Angela interviews Mike Sebban and Kim Bliksas, CEO of CheckQ, the real time restaurant reservations app among the winners of the contest launched by the Luxembourg Ministry of Economy.
Last minute bookers, hurry up!
So, imagine being at home and being very hungry, wanting to eat out, being tired and not wanting to travel too many miles. Or even if you are still in the office about to leave, panicking about an empty fridge and sad pantry, the supermarkets around you are closed and, obviously, you have not booked anywhere.
A gray cloud with a fast food sign in the center looms before your eyes. At best, you start frantically phoning all the restaurants in the area in search of a free table… luxury item in this crazy period of social distancing.
What a sad after work!
And now imagined being hungry, the fridge empty, the supermarkets closed, not having booked, not wanting to travel miles etc. To pick up your phone, open an app and quickly find the restaurant nearby, which still has a free table. Click, booked! Without queues and without waiting … Ah the rainbow!
Well, this is just reality. Forget the gray cloud, there’s CheckQ.
And since Corie is always on the alert and what happens in Luxembourg and does not miss much, when she asked me to interview the founders of this genial app, she had already tried it, of course!
While me, as usual, I go to eat, I do things, I see people … but I fall from the sky about news!
The interview with Mike Sebban and Kim Bliksas, founder of CheckQ, is held at the House of Startup, where their office in coworking with other startups is based. Cool, right near home. I had never entered it even though I pass it every day, looking up at the mirrored façade.
The interior décor is just like a collective of designers and creatives, with a slightly retro pop touch. Instead of staying in their office, we sit in the House cafeteria … with a coffee in hand, ça va sans dire.
Angy: Mike, Kim, you won a very important competition here in Luxembourg, which was attended by Startups from all over the world. I would like to know what the winning key was. But first I’m curious about your story. Where did you start from?
MIKE: Both Kim and I have traveled extensively in many countries around the world, taking inspiration and we are passionate about new technologies and innovative solutions that bring a plus to our daily life. You know? On vit à 100 à l’heure nous and so as much as the technology allows us to make the most of our time as we pleased! The two of us walked the same path. I lived in Paris for 6 years before arriving in Luxembourg in 2012 for professional reasons.
Kim: I was also in Paris and arrived in Luxembourg in 2013. We were colleagues until 2017, then we created Shawbe (Shiny, Awesome & Beautiful).
Angy: What was it about?
Mike: We realized that Luxembourg had a lot to offer in terms of local trade, but big brands obfuscated it and so we had ideas to give it visibility. We ran competitions on Facebook and gave away products or services in the various partner stores. The winners, going on site to collect the prize, discovered new places previously ignored, and contributed to increase their business thanks to other purchases and thanks to word of mouth. It worked well, but we had little financial capacity and we stopped this adventure. We then dedicated ourselves to other projects and training courses, always with the aim of increasing local trade.
Kim: Unfortunately, Covid 19 arrived in February 2020 and our business faltered. Just at that moment, the Luxembourg Ministry of Economy launched the Startup versus Covid 2019 competition with the aim of finding solutions to relaunch the country’s economy at a time when it was being tested. Startups from all over the world were involved.
Angy: Did you decide to participate at that point? With what idea? I mean, what did you bet on to win?
Mike: The protagonists of the Luxembourg ecosystem told us: “you who know the local trade operators well will find something interesting to boost business”. We made an analysis to identify the sector most impacted by the crisis. The result was: the restaurants.
At that time, we were in post lockdown.
Angy: What was the primary problem with restaurants after the opening in May?
Mike: The social distancing that for restaurants translates into a reduction in the number of tables: here is enemy number one. Let’s assume that from 50 tables we had reached 20 or sometimes even less. We asked ourselves: what can we do to increase the turnover of those 20 tables? They must be never empty, must que the few available are always busy. So, to stimulate turnover, we developed a virtual waiting list system, a remote queue, so if the customer had arrived at the restaurant and found it complete, he would have inserted himself in a virtual list, waiting quietly at home, for the its comfort and the safety of all.
Angy: But here you are talking to me about the virtual waiting list. It seems to me that this is not the only focus of CheckQ or am I wrong?
