Bikky's Abhinav Kapur on How Data Can Help Restaurants Succeed (Especially During COVID)

An interview with the company's founder about the future of digital marketing in the restaurant industry.
March 15, 2021, 02:00 PM UTC
Bikky's Abhinav Kapur on How Data Can Help Restaurants Succeed (Especially During COVID)

Welcome to BOH Banter, an interview series designed to introduce our audience of independent restaurant operators to the Verified Vendors on our Solutions marketplace. Have suggestions for who we should interview next? Pitch us: tips@backofhouse.io!

***

Abhinav Kapur's vision for Bikky was born from watching his parents struggle to manage data and marketing for their family restaurant. He wondered, what would it take to help small restaurants wrangle data and interpret it in meaningful ways to build stronger relationships with customers? From these ideas, Bikky sprouted.

The platform aims to help restaurants adapt to the ever-changing food and beverage realm — especially during a global pandemic that is changing the industry in ways it's never seen. The overall idea? Give restaurants the ability to map the entire guest footprint across point of sale, reservations, third-party delivery, first-party delivery, and more.

Back Of House spoke with Kapur about what Bikky delivers restaurants, how COVID has accelerated the need for restaurants to be digitally present, and why the industry is going "from Mad Men to Moneyball."

This interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Meet Abhinav Kapur, Bikky founder and CEO

Back of House: Give us a brief rundown of who you are and what you do at Bikky.

Abhinav Kapur: I'm the founder and CEO of Bikky, so I guess I do a little bit of everything. I started the business because my parents own a restaurant and I got tired of seeing my mom staring at delivery tablets instead of talking to our customers. I figured there had to be a way to help her get the data from all these different delivery platforms, and not just get the data, but do something with the data, and help her build more authentic relationships with her guests as the business shifts increasingly digital — whether that's across in-store channels, like kiosk or POS, or across loyalty or reservations or Wi-Fi or third-party delivery, first-party delivery. I founded Bikky with the idea of helping restaurants adapt to where the restaurant industry is going, and more importantly, have control over their guest data, especially as they fight third-party platforms that are essentially trying to use the data to put them out of business.

BOH: When was Bikky founded?

AK: It's been about two and a half years now, but we really found our stride in probably the past 18 months. There have been some twists and turns and pivots along the way — we've always had a way to aggregate data, but didn't necessarily have the best way to help restaurants use that data. [We hit our stride] February of last year, when we figured out how to help restaurants use third-party data to retarget those customers on social media and drive them to their own direct ordering platforms, and then have a bunch of email automations that restaurants can take advantage of to drive retention on those platforms once customers convert from third-party to first-party.

BOH: Give us a 10,000-foot view of Bikky. What do you do?

AK: We're essentially an omni-channel CRM for restaurants, but I think it's important to dig into that. Essentially, we built a way to help restaurants own and control their guests’ data, and more importantly, use the data to drive more business to the channels that they control that are independent of any sort of third parties — with the idea of helping them build more kind of authentic and proper relationships with their guests. What we say is we power digital hospitality. Hospitality is going increasingly digital. How do you engage customers who may never set foot in your store? With Bikky, we built the way to collect that data and monetize it to help drive business through the channels that you directly own and away from third parties.

BOH: Why is it so important to have control over your customer data as opposed to allowing a third party to have it?

AK: If a customer comes in the store, would you let anybody else serve or engage or speak to that customer? The answer is obviously no. When a customer comes to your restaurant, they come because they like your food, because they like the ambiance, because they like the overall experience. Offloading that or contracting out to a third party — we call it customer debt. You basically, for the short term, trade off the ability to have a relationship with that customer because the third party keeps the data. The third party will actively use that data to keep the guest loyal to their platform and not necessarily to the restaurant. So what you have is this dynamic where restaurants are losing control of their customers. They're giving control of that relationship to somebody else, and effectively those third parties are turning restaurants into faceless vendors that fulfill orders — not business owners, and not people who actually perform hospitality.

BOH: How does Bikky solve that problem?

AK: We built ways to aggregate customer data from third party platforms as well as first party platforms. The idea is giving restaurants the ability to map the entire guest footprint across point of sale, reservations, WiFi, loyalty, third-party delivery, first-party delivery. We're sort of the net that catches all the customer data across the tech stack and centralizes it in one place. There are a bunch of automated tools built into the product, like pushing data to Facebook, or pushing data to email to launch automated campaigns based on customer's behavior to drive them from third-party to first-party, or if they've already converted on first-party, designed to keep them continuously ordering through the first-party platform. So think of it as the data and marketing engine that sits behind a restaurant’s guest-facing channels.

BOH: Does a restaurant operator have to have a first party ordering platform to work with Bikky?

