#020 Scaling Success in Restaurant Tech with Umair Ahmed
Tech-Powered Dining: The Percy Story
Guest & Host
Umair Ahmed & Thomas Miltschuh
Welcome to Speak Revenue, the podcast where we emphasize that revenue is not just a goal; it's a result. In this show, we shift our focus from the output to the inputs. We engage in conversations with sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their remarkable journeys. Our mission? To uncover the true root causes of success. Join us for a remarkable milestone – the 20th episode of Speak Revenue, where we explore the dynamic intersection of sales, entrepreneurship, and innovation. In this episode, our host, Thomas Miltschuh, engages in a captivating conversation with Umair Ahmed, a seasoned co-founder and revenue leader based in Toronto, Canada. Together, they dive deep into Umair's journey and insights, shedding light on the essential factors driving success in the world of sales. Discover how Umair's expertise in developing go-to-market strategies and scaling sales teams has propelled him and his co-founded restaurant tech startup, Percy, to new heights. Learn how Percy's groundbreaking virtual cashier technology is revolutionizing the restaurant industry and why speed and adaptability are key in today's competitive tech landscape.
October 16th, 2023
Thomas Miltschuh: Welcome to our new episode of Speak Revenue. Remember, revenue is not the goal. It's a result. But the result of what? In this show, we turn our eyes from the output towards the inputs. We speak to sales leaders and entrepreneurs about their journeys. Join us on our quest to uncover and learn the root causes of success. Let's unpack what works for them and what didn't! Today with our guest, Umair Ahmed. Welcome, Umair. Thanks for being in the show. Thank you for taking the time.
Umair Ahmed: Great to be on Thomas. Thanks for having me.
Thomas Miltschuh: Great to have you here. So let us know who you are, what do you do? Why are you so successful?
Umair Ahmed: Absolutely. My name is Umair. I'm a seasoned co-founder and revenue leader based in Toronto, Canada. I've been in the B2B tech space for the last eight years. Work for a number of major tech startups in different segments. PropTech, FinTech, restaurant tech, you name it. Really become an expert in developing go-to-market strategies and scaling world class sales teams. Currently, I'm the co-founder and head of sales at Percy, which is a restaurant tech startup based here in Toronto.
Thomas Miltschuh: Awesome. So what would be great to know, what is your goal for this year? What about next year? Just to get a big picture?
Umair Ahmed: Absolutely. So perhaps I'll tell you a little bit more about Percy and then I can tell you a little bit about our goals. So Percy is a company I co-founded about a year and a half ago, along with Matthew Corrin, who was previously running and had founded the 400 unit chain Freshii. And one of the challenges we saw during Covid was that there was a pretty significant labor shortage. That restaurant owners are experiencing. so they could find people sometimes, but retaining talent was very, very challenging. And as Thomas as you know, during the time of the lockdown, pretty much everyone was doing everything virtually and remotely. We were working over Zoom, we were having therapy sessions, weddings, funerals, over zoom, you name it. And the question that arose was, Why can't we actually have, pardon me, cashiers that work remotely as well, that can help alleviate some of the labor shortages. So we actually developed the world's first virtual cashier, where in the restaurant, customers would face a tablet screen and interact with a cashier. They'll be able to take their order in real time. Punch the order into the p o s system and send that order directly to the back kitchen. And what we realized was that this was a great way to alleviate some of those challenges restaurant owners are facing in terms of goals. We are a fairly new startup. We are building the business from the ground up. We're still very, very scrappy and mindful of resources and how we allocate capital. And the goal we have set for this year is a million and a half in ARR.
Thomas Miltschuh: Alright. Sounds like a great idea. Haven't heard about anything similar before. Could be pretty disruptive, right?
Umair Ahmed: It is.
Thomas Miltschuh: In there, in this business area.
Umair Ahmed: Absolutely. I don't think there's another company that's quite doing what Percy is and disruptive is exactly what the technology is doing. I think, you know, the idea is we're not trying to replace humans. We're not trying to automate humans out of jobs. What we're really trying to do to solve problems for small business owners, the franchisee that has 2 to 4, maybe 5 locations and they're having a really, really tough time right now, keeping their stores open, whatever their hours of operations might be. So if we can help with the front of house challenge vis-a-vis this virtual cashier solution, it goes a long way in helping the economy and keeping our favorite restaurants open.
Thomas: Great. What about next year? Any specific goals yet?
