Entrepreneurship | Product Design

The Subline

Problem

The Covid-19 has exposed this problem for the restaurant owners to make wise decisions that maximize their margins, and the current way they go about doing it relies heavily on low-tech method that doesn't help them balance their results in an optimal way.

Role

Lead Product Designer

Team

Damian Krebsbach (Founder), Zara Mahmood (MBA), Mallory Monsma (MBA), Lee Morgan (Software Engineer), Dan Ochoa (MBA)

Duration

March 2020 - April 2020

Tools

Figma, Photoshop, Illustrator, Ipad, InDesign, WIX, Google Ad, Facebook Ad, Typeform, pen and paper

Solution

A scalable inventory management solution built for independent restaurant owners and ghost kitchens with minimal complexity, minimal time commitment from the owners, while still maximizing value recaptured by the restaurant owner.

The Subline is specific to restaurant inventory tracking and is compatible with open API POS systems like Clover, Square, Toast, and more.

Skills Involvement
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Timeline
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This startup business venture was the finalist at the 2020 Alaska Airline Environmental Innovation Challenge and won the Voyager Capital Best Business to Business Idea Prize at the 2020 Dempsey Startup Competition. The $2,500 Prize Money was donated to support our involved restaurant partner.

Background

Well-meaning entrepreneurs pursuing their passion for food and service find themselves overwhelmed by the demands of operating an efficient and profitable business. 60% of restaurants closed within the first year of operations; those that survived had an average cash runway of 10 - 14 days.

60%

of restaurants close within their first year

$17,000

food expenses lost to operational waste per year

Why Now

Now more than ever, restaurants must be operated as data-driven businesses. The competitive landscape is also changing; delivery-based revenue is growing, real estate costs are rising, consumer preferences are changing, suppliers are consolidating, and checklists and pens are no longer sufficient to track integral back-of-house metrics. Finally, regulation and policy that directly affects the back of house operations is in the works. Owners will seek out solutions that empower them to survive and scale in a post-COVID-19 World.

Research Process

01

Customer Validation

Methods

I helped with creating a new customer validation survey and creating Facebook and Google ads that help us understand the implications of COVID's effect on restaurant interest to better position our product. We came up with a total of 6 directions that were each targeted at one aspect of the software product

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02

Synthesis

The POS (Point of Sales) system's integrated inventory management is useless for us, it assumes that we sell and stock discrete SKUs (Stock Keeping Unit) for raw ingredients...that's not how it works for us... we pretty much just write out our shopping list twice or three times a week and keep track of orders on an excel spreadsheet.

— Independent Restaurant Owner

Key Insights

The Current POS system does not provide meaningful insights for restaurant managers to manage their inventory systems.

It assumes businesses stock and sell discrete SKUs, like a book or a mattress. But in the restaurant business, you stock ingredients, combine them and then sell a finished product. So, because Acadia sells burritos and not books, the inventory reports on their POS are effectively useless.

The Restuarant managers or owners rely heavily on manual input to document and manage their inventory that is time-consuming. These are quick short-term fixes but in the long term, not transferrable and are prone to errors.

An average of 35 hours per month is spent checking their stock, planning orders from suppliers, and building spreadsheets to try and understand where they could save money.

In saving operation costs, restaurant owners have more potential to control the efficient use of their inventory and time; however, they don't have the time and better way to reduce their operation waste.


Fast-casual restaurants lose about 17% of their food expenses to operational waste and they miss opportunities to optimize their menu for higher margins.

 

Competitive Analysis

From looking at the players that offer SaaS product in the space, they have settled on providing information that is more descriptive in nature, simply providing reports telling you what has happened in the past, things like historical sales.

The Subline is all about offering predictive and prescriptive analytics, and we have a hyper-focus on inventory management.

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Design

01

Solution

A scalable inventory management solution
built for independent restaurant owners with

+Minimal complexity
+Minimal owner involvement
+Maximizes Value

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Key Benefits

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01  Reduce Food Waste

Optimize inventory and menu to reduce food waste and increases margins.

02  Save Time

Gain back time currently spent on inventory management and training.

03  Form Better Decisions

Understand what drives value in your business (and what doesn’t)

Feature 01

Dashboard

01

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Inventory Check and Orders

The Subline gets its data from user side input, based on the data collected from the initial inventory input, the system will generate automated checks that the store manager could perform daily without going in to check each item. The popular ingredients are based on menu items that are sold and give the owners an idea of which items are doing well in their inventory

The inventory check provides a list of top 4 items for the store manager to check daily. Instead of spending hours going through the inventory, the system generates suggestions for what is the most critical items to check. This is a minimal way for the system to acquire user input data without placing too much burden on the end-user.

