaurants to edit their menus on all the different delivery marketplaces with just a few clicks of a button.
“Right place, right time,” is how Juan Orrego, Cuboh’s founder and CEO, explained his firm’s success. It launched publicly in 2019 and went through Y-Combinator, the prestigious startup accelerator, later that year. Barely half a year after Cuboh exited the accelerator, COVID-19 arrived in North America, sending demand for delivery and delivery support products such as Cuboh’s skyrocketing.
“The online ordering problem is way more than just integrating an order,” said Orrego, and he views Cuboh’s other offerings as key points of distinction for the company. Nowhere is that more true than for ghost kitchens, which often don’t even have a physical storefront to fall back on. They often operate multiple brands out of the same kitchen and, as a result, have a much wider digital presence than the average restaurant. That multiplies the administrative headache of maintaining accurate menus and, if they have multiple locations, that headache multiplies again.
Multi-brand operators often do significantly more volume than a traditional restaurant, which Orrego explained leads to a greater need to adjust the menu on the fly. “They run out of things more quickly,” and need to be able to pull their chicken tenders off their menu if and when they run out of chicken before any additional customers have the opportunity to order it.
While ghost kitchens may be bearing the brunt of the digital headaches, “traditional restaurants are digitizing their operations” and following right on their heels, said Orrego. Ultimately, his goal is to have Cuboh help restaurants manage all aspects of their digital presence, and he said the company plans to unveil several new products in 2022.
In addition to launching new products, Cuboh will explore an overseas expansion to Europe or South America in the coming years. Although the company has admittedly not come close to saturating the North American market, Orrego said he was concerned about competitors making moves in foreign markets and getting too far ahead.
That’s a concern straight out of Y-Combinator. He credits the company’s time there with turning Cuboh into a “real organization,” and said one of his biggest learnings from the three-month program was how much the speed at which you’re expanding relative to your peers is an incredibly important metric.
While the past two years have been good to Cuboh, they’ve also given rise to one of the company’s biggest challenges: the labor shortage.
“Restaurants want to buy our product, but they don’t have time to be onboarded,” said Orrego. “It’s nothing we can control,” which is likely the most frustrating part.
While the need for delivery integration services is obvious now, Cuboh began almost by accident. Orrego said he founded the company after he was fired from an internship he needed to graduate from college and couldn’t find another on short notice.
For the first four months, Orrego focused on building an analytics product for restaurants, and it wasn’t until he started having in-depth conversations with restaurateurs that he realized the need for delivery integration services. Even in 2017, the need was so great that Orrego said he was able to sign two restaurants up at “like $50 a month” before he even started working on the product.
“I didn’t know how to write a single line of code,” he recalled. “I was up at 4 AM for six months learning how to code.” Working with a team of overseas developers, it took Orrego seven months to build a stable, restaurant-ready product.
“My code, however, isn’t very good,” he continued. The company had to rewrite that early version before launching publicly in 2019. Since then, the firm has grown from two employees to more than 60, while meal delivery sales grew by more than 300 percent over a similar timeframe, according to Edison Trends.