Umair Ahmed: So based on what we've seen this year so far, it's been a tough economic environment. As I'm sure you know, globally, we're seeing pretty significant changes in interest rates, and that's affecting the economy and that ultimately affects consumers and their consumer spending habits. So less and less people are necessary. Interested in spending a lot of money, but we see in restaurants at least, that hasn't changed so much. So we're still very optimistic about our growth. and we think that there's a lot more restaurants and different chains that can benefit from Percy. So we're actually gonna be doubling our revenue goals next year. And that's gonna be facilitated by team growth. and also, really focusing on the enterprise segment.
Thomas Miltschuh: Okay, so you are really focusing on restaurants or also other business areas?
Umair Ahmed: It's a question, you know, so we started off with a restaurant space simply because a lot of our founders have a restaurant backing. So, as I mentioned, Matthew Corrin, who founded Freshii, has been running Freshii for the last 16, 18 years. So this is a space we know really, really well and we're subject matter experts. But what's interesting is now that we've been out for about almost two years, we get a lot of unsolicited inbound demand. From other businesses that are also experiencing labor challenges. So we've had, you know, health clinics reach out saying, Hey, we need a front desk receptionist. We've had one for 20 years, she just quit. Can we use Percy? We've had interest from airports, hotels, so there's different segments and verticals that Percy can expand to. And we are currently testing that out. So there's a health clinic here in Toronto. That provides chiropractic and massage services that actually uses Percy, as their front desk receptionist. So we're still testing that out. Still very early stages, but we're excited about that potential as well.
Thomas Miltschuh: Okay. Nice. Sounds like great potential there.
Umair Ahmed: Absolutely.
Thomas Miltschuh: Although it's, early stage company, when has Percy been founded?
Umair Ahmed: So officially we were founded about, you know, we were in stealth mode for about a year. So I would say, 2020. But we only came out of stealth mode last year. Started publicly talking about Percy and doing some advertising online and through different channels. So still a fairly young company. We're still in the seed stage. We have not, raised the series A. As I mentioned earlier, trying to be very scrappy and mindful of resource and capital allocation, especially in a funding environment as tight as we are in right now.
Thomas Miltschuh: Sure. Yeah. Still, you probably already have some kind of sales process. Could you step me through it? From lead generation over closing to upsell?
Umair Ahmed: Absolutely. So we have a completely outbound sales model. We don't invest any capital in marketing. Google Ads, none of that. I mean, sometimes we have some organic inbound leads that come in, because of our publicity or people, word of mouth. We do have a partner referral system that we just established a couple of months ago where existing customers will refer, you know, their peers or folks in their network. But as far as the sales process is concerned, it's still very outbound driven. And the way we kind of segment our customers is, in the size of their chains. So restaurants, some of the biggest chains out there have thousands and thousands of locations. You have some that have maybe, you know, in the 5 to 10 range. And then obviously you have a kind of a mod pod type of restaurant. It only has one location. We find that our sweet spot is kind of that middle ground where, it's a small, you know, 2 to 10 unit chain, especially, located in North America. So the way we operate our sales process is we first figure out what type of restaurants we want to target. We use resources like Apollo, LinkedIn Sales Navigator to do some research on these restaurants and really identify who the key stakeholder is. And typically with a segmentation that is the CEO or founder of that restaurant chain, we'll then reach out to them and put them in an automated sequence in tools like Outreach or apollo.io or even in a HubSpot, that will consist of multiple outreach, steps like email, LinkedIn, phone call, sometimes visiting them in person if we can. And once they're interested and engaged, we'll have a quick call with them, run them through our process, our vision, the product, and send over a proposal, and should they accept a proposal. We actually then move towards implementation, and onboarding. Now, in terms of our upsell and account management process, the idea is to get our customers to use Percy for longer hours, and in more locations. So typically a customer will start off, in a pilot. They might test one or two of their locations for 20 hours a week, once they've used the product for 30 days and have found success. We'll review our customer success metrics such as upsell, customer satisfaction, et cetera. And then based on that, we'll make a recommendation that in fact, you have a peak period, during lunch, and then you have a rush during dinner. and for that reason, we recommend using Percy for 40 hours a week, and then based on the success expanding to other locations.
Thomas Miltschuh: Great. Sounds like you, really figured out how to, address your target persona in the best way and, using also, some automation to, to be as efficient as possible. Right.