AK: When we initially launched, there was some self-selection — we only talked to people who had a first-party platform and didn't know how using data could help them unlock more business through that channel. If there is any silver lining to [COVID], it's pushed all restaurants to think seriously about their digital presence. In the beginning, most restaurants, at least in New York, were doing 20% or 30% delivery. It's fine if the majority of that business is through third parties, because you still have this 70 to 80% in-store revenue stream. It's not the majority of your business.

But then when COVID happened, and you switch to your business being 100% reliant on third parties, that pushed a lot of restaurants to actually think critically about, “Do we have online ordering? How do we engage customers? How do we own our digital experience since that's the only way customers can actually access us right now?”

BOH: Tell us about who the customer was for Bikky at the outset of COVID. Has that shifted?

AK: It was decidedly skewed more towards fast-casual before COVID. Our ideal customer was five to 50 locations with a marketer internally. We are enabling marketing, in terms of how we use the data, so you need a marketer internally. What we've seen is with the growth of touchless dining, we have smaller brands that are becoming more adept at marketing or are thinking through their digital presence, and casual dining brands who are like, “I'm collecting a ton of email addresses and phone numbers in store, and I need a way to centralize all of this data, along with the fact that I'm doing increased delivery business as well.” So from a service model standpoint, I think the market's opened up for us much more dramatically than where we were 12 months ago.

We just launched our Toast integration a few weeks ago. Before with Toast, you’d just get the credit card number, the name, and check-level details. You’d never actually have a piece of identifiable information, like an email address or phone number. We have one partner in Florida launching a campaign where we're collecting their Toast data — they're telling everybody who comes in the store to leave their phone number to get a digital receipt. We will pull in the phone number and send an automated text with an offer for them to order online from their first-party provider. We’re actually now able to take a Visa customer with a phone number and add their name, their address, their email address, and then put them into our triggered email automations. What we're doing now is taking someone who was anonymous and mapping their entire lifecycle as a customer, and then immediately making that data actionable where the restaurant can build an ongoing relationship with them. That type of omni-channel data collection and engagement pre-COVID was just not happening. So with some of our integrations, like with Toast and others, we're now able to fully unlock the power of our automations and our data collection.

BOH: What are some of the other functionalities that restaurant operators can take advantage of with Bikky?

AK: We have email automations for new customer onboarding, customer retention, and cart abandonment. Another one of them is automated texting. We have this automated text widget, where essentially most partners use it as feedback — you place an order directly from a restaurant, and then you'll get follow-up text saying “Hey, this is Joe’s Pizza, how was your meal?” When you’re in person, you can touch tables and ask guests how their meal was, so we thought, how do you take the data and extend that digitally? It’s a quick, automated text — it’s a way to follow up with the guest and see how the meal was. If everything went great, that’s fine, but if something went wrong, you can remedy that.

The biggest thing, though, is being able to use the third-party data to actually retarget those customers on social media and drive them to your direct ordering platform. Because we're plugged into third-party and first-party, we can actually say, “You retargeted these 10,000 customers on Facebook. Two-hundred of them over the next 10 days actually ordered direct from your system." We can actually do one-to-one attribution. The best way to describe it — I'm stealing this from a podcast I listened to — this whole industry is going from "Mad Men" to "Moneyball." "Mad Men" is like generic brand-based organic advertising — you can't really quantify it, but you know you have to do it to actually be in the customer’s consciousness. And it's moving to "Moneyball," where you can get much more targeted, much more data-driven, and find attribution on your marketing initiatives, tie it to real revenue, and figure out what's working and what's not working. 

BOH: What does the future hold for Bikky?

AK: More integrations. We're building our OpenTable integration, we're building a Resy integration. We link to MailChimp to execute on all our marketing efforts. We never had interest in actually being the email service provider itself, because most of our partners are on MailChimp. Thinking about how to improve our automations so that it's easier to launch them from our platform, and then tie all the attribution to our platform is [the basics].

The big product launch that we're going for in Q1 is guest segmentation. Open up the Bikky platform and say that anyone who orders an Impossible Burger three times, tag them as vegetarian. Then, have that data automatically sync into your email service provider so that if you want to launch a campaign to vegetarians, we've already done the hard work of identifying those guests, tagging those guests, and making it actionable through your email service provider. 

The big product effort for next year is a customer journey builder, which is the ability to plan out your customer’s entire journey within Bikky. For example: New guests orders through ChowNow, and that triggers the onboarding flow. If they order three times from the onboarding flow, tag them as a VIP and put them into the VIP flow. If they lapse after 60 days, trigger a lapse flow. The idea is: How do we take away all the hard parts of digital marketing and direct customer engagement for the restaurant, and just automate it? You invest time upfront to plan out what your customers’ journey should be, and then it just runs for you in the background. The data and marketing brain that sits behind your guest-facing channels collects all the data, executes on all these marketing initiatives for you, and then feeds it back to you and tells you how much revenue you're actually making from those results.