We recently sat down with Dick Sikes, CEO and Co-Founder of Hazlnut:
Thanks for joining us, Dick.
Thanks for having me.
We’re looking forward to learning a little bit about Hazlnut. For those who aren’t really familiar with the business, tell us a little bit about what you guys do.
We build high quality online and mobile ordering solutions to help smaller restaurants compete with bigger brands. I’ve said it so much now it almost sounds cliché but it’s really our ethos. We’re constantly looking at the latest and greatest features on the market and in the best apps (Starbucks & Chick-fil-a for example) and thinking, “How can we make something like this work for our customers?”
As I’m sure you’re aware, you’re in a pretty competitive market. What makes Hazlnut stand out from the competition?
Our passion for what we do and our commitment to quality. All of our apps are native and full featured. We don’t just build a shell of an app that points to your online ordering page and I think the app store ratings reflect that. I was just looking at the Larry’s Giant Subs iOS app the other day and it had a ton of ratings and 4.9 stars on average. People have been really receptive to the quality we’re putting out there.
What’s become more and more evident lately is our service is a core element of our offering. I think people like the fact that they can call our number and get a hold of someone right away who knows what they’re talking about. That doesn’t happen much anymore in this day and age.
That’s awesome. It sounds like you have a hand in multiple areas of the business. What exactly is your role at Hazlnut?
My title at Hazlnut is CEO but of course in a start-up we all wear many hats, this was especially true early on. In the early stages, my co-founder Steven and I would act as development, sales, marketing… a little bit of everything. Luckily as we’ve grown as a company we have more qualified people filling a lot of those roles. And although I still do some development (mostly for iOS) I’d say my primary roles could be classified as Business Development and Strategy and Accounting and Finance. With our co-founder, Steven Edwards, in Operations this plays well to both of our strengths. He’s keeping the trains running on time and I’m expanding the routes and making sure we’re getting paid on each trip.
So how did you guys come up with the name Hazlnut?
I really wish there was a better story here but it just kind of came about. At the time we were called Gonogo but we couldn’t get the domain name or consistent social media handles. Also, SEO was impossible because it’s kind of a common phrase (a “go, no-go” decision) so no one could find us online. We knew we needed to change names.
We wanted something that represented the restaurant industry since that was the core segment we’re serving so Hazlnut kind of works there since it’s a common flavor, but also it was vague enough to work as a software company name to keep us flexible. In the same vein of “what does Apple have to do with computers?” Plus, we got a cool mascot out of it. Everyone likes squirrels, right?!
Of course! Now that we have a little insight into the company, why don’t you tell us about what you did prior to starting Hazlnut?
I worked in capital markets for a bank and I loved it there. Early in my career I worked very hard to earn my CFA charter and being an Analyst at a bank was exactly what I wanted to do. In a lot of ways that job shaped who I am, and how I think and approach things.
As I much as I loved it, there was still something nagging at me to strike out on my own. And working in that role I started getting more and more into programming, first with macros in excel and then some other various business intelligence tools. So I really started developing a passion for software development and knew if I was going to do something entrepreneurial, that’s what it was going to be.
So what would you say to someone who’s unhappy with their corporate job but is too scared to take a leap into starting a business?
First, I’d say you shouldn’t really approach going into business for yourself as an escape from a job you hate. I think what you’re going into needs to be a passion for you or you won’t succeed.
Secondly, I’d say you need to get into a mentality of starting. It’s too easy to just think about something and never start, or to continue iterating and iterating to make your product or service perfect before you release it. I’ve seen it happen way too many times and have been guilty of it myself. PS27 Ventures, the VC group that invested in us has a motto, “Think Big, Start Small”. I love that, but I’d even amend it to just “Think Big, Start” because that’s the hardest part. Get something out there, fall on your face but learn from your mistakes and keep going. We’ve really bought into a mentality of “1.0, 2.0” here. Just get out a version 1.0 first and you can always work your 2.0 along the way.
Reid Hoffman has a great quote about this, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
Also, I was extremely lucky to partner with my childhood friend Steven Edwards in this case. He’s a doer, so it made for a really good combo with us teaming up. I know advice on working with a friend is probably 50/50 out there, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.
It definitely sounds like you’re passionate about the company. Was there a specific role model in your life who helped transform this passion into a successful business?
There’s not a single role model, but multiple role models for different reasons. There’s a family friend who is a very successful business owner here in town, Greg Matovina, that I meet with regularly to catch up with and get advice. Jim Stallings and all of the advisors at PS27 Ventures who have been invaluable through the whole entrepreneurial process. And all the way back to high school I had an amazing teacher named Mr. Clark who ignited a lifelong passion of learning within me. As a side note, I also really enjoyed reading the Steve Jobs biography and loved learning about his view on products and marketing, definitely wouldn’t want to model his interpersonal skills though!
I know COVID-19 has definitely had an impact on decisions to start new businesses. How has the pandemic affect Hazlnut?
It’s been mixed. First off, it’s hard to be happy about any positive impacts it’s had on the business when it’s devastated so many lives. It’s a really weird feeling. Overall for the most part, right now, it appears to have been very positive. A lot of restaurants have been needing online and mobile ordering as dining rooms have been closed and people are practicing social distancing.
The reason I say it’s been mixed though is to help restaurants get something up and running, we’ve reduced pricing on a lot of our services. All this has worked to shift our product mix entirely. Whereas now we’ve got a lot of new customers going with our online ordering only product which is not our core product (mobile apps) and affects things from a profitability and servicing standpoint. We’re seeing more attrition as restaurants close their doors, sometimes for good, unfortunately. We have concerns about what things will look like as this pandemic lingers on and government stimulus runs out. So regardless of any short-term economic benefits, like everyone else, we’re hoping for this to be over very soon.
I think we’re all in agreement there. It’s been a strange time for everyone.
Well, we’re out of time today, but just one more question: Any exciting things on the horizon that you can share with us?
So many things. We have some really ambitious projects lined up for the remainder of 2020 into 2021. Mainly looking to expand our integrations to additional point of sales as well as coming out with kiosks which we’re really looking forward to. Also, some BIG things in the pipeline in terms of AI and machine learning that we’re really buzzing about internally, but I’ll keep it quiet for now. But we feel we’ve got some things in the works that could change the industry. I’ll leave it at that for now!
Thanks for your time today, Dick. Best of luck to everyone on the Hazlnut team!