Umair Ahmed: Efficiency is the name of the game. But, I'll tell you what, it's a process. It's a journey. You don't get it right immediately. There's a lot of testing, reiteration, leaning into the data. And figure out what works. And it took us a little while to get there, but I think we found a process that is working, for now.
Thomas Miltschuh: That's interesting. So talking about what, yeah, or talking about experimenting and what works as well. What have you tried that did not work?
Umair Ahmed: So initially the hypothesis that we had was we should follow the model. Companies like Uber used it when they were expanding their UberEats division here in Canada. And the way they work was they would go to restaurants or franchisees and get them on board at a bunch of locations, and then they could go to the enterprise or corporate or franchisor level and say, Hey: We have 15, 20, 30 of your franchisees using our technology. Let's develop a more meaningful relationship at that enterprise level. Now we tried that. So we would go directly to the franchisee. We would tell them about Percy. They would say, it's amazing. This is gonna save me money. It's gonna save me time. It's gonna help me solve some of these labor problems. But this technology cannot be used without the permission of the franchisor. So for example, if I went to a McDonald's franchisee, they would say, you need to get permission from McDonald's corporate. We don't have the authority to just use it. So that model didn't work. And we quickly learned that we actually have to switch it and instead of going bottom up, Going top down where we actually have to start establishing relationships at the franchisor level and almost getting what we call a license to hunt. So if the franchisor says, we love the idea, you have our permission, but we're not gonna mandate it to all the restaurants, or locations, you have to go and sell this to every franchisee. We would effectively get this license to hunt and go franchise by franchisee. So that was one of the first learnings, in our development of our sales process.
Thomas Miltschuh: How did you realize and when did you realize it's not working?
Umair Ahmed: So what we like to do is be very data-driven, and methodical in our approach. So one of the very first things we did was set up a robust cadence and HubSpot, which is the c r m that we use. And we were very closely tracking the sales cycle then and the different stages where deals would get stuck. Make very detailed notes from every conversation. and within the first two months we started looking at the data and realizing we're not closing as many deals as we anticipated. so we started looking at the indicators to identify what's happening and what we realized was . Time and time again, the franchisees were telling me, Hey, I would love to sign up. This is a great product. but you need to get permission. So I think it was month 2 that I made the decision that this isn't gonna work. We've had enough conversations to realize that there's a pattern here, and we need to revisit the sales strategy, and try a different approach.
Thomas Miltschuh: So it seems like it was really quick, not a long time until you realized how much time did it take you to react and change the sales strategy?
Umair Ahmed: So one of my pillars, operational pillars, Thomas, is speed. I learned this in my previous role at Clearbank, now known as Clearco, where moving fast is really important. The analogy that I hear a lot of great sales leaders say is that, building a sales organization is a lot like building and flying the rocket ship at the exact same time. So you have to execute and you have to work on the business. But at the same time, you cannot get too stuck in process or strategies or theories. You have to. Be flexible and malleable and shift based on business needs. So within month two, I realized that this isn't working. and very quickly we adapted. And over the weekend I went into a brainstorming session with my co-founders and we decided to pivot the sales process a little bit. So we adjusted the leads, and we were generating our pipeline. our approach, obviously, we kind of went from almost an SMB sales cycle to a mid-market / enterprise, which is a different ball game altogether. So all in all, I would say it took us three months to completely re-pivot, realign, and start pushing forward on a new sales front.
Thomas Miltschuh: How, what effects did it have on your team members? How did you manage to keep up the team efficiency during that time?
Umair Ahmed: So there's always a period when you're doing any type of change management that there might be some inefficiencies because you're going through a change. It disrupts the routine or disrupts the process. but we're lucky in two ways. Number one, we have an amazing team that is very adaptable, likes to move fast, and really operates in that startup model of, you know, moving fast and breaking things. And that part has also just been kind of the type of people that we've hired. Are used to change, are used to ambiguity, a bit of vagueness, because again, as we talked about earlier, we're experimenting. We're trying to figure out what works and doubling down what works and then getting rid of what doesn't work. And there requires a certain mindset, a certain philosophy, an operating framework that is at the core of our business. So it was pretty impressive to see that it wasn't very disruptive, that the team. Was ready to take on that challenge. And we moved very quickly. So that's something, you know, I'm proud of and I think we did really, really well early on.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah. Awesome. Yeah, that's very important. What's the framework? What's the operating framework? Can you elaborate on this a little bit?
