CityMunch: Robert Lynch

After thinking of ways to fill his friend's restaurant during off-peak hours, this entrepeneur set out to offer affordable dining to London’s restaurant scene

Name: Robert Lynch
Company Name: CityMunch
Location: London
Date Launched: Feb 2016
No. of employees: 4
Website: www.citymunchapp.com

Tell us what your business does:

Our vision is to bring dynamic pricing to the restaurant industry. Hotels, airlines and taxis have done it; restaurants are a different beast but face the same underlying problem of peaky demand and rigid supply.

CityMunch allows restaurants to connect with Londoners whenever they’re short of diners, publishing real-time offers to customers’ smartphones. The app’s time-specific deals benefit both parties – diners cut their bills and kitchens keep humming.

We currently have over 100 restaurants signed up, mainly local independents and high quality chains, including some of London’s favourites such as Busaba Eathai, The Chancery and House of Ho. We launched in February and now have 2,500 users – a number which is increasing rapidly.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea came after a conversation with a restaurateur friend of mine. He made me realize the importance of time in the restaurant business – whether it’s turning the tables one more time over lunch, or making early evenings count.

A few months earlier, a group of us had tried to use an app voucher at a chain restaurant, only to discover that it wasn’t going to apply to us for some reason buried in the terms and conditions. It seemed like there should be a better way of bringing cash-conscious diners to restaurants with spare capacity.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Mainly by traipsing the streets – I talked to a lot of restaurants to get to grips with the challenges they faced and understand why other voucher providers hadn’t solved the problem.

On the customer side, there was clearly demand for a simpler sort of voucher – all deals on CityMunch are discounts on the food bill which apply to the entire table, no matter how many people there are. There are no 241s, no free glasses of bubbly and no complicated terms to wade through.

Diners can simply check the app for a nearby deal, reserve a free voucher there, arrive during the offer’s fixed availability period and show their phone to staff.

What were you doing before starting up?

Before CityMunch, I worked in investment – most recently for renewable energy investor Low Carbon, but before that I focused on leisure businesses – chiefly pubs and restaurants. The insights from that part of my career have been helpful in navigating the restaurant industry.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Absolutely. Like many people I’ve spent countless hours knocking around grand schemes with friends in pubs, and even tried to set something up while working full time as a 22 year old. I realized I needed to find something I could be truly passionate about – not to mention more experience – before making the leap.

How did you raise the money?

So far, it has come from tapping up my personal network. We’re now speaking to some great investors that will help take the business to the next level as well as provide the capital.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

We charge restaurants based on how many customers that we deliver to them. The app is free for customers and there is no cost in reserving and using our dining discount vouchers. Growth is our highest priority now though, it’s essentially a marketplace app so needs the right momentum to get going properly.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

  1. Getting the message through

Restaurants are run by busy people, and communicating our value proposition quickly and concisely is essential. The only way to do this properly is to truly get to know customers, and let them understand how we can make a difference to them.

On the customer side too, showing live offers on the London map has received positive engagement and feedback. We believe that the way people consume deals is changing, and our app is designed to capturing that demand.

2. Being plugged into the start-up community

Being a solo founder can be challenging, particularly not having a broader team to test approaches. I’ve been based in TechHub @ Campus, a startup-focused co-working in Shoreditch, for the last nine months, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of being plugged into a supportive startup ecosystem.

3. Less is more when it comes to technology

I was guilty of getting caught up in the excitement of building an app and as a result it’s more complicated than it needs to be. This is a classic mistake which I was warned about from all sides, but I still made it.

It’s imperative to cut out anything that isn’t essential for testing your customer proposition. Bells and whistles can be added later.

 What was your first big breakthrough?

I remember a particularly hot day in Shoreditch last May, where I walked from restaurant to restaurant talking to managers about joining CityMunch, before the app was designed, let alone built.

I signed up five restaurants that day and I knew we were onto something…90 restaurants later we hopefully still have more great breakthroughs to come!

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

First and foremost, never stop talking to your customers to ensure that you are developing a product that people will love.

It is also really important to take customers on the journey with you, including getting feedback as your product develops. For non-technical founders, I’d also say that making a proper effort to learn the basics of the tech is important.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I want to take CityMunch international!

We offer something different, being focused on spur-of-the-moment walk-ins rather than bookings, and there’s every reason why we can roll the model out to other parts of the world.

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