By Abby Sorensen, Executive Editor
This bootstrapped mobile order-ahead software platform is gaining traction as a startup thanks to a hefty investment in customer support and a laser-focus on the SMB market.
INVESTING IN EARLY-STAGE CUSTOMER SUPPORT
“When you have thousands of customers, you need a scalable customer success operation,” says Saparamadu. “But the early customers need some handholding.” With a little more than 100 active customers, Saparamadu does some of this handholding himself. He created a marketing digipack to help resellers and end users promote the app in stores and to beef up their social media presence. Saparamadu also handles third-level support. Every Apptizer support email is still forwarded to Saparamadu. He doesn’t address every open ticket, but he’ll occasionally respond to a customer issue on the weekends or after hours.
This after-hours support is crucial for Apptizer because the small businesses that use its software don’t work a traditional 9 to 5 schedule. To that end, Saparamadu has a short-term goal of extending live support coverage from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. coast to coast. He’s adamant Apptizer’s support team will remain onshore and in-house. He learned the hard way that outsourcing isn’t always worth the cost savings. Early on, he outsourced a part of Apptizer’s inside sales team to a company in Florida, only to find out they were outsourcing to the Philippines. “I think the investment in an internal customer support team is truly worth it,” Saparamadu says. “Obviously there will be issues. Nothing goes smoothly. But early customers are only going to trust you if they can rely on you to solve problems quickly.”
FINDING SUCCESS IN THE SMB MARKET
Apptizer’s mission to serve the underserved SMB space stems from Saparamadu’s success with previous ventures. When he founded an HR software company in 1997, most HR solutions were back office-oriented and unaffordable for most SMBs. Saparamadu learned that building a frontend, user-friendly interface is key to gaining traction with SMBs. It’s hard enough just to get the attention of busy owner-operators who would benefit from Apptizer’s technology. That’s why he’s adamant the UX/UI has to be as simple and sleek as possible, so SMB customers can focus on running their businesses and not their software applications. Apptizer’s platform was built with a self-service model in mind: It’s designed so a restaurant owner, for example, can create a mobile app in 5 minutes without any coding.
Saparamadu wants to keep Apptizer’s vertical and feature focus as simple and streamlined as its interface. Apptizer is laser-focused on winning market share in retail and QSR. Next up are pizzerias and wineries. Apptizer has also been approached about adding scheduling capabilities to its platform, which would enable it to serve customers like salons and doctor’s offices. Despite the temptation to expand, Saparamadu told his team, “Let’s dominate the whole order-ahead market before we start into looking at scheduling and other capabilities.” He cautions other startups against trying to do too much, too quickly. “My advice to other young software companies is to put all of your energy into the one thing that you feel can be scaled up,” he says. “Don’t move on to the next vertical or the next feature until you’re successful there first.”
Headquarters: Palo Alto, CA
Customers: 100+ in U.S. & Australia
Verticals: Retail, Quick Service Restaurant (QSR)
2018 Winner: Northeast Acquirers Association (NEAA) Catapult Innovation Competition
2018 Finalist: Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) Payments Pitch-Off at TRANSACT