Umair Ahmed: So I think it comes down to having, first of all, the right core principles. I'm a big fan. Ray Dalio. I've read his book "Principles" many, many times, where he goes into his life principles and work principles. And really the essence is by having a set of principles that guide you, can allow you to establish a framework to achieve success. And for us, we sat together in a room very early on for a couple hours and really figured out how it is that we work. That's really, really important. And number one for us was the approach of radical candor. So that's just the way we communicate. We don't hold things back. Obviously we're respectful of one other. We're kind and compassionate. But we're very open and transparent when it comes to feedback, sharing ideas, and that allows us to create an environment where the best ideas win. And the second belief is that, you know who in that team is the most believable person as Ray Dalio would say. So when it came to sales, and revenue, On the team, I was kind of the subject matter expert, so I had the most believability, as it relates to how we should run our sales process and how we should optimize it. And I had a lot of confidence and trust, from my co-founders to basically take it, through, and run the course. But when it comes to success or marketing or finance, we have other great leaders in place. So really giving people autonomy and ownership, has been a key part of our operational framework. So really it comes down to those principles that have really helped us move fast and succeed, in the short one and a half years that we've been doing this.
Thomas Miltschuh: Sounds impressive. So you've developed your own framework individually, with inspiration from Ray Dalio.
Umair Ahmed: Exactly, exactly. So I can't take credit for that, we developed this. I think it really comes from experience, that, there's, five of us in the core co-founding team and we have a wealth of experience from different companies, different segments, different verticals, and we really taken the best of the best in terms of what we've learned over those years collectively and brought that to the table. Put that into the DNA and the structure of the company. Of course, we're imperfect. We all make mistakes. We all fail. That's a big part of sales. It's a big part of, you know, running a startup. That doesn't matter. I think we're very comfortable making mistakes. But what matters is quickly realizing that letting your ego out the door, and doing what is best for the customer, best for the team, best for the business.
Thomas Miltschuh: Great. You've already mentioned some tools, talking about your sales processes. Is there anything you would like to add? Especially when it comes to monitoring and finding out if everything is on track or if something is going wrong in the team. Achieving your goals?
Umair Ahmed: Yeah, so, I'm a nerd and a geek when it comes to sales tools. There are so many out there, really amazing ones. And I've worked for a number of organizations where we had a massive tech stack. Because we had such a big budget, we could use whatever tool we wanted. And then I've also worked for companies such as my own right now where we don't have a ton of capital. So we have to be really sensible about where we spend money. And we have to ask ourselves twice, Orric, do we really, really need this? If money was no object, I could list you a hundred tools that I would love to use. And, give my team access to, but right now, being scrappy, being mindful of capital allegations, we have a pretty, minimal, tech stack. So our CRM is HubSpot, eventually we'll transition to Salesforce as our needs evolve. We use apollo.io for lead generation/ lead enrichment. So identifying contact information. We use LinkedIn Sales Navigator also for lead generation, doing a little bit of research. We have Aircall as our dialer, so making calls to our customers. We use Zoom usually for our demos. That's, you know, pretty sufficient. We have Canva to help us create presentations and sales materials. We use a free account. The one that I'm thinking about using, that I think, in my past roles I found a lot of success with is Gong. So to be able to record calls, both demos and sales development calls really helps from a coaching standpoint. you can really identify where you lose the customer, where do you engage the customer? What are those key words or the lack thereof, that is affecting or driving the success from a coaching perspective. I think that's an incredibly powerful tool. Now, it's been coupled with AI to make it even stronger. So that's something that I'm interested in adopting that we haven't yet. But that's it for now. I think as time progresses, you know, we build a sales enablement function, we can expand that tech stack significantly.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yes. Thanks. That's pretty comprehensive. Of course there are so many tools. It's hard to say when is the right time to, add the next one and, when does it, does the next tool provide the most value
Umair Ahmed: Exactly.
Thomas Miltschuh: And how to individualize. You use it individually in the best way. Yeah.
Umair Ahmed: Exactly.
Thomas Miltschuh: Are there some lessons you learned, maybe three lessons you learned you would like to share with the audience?
Umair Ahmed: Great question.
Thomas Miltschuh: In your career?
