Most founders of start-up companies begin at the bottom, often becoming entrepreneurs right out of school with only passion and an idea to their name. For Thaves Ponnampalam, starting his own company was never part of the plan. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Toronto, Thaves worked for a corporate investment services software company for seven years. His job provided him the opportunity to take ownership of vital projects, manage other employees and travel around the world to train and network with leading individuals in the software industry. Although Thaves was quickly rising within the ranks at his company, he still felt that something was missing in his life in order to take his career to the next level.
It takes a great deal of courage to leave a job that provides you with security in this economy, and jump into the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship. While on a business trip to Malaysia, Thaves took part in a dining experience that provided the inspiration for his start up company. After taking his order on a PalmPilot in a Singaporean restaurant, the waiter stepped back and wirelessly sent the order directly to the kitchen. This was the spark that ignited the concept of Menyou. Technology has permeated every aspect of our lives. However, the restaurant industry in North America still operates primarily on a traditional level. Thaves, a self proclaimed ‘foodie’ decided to collaborate with his friend Ara Ehamparam to develop a tablet based ordering system to take the restaurant industry by storm.
At this time, the mobile Tablet industry was just taking off in North America. Thaves’ extensive experience in the software field made it easy for him to translate this idea into a business plan. Both partners were passionate about making improvements to an industry that they loved. The interactive menus they have developed fulfills the purpose of providing the restaurant patrons with a better customer experience, while simultaneously providing restaurant owners with a fresh perspective on business to enable them to improve their bottom line. Since the application allows customers to send their orders directly to the wireless printers in the kitchen and bar, it is a great way to up-sell beverages and desserts. There is also a ‘call server’ button to provide restaurant patrons with immediate assistance from their servers with a single touch of a button. By eliminating wait times for ordering, wait staff are given the opportunity to focus on customer engagement to maximize the patrons’ overall restaurant experience.
Menyou provides a creative way of transforming the actual ordering process and allows customers to take ownership of the ordering experience. On the back end, the software tracks order information, inventory, as well as prep time and provides detailed analytics to restaurant owners in order to help them make better management decision. By monitoring hundreds of touch points ranging from most frequently viewed dishes to most frequently ordered dishes and average serving time, Menyou can gather a tremendous amount of data around the operation of a restaurant at a much lower cost. Menyou also offers surveys and feedback mechanisms to enable customers to quickly and easily provide input, rate food and services. The analytics backend of Menyou sends emails with the most relevant insights and numbers to the restaurant owner so that he or she can make educated and timely business decisions.
Opportunities to up sell are generated by displaying daily specials and weekly promotions through a slideshow on Menyou, even while the tablet is not in use. People eat with their eyes, so Menyou’s beautifully designed interfaces and bright pictures of food items are accompanied by a comprehensive list of all the ingredients, so that patrons with allergies know exactly what they can or cannot order. The software also allows customers to email themselves a copy of their bill through the interactive menu. This enables the restaurant to build an email database of their customers and send them relevant discounts and offers – a win for both parties. Since word-of-mouth is still one of the best forms of marketing, Menyou enables this through social media. Customers can choose to log into their social network (TripAdvisor, FourSquare, FaceBook, etc.) and share their opinions of restaurants, thereby generating free exposure and recommendations.
In the middle of last year, Thaves made the tough decision to step away from his comfort zone, and take a hiatus from the company that helped establish his career in order to focus all his energy on this new venture. While many new businesses struggle to find funding, Thaves decided to invest his own savings that he accumulated from his job over the last seven years, to procure the necessary capital to launch Menyou. Thaves believes that the greatest challenge he faced was forming a team that shared the same vision for the product and future of the company. After two years, Thaves and Ara have now recruited a strong group of individuals who each bring their own unique skill set and complimentary experience to the Menyou team. Thaves credits the strong team dynamic for the success he has achieved as an entrepreneur. The driving force behind the team is their ability to communicate effectively, help each other remain on task, and consistently stay accountable to reaching their goals.
Although he has dreams of launching the software product in a number of different market segments, for Thaves, success is not defined solely by the accomplishments of his start up company. As a second generation Tamil Canadian, Thaves believes that the measure of a person’s success is how they choose to use their accomplishments to give back to the community. Personally for Thaves, this means helping motivate and guide other young entrepreneurs maneuver through the growing pains of launching their own start up company in order to achieve their dreams. Thaves credits his own role model, Ratheesan Yoganathan, co-founder and CEO of Lebara group, for inspiring him to dare to dream big and take calculated risks. Ara and Thaves both enjoy taking every opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs who are in a better position of understanding their own experiences and providing them with advice so that they can learn from their mistakes. Joel Osteen said “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life. What really makes you great is when you reach back and help somebody else become great.” With its growing list of clients and versatile product base, it is clear that Menyou is already destined for greatness. However, in the Tamil community, the impact that co-founders Thaves Ponnampalam and Ara Ehamparam will have on the next generation as entrepreneurial role models will be the true measure of their success.
At TamilCulture, we look forward to seeing Menyou soon in all of our favorite restaurants!
You can experience Menyou for yourself at Casey’s Grill Bar, 200 Dundas Street East (Dundas/Jarvis) in Toronto. It will also soon undergo trials at the Office Pub (117 John Street, Toronto) and at Thai One On in Liberty Village, Toronto.