It was a handful of George Mason University alumni, former crew rowers, getting together to enjoy each other’s company that lead to the creation of WythMe, CEO Tim Keough’s app that pairs clients and restaurants in a unique, symbiotic way.
To organize that alumni event four years ago, Keough called a half dozen places, checking whether they could get a separate room for the 10-12 fellows, whether there were discounts or food and drink specials for the group which wanted to have a good time and good food at a decent price.
“It took an inordinate amount of time to see if I could get a deal, and all of the burden was on me,” Keough said.
But the frustration felt by Keough, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” also lead to the idea for WythMe, an app that connects restaurants and bars with potential customers and businesses who are hosting group events.
Not everyone has the time or inclination to arrange dinner for 20, an office party for 50, or even an intimate evening for two. WythMe helps close the gap of uncertainty in event planning. “Especially,” Keough said, “for corporate occasions where someone, who may not have any experience, is responsible for organizing an event.”
Launched in early 2016, WythMe, which works on iOS and Microsoft, now operates in 3,000 locations across the nation and at 100 restaurant and food venues in Washington. Restaurants and customers join for free. The app allows customers to solicit “offers” from local restaurant looking for their business. Once an arrangement is made between a restaurant or other food vender and a customer, WythMe receives $1.50 a head per customer.
WythMe isn’t just a restaurant discount service, but a platform Keough says which collates a restaurant’s rewards, whether monetary, like 50 percent off for 5 p.m. diners on Tuesday, or soft rewards that carry cachet, like having the chef come to talk specifically to your table of guests.
The biggest challenge in building WythMe, Keough said, was getting in front of all the different kinds of restaurants, diners, breakfast outfits, etc. which could potentially host groups.
“We spent a lot of time figuring out of how to get in touch with restaurants and built software that now does that,” he said. “We’re agnostic about the kinds of restaurants or eating places we want to use WythMe. We want them all. Ones that do happy hours, corporate functions, brunches… and, on the customer side, we want to attract other types of group-oriented influencers, like meet ups and alumni gatherings.”
To date, customers biggest complaint, Keough said, has been that a few people can’t get the app to work on their smart phone or tablet. Restaurants biggest complaint, he said, is “ironic” because they complain that they are overwhelmed with requests.
He said that WythMe is working with restaurants to help them better target potential customers to build a relationship between the customer and a restaurant.
“We’re improving the process to help restaurants work out the parameters of what they offer and to pre-define what they’re offering. Say, for example, focus on a particular night of the week, for example offer a $5 special table on Tuesday. There is a lot of room for creativity. Our app model is to drive the customers to particular restaurants through a variety of ways that give optimal value to the customer.”
Establishing a must-have app, however, may be WythMe’s ultimate challenge. Recent studies show that while consumers spend 85 percent of time on smartphones in apps, only 5 apps see heavy use. Apple’s iTunes App Store and Google Play account for the vast majority of apps, with only a handful of third-party apps like Keough’s used on a regular basis.
Keough, 44, is unfazed. Restaurant industry sales in 2017 was $799 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association. “We are continuing to grow and expand the WythMe platform so that it will enhance the relationship between our network locations and users.”
And WythMe is the fifth tech-based start-up for Keough, who began his entrepreneurial path with writing code. The youngest of four boys, he and one brother, Greg, started ZonaFinanciera.com, a Latin American financial service. And his last startup, Kinsail Corp. was acquired by California-based Accela, Inc.