Umair Ahmed: Yeah. So from a career perspective, the most important lesson I would say that I've learned is you need to surround yourself with a network of good people. I got to where I am today simply because I was supported and guided and mentored by other leaders. And I can, you know, name a handful that I talk to on a daily or weekly basis that have been really guiding my career and helping make me make those strategic decisions. Whether at the level of promotions or career growth, or even in my role trying to identify how I should be growing and scaling my team. So really surround yourself with a great network. Always network, go out to events, join communities. That's incredibly powerful. Secondly, for sales leaders, I think it's really important to get hired, right? I think you need to have a framework for hiring and identifying. What do you look for when you are ? Hiring, whether BDR, or AR or sales manager or sales director, and use those principles because ultimately, if you get hiring wrong, a couple things can happen. Number one, you can destroy your culture. And that can be very, very difficult to fix, especially when you're moving fast and things are changing. And then second, it also relates to performance and how your customers are treated. I always like to say if you treat your people well, they'll take care of the customer, which will take care of the revenue. And the third, so we touched upon this, is really speed. I think it's very, very important to move fast, not so fast that you get blinded. And you don't know where you're going and you get lost, but fast enough that you don't dwell on certain I ideas or theories or metrics. you just go ahead. You make mistakes. You have a comfort with failure, and getting it wrong because ultimately you're gonna get it right, but things move really, really fast in the world of attack. Very fast in the world of startups. And speed is the name of the game. don't get paralysis by analysis. As a former manager of mine once told me.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's very important, really great advice, don't stop just because of any failure.
Umair Ahmed: Exactly
Thomas Miltschuh: I think it was a quote, just I think yesterday, "You are not afraid of failure. Usually you're afraid of what people think of you when you fail."
Umair Ahmed: Exactly. Exactly.
Thomas Miltschuh: That's often the case and really can block people from going forward.
Umair Ahmed: I love that. I think, you know, we're naturally social beings and because of that, we're very perceptive to other people's feelings and judgements. And I get that we're all human, but in the world of success and aspiring to great heights, You really can't worry about what people are gonna say or think. You just need to do what is right. And if you follow your principles, whether it's, do right by the customer, do right by your team, you're gonna find that eventually you'll find a lot of success. You can look to the greats like Steve Jobs, for instance, who really didn't care what people thought he was a trailblazer, years, if not decades ahead of his time. And really identified what the market wanted and built, a historic company, unmatched by any other.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yes. And talking about principles again, you've mentioned Ray Dalio already. Maybe last question, do we have any additional book recommendations, something that you would like to share?
Umair Ahmed: As far as books go, there are so many books, but one of the ones that, I've been kind of going back to over and over again, would be, any book really by Malcolm Gladwell, especially "Outliers". Is a great book. And the reason why is because he really talks about success. In the book, he identifies that, you know, the people that have succeeded have been in different ways. One of the things that he talks about is this idea of 10,000 hours. So if you look at the Beatles, which he talks about in the book or any kind of group or person or individual that has found tremendous amounts of success, they've really practiced the mastery of their craft. They didn't just get good, by being born that way, or through luck, or, you know, they just woke up and found success. They put in the work and the number of hours that it takes to get really, really good at something. So for those listening, whether you're an AE or a sales leader, or you're thinking about starting your own business, success doesn't come quickly. Success takes hours and hours of dedication, hours and hours of reflection failing . Trying again, reiteration. and that's how you find success. There's different ideas and themes in the book. I won't spoil for those that are wanting to read and
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah. Great summary!
Umair Ahmed: But definitely check out! The works of Malcolm Gladwell.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yeah. And, when those people are successful, it rather looks easy. it's maybe just talent, but nobody knows how they got there, exactly.
Umair Ahmed: Talent. Talent is overrated. I think there's this idea of deliberate practice. Where you look at, the greats of the greats, Michael Jordan or Beyoncé in the world of music, or you know, the superstars in sales. They put in a lot of practice and effort and they make it look easy, but it's never easy. So talent is important, but a lot of it is deliberate work and focused work.
Thomas Miltschuh: Yes, Thanks for all your insights. I think there are several actionable things people can take value from and use for their own, daily business. So, alright everyone that brings us to the end of this episode of Speak Revenue. I want to thank our guest, Umair Ahmed for joining us today and sharing such valuable insights. A huge shout out to all our listeners. Your support means the word to us. Remember to check out our website : speakrevenue.com for a full transcript and additional resources, and if you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever we go for your listening needs. It really helps get the word out. Also, follow us on LinkedIn at Instagram or YouTube. We'll be back soon with another great guest. Until then, stay curious and keep listening.