WANT A LARGE tasty plate of big data? For restaurants all over the world, the answer is yes, and they get it from Venga, a fast-paced start-up based in the trendy Union Market district of Washington, D.C. Founded in 2010, Venga provides businesses in the restaurant and fitness industries the ability to collect, track and analyze guest’s spending and visiting habits to create personalized experiences and repeat visits. Verisign sat down with co-founder, Winston Lord, to learn more:
Q: The idea of personalizing a guest’s experience, especially with dining, is so smart. How did the concept for Venga come about?
A: The idea came to me and Venga co-founder, Sam Pollaro, about 17 years ago, during the advent of the daily deals sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial. As you know, these deals were very advantageous to the diner, but we recognized there was an opportunity to help restaurants take control of their own marketing and better connect with their diners. So, we provided them with a platform where they could upload any kind of marketing offer, such as happy hour, fresh catch of the day or a discount.
Q: How has Venga evolved over the years?
A: Venga 1.0 was sort of a marketing tool that allowed restaurants to connect with guests directly through their social media channels and websites, in addition to an app that we developed. Then in 2013, a celebrity chef – one of the first adopters of that app – challenged us to help him find a better way to understand his customers and existing diners because quite frankly, retaining a guest is a lot more inexpensive than acquiring a new one.
So, over the next several years, we built out a suite of tools, using well known online reservation tools and point-of-sale integration, that really connected the dots between guests and their purchases. Today, it means restaurants and fitness studios are able to track and analyze their customers’ purchases, habits and preferences to personalize the guest experience, power targeted marketing and build true loyalty.
Q: Your domain name, GetVenga.com, is very catchy. How did you choose it for your online presence?
A: When you’re looking at domain names, you want what’s easily memorable, but also connotes what your company does. In Italian and Spanish, Venga means “come join us.” Obviously in restaurant-speak, it’s all about having a great time and feeling like a family.
We went for GetVenga.com because we wanted people to “get Venga.” We could’ve gotten another extension, but ultimately, we wanted to find a dot com because that connotes trust and established companies. For us, it wasn’t even a close call.
Q: Tell us about Venga’s online presence in the beginning and how it’s evolved.
A: If you were to go back in a time machine and compare our website then and now, you’d be amazed! Basically, it was just me and Sam trying to put together a website. Over the years, we’ve brought on a great team who’ve redesigned it to create a compelling site, with information about our products, case studies from great brands, and a blog focused on thought leadership.
Our domain name presence is truly the critical lifeblood to our business. And for us, the key to our website is to keep it engaging. It’s the best way to reach potential customers and a great way for anyone to get a real understanding of who we are…where people can go and see a true reflection of us as a company.
Q: What do you hope your website provides you in the future?
A: We often ask ourselves “are we only staying in hospitality and fitness? Or are we looking to expand into other industries?”
Right now, we have two products going to one website. But as we continue to grow and develop more features, there’s a good possibility that we may register other domain names and create microsites. And when that opportunity comes, I can tell you right now that we’re going to consistently stay with dot com. It just connotes maturity and trustworthiness.
Q: Any advice you would give to a startup company?
A: Three things. First, when you’re building your website, show the value proposition of what you’re doing to your audience with a side of fun. You don’t want to come off as immature, but you shouldn’t be afraid to show a little personality. Secondly, take time to research the great, new interactive features that will make your website feel more advanced. It goes a long way. And thirdly, get a dot com.
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