Kim: You’re not wrong. In fact, having entered the first test phase of the App, we realized that restaurants in Luxembourg are not always complete. Our mission needed to change a little. It had to become that of “attracting” customers to the restaurant.
Mike: We all usually use classic booking systems or call the restaurant in advance, or use digital platforms. And all the walking restaurants? Or is it the passing customers? Or those who book at the last minute? For them, we told ourselves, digital can be a salvation. Rather than making dozens of phone calls looking for a table, in our App they can find a marketplace where they can see the available seats in real time and book instantly.
Angy: Fantastic and useful for all last minutes like me. Was this the winning idea that allowed you to beat all competing international startups?
Mike : Yes, because CheckQ is a concrete help for restaurateurs. All together in the same virtual place are a major force. What’s more, becoming a CheckQ partner has no cost to them. They only pay a fixed fee for each customer if the mission is done. On the other hand, the goal is to give them visibility. This first. Lots of advertising for our partners (restaurants) and very little commitment. Those who live nearby benefit from it and the restaurants as a result.
Angy: How exactly does it work? Do your partners have to continually update the system to announce the number of seats available?
Kim: When the service starts, the restaurateurs report the number of unreserved tables and then the system works alone. Once the user books through CheckQ, he has 15 minutes to go to the restaurant. Just the time to get rid and sanitize (for the restaurant) and just the time to arrive (for the customer). The concept always remains to never let a table be free.
Angy: I haven’t used it yet. Can you show me how it works?
Kim: It’s super simple. The App opens, click on TROUVER UN RESTAURANT, enter the number of people to eat with and immediately appear the list of restaurants with places available within a range of 5 km, from the closest to the most distant. At that point, after the choice, click MANGER MAINTENONS. In addition to the booking button appear: the address, the map and the description of the specialties. Done! The restaurateur receives a notification and at that moment the available places indicated on the app decrease.
Upon reaching your destination, we inform you that you have a reservation with CheckQ.
Angy: Are you liking the concept? Do you have many memberships?
Kim: The app launched on October 5th and the download numbers are encouraging. Even those of the partners. Now 35 restaurants have joined CheckQ and can be viewed during that famous last minute when we remember being hungry.
Angy: Do you use it?
Mike : Every day at noon we are forced to have lunch out and we are always many, in order to compare ourselves with colleagues from other startups (an incubator is a bit like a big company , only we are all entrepreneurs) and every time le mene souci : we are many and we need to find a place without wasting time. CheckQ c’est top pour ça , not only do you discover new restaurants , but in 2 clicks on bloque une table et on va direct manger .
Angy: What is the order of appearance on the list?
Mike: Among the partners there are several high-quality ones. But in the first interfaces of the app it is not clear. They can also be starred, awarded, famous. We wanted the selection by the user was viewing. You eat first with your eyes… And in fact, we asked the managers to send us uniform photos, which show a dish that enhances them. Let’s not forget that the goal is to lead people to restaurants. Only after the choice the description is discovered. The first criterion of appearance, on the other hand, is proximity to the customer.
Angy: What if all the tables were booked and there was no room? No chance for hardened last minute?
Kim: I sure do. We specify that the App has a double functionality. In addition to booking in real time, it also allows you to queue with an estimate of the waiting time.
Angy: So let’s say the hardened last minute is me, can I book at the last minute, find it full, queue up and still have the luxury of doing it while sitting on my sofa?
Kim: Or taking a shower … hahaha
Thanks Mike and thanks Kim for the time you have dedicated to me.
Would you like to add something before greeting the readers of Barefoot in Luxembourg (who are both users and restaurateurs)?
Mike : Yes . The Covid situation is shaking the signs again. So right now we are launching the news: until March 31, 2021 the restaurateurs who join CheckQ, in addition to having no listing costs, will not even pay the fixed price for each customer conveyed by the App. The crisis is too hard, we must listen to them.
Angy: Genius and with a heart of gold!
Come on now I’ll let you go, I know you have a lot to do.
Let’s take a picture? Don’t be shy and smile. Say Cheese!