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(Theoretical vs Actual Ingredient Cost Graph)

Trend on Ingredient Cost

Currently, the trend trackers show the owner’s performance over the quarter. Here having the theoretical vs actual comparison helps the manager to spot anomalies in order to better adjust their inventory.

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(design explorations low-fi prototype)

Feature 02

Inventory

02

ingredientpage

(View Inventory and add new ingredients)

Ingredients Inventory

The inventory section is categorized based on the ingredient type based on how managers usually check for ingredients. Once they update this upfront, the system will calibrate and calculate usages rates to provide the most accurate information.

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Feature 03

Recipe Book

03

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(Menu Items Details sorted by Menu Categories)

View Existing Menu Recipe

In the Recipe book page, the restaurant owners can create new menu additions with the option to also create the recipe for new ingredients.

Here, the owner or store manager can navigate to the menu category and see existing menu items. It provides detailed information on the selected menu items. The menu is categorized according to the restaurant menu for easy access. When a menu item is selected, the store manager can see the waste cost for the sandwich, the cost to build the sandwich to include labor, the current price of the sandwich, and the margin for each sandwich sold.

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menupage2

(Adding New Menu Items)

Create New Ingredients

To create a new ingredient, the owner simply clicks on the add button at the top right or within the menu items. A new menu can be then added by entering the name of the course, ingredients, and details of how much those ingredients are used and the cost. This way the system can keep track of the raw ingredient usage through the POS system.

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(design explorations with sketches)

( Before and after of wireframe after numerous iterations )

Feature 04

Orders

04

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Optimal Orders

 
Based on collected data on inventory usage and popularity, the system is able to generate order recommendations and for the owner to review. Once the items get approved, the restaurant owner/manager can see a summary and place the order or edit. This optimal order is designed to save unnecessary checking time, instead, managers now only need to check over the recommended orders and make slight adjustments accordingly.

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Orders Listings

The orders page allows store owners/managers to find information about their previous orders as well as create orders to resupply the restaurants.

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Product Strategy

How It Works

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Our software integrates with any open-source API POS system

We aggregate transactions across any third party delivery and catering services so that our customers can track all their revenue streams in one location and get bifurcated data by revenue stream.

Beta Partners

In doing this market validation we were able to shortlist 5 key beta partners across various subsegments that are compatible with our fast-casual model. They have consistent and relatively permanent lineups and menus.

By having some diversity among our beta partners, we will not only be able to test which subsegments our software actually makes sense for, thus finalizing our market size, but it will also provide the critical success stories that we can use in future testimonial marketing across our socials and brand

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Go-to-Market Strategy

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We know we are in a high churn market so we are focusing on deal volume vs deal size. Our sweet spot is supplementing online and web sales with our channel partners such as Clover and Square to ensure low costs for sales staff.

 Our go-to-market strategy can quickly amass a high volume of deals and give our flywheel growth strategy momentum. We will help our early beta partners protect and recapture their margins and build strong customer loyalty. This loyalty will increase word of mouth through our referral program to grow our network of customers. Ultimately this will allow us to capture more customer data, which enhances our ability to provide meaningful insights and build momentum through a tight recursive loop

Takeaways

Reflection

Communication to different stakeholders. There are often concepts and ways of working that designers take for granted but being able to articulate and communicate your ideas to various stakeholders is also very important. I learned to work on an interdisciplinary team with people from finance, MBA, software engineers.

Integrate Business Considerations into Products. Designing a product is not just about having a good user experience, but you also need to think about the lifespan of the product and how to get it into the hands of the consumer or position it for your target audience.

Integrate Business Considerations into Products. Designing a product is not just about having a good user experience, but you also need to think about the lifespan of the product and how to get it into the hands of the consumer or position it for your target audience.

Taking this Forward...

Work with our partners to further validate our assumptions and developers to integrate with restaurant’s POS systems to start gathering and evaluating the beta prototype and data gathering.

Launch beta version and on-board our beta partners for rolling out the software to help them after COVID phase 4

Because this time around we are hustling to get a version out there, our focus was primarily on the product. As we get more businesses to test our prototype, we will continue to refine the interactions based on customer feedback.