Meet the Team! BJ – Software Developer

Next up in our series of interviews with the Hazlnut team, we sat down with BJ, a software developer for the company:

Thanks for joining us, BJ.

It’s a pleasure to be here.

Before we get into your work life with Hazlnut, let’s learn a little about your personal life. What are your hobbies outside of work?

I’m a diehard Jacksonville Jaguars fan & ticket holder, a total nerd, and a gamer. I spend the majority of my non-work time on a computer either gaming, surfing the web, writing code (yep, in my free time), or just chatting with friends via Discord. If I’m awake and the Jags aren’t playing, you can probably find me at my PC.

Thanks for sharing! Most people probably don’t associate development and sports, but it shows you’re a well-rounded person. Now why don’t you tell us a about how and when you started working for Hazlnut.

I started working for Hazlnut as an intern in November 2018. Back then the company was just Dick and Steven, and they found me through a program at Florida State College at Jacksonville called I-Tech. The internship covered by the program was set to run for 9 weeks, but thankfully I was offered a full-time position before the end of that term.

That’s awesome! It’s really cool to see a temporary situation like that turn into a permanent job. What did you do before Hazlnut?

While I was in the I-Tech program, I landed a temporary position doing some quality assurance (QA) work for a database administrator who changed my life. I am so grateful to “Cap” because I gained valuable experience and skills while working for him, and the job, which was supposed to be a few days of QA, turned into months of me testing and helping to develop the workflow for their new system. Then, when I interviewed for the position at Hazlnut, he wrote me a fantastic letter of recommendation which I believe helped Dick and Steven make their decision to take a chance on the guy with no professional coding experience.

What made you get into software development?

My step-dad has always been into computers and technology so we’ve pretty much always had a computer in the house; and I quickly developed a passion for computers and figuring out how they worked. In middle school, I saved up enough money one summer to buy my own computer; that’s when the hobby really took off. I eventually found Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and started to learn how to write simple macros and custom scripts there. I realized that writing code is a lot like solving a puzzle; you know what the end result should look like, the challenge is putting the pieces together. You know that awesome feeling you get when you solve a difficult problem or finish a puzzle? I get that from my job.

I love that you’re so passionate about your job! I know “Development” can mean a lot of different things. What does your average day look like and what are your responsibilities?

Man, I feel like I don’t have an average day, and I think that’s cool. I am pretty much always writing code in multiple software languages either for exciting new features or to fortify current features. The reality of software development is that there will be bugs, so I spend time on some days looking into reported issues and fixing those. I also monitor the status of our clients throughout the day in order to alleviate the pain of service interruptions caused by things like internet outages at their location.

Very cool! It sounds like there’s a lot that you love about your job, but what would you say is your favorite thing about working for Hazlnut?

That I get to be a real part of what goes on here. I get to see my work put to use because what I do actually matters to the company. Also, there is a lot to be said about feeling valued by your employer, and I appreciate how valued I feel working at Hazlnut. I never leave work feeling like I wasted a day on a useless project or busy work.

Thanks so much for giving us some insight into Hazlnut today. Good luck to everyone on the team going forward!

Meet the Team! Dick Sikes – CEO

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!

Data Evolution & Customer Experience

Conquering Convenience & Consumer Experience

Convenience, customization and quick delivery have conquered consumers expectations in the digital age. Holiday shopping has shifted from long lines and crowded malls to a comfy couch and one click on a smart phone. Packages arrive within days, sometimes even hours, of ordering. Consumers needs have evolved, and their expectations in the food industry are no exception.

In an effort to meet heightened customer needs, the food service industry has found itself in the middle of a digital evolution. PoS systems are appearing in almost every QSR, offering a smart and custom way to process orders. Clover PoS systems make managing food service run smoothly by not only taking orders and accepting payments, but also organizing inventory and managing team members.

Beyond the PoS: Mobile Ordering Apps

As we head deeper into the digital evolution, a PoS system alone is not enough to stay ahead of the technology curve. In 2017, 960 million restaurant visits were paid for with a mobile app. This shows an impressive 50% increase compared to 2016.

QSRs can deepen relationships and customer loyalty by integrating custom branded restaurant apps and websites with PoS systems. A seamless and efficient execution of the brand and its products can benefit both the customers and the company. These new additions in tech create opportunities to connect with and gather data about consumers in a way that has not been possible in the past.  

Consumer Convenience

Hazlnut app

It is not difficult to identify why consumers are adopting apps for their favorite lunch time spots. Apps allow them to order and pay without standing in line, and often find their order ready for pick-up by the time they arrive. Customers also enjoy in-app features that remember previous orders and allow order customization. Understandably, they want more convenient food and a more efficient use of their time.

However, convenience is not the only driving factor in app usage. Many apps offer to opportunity to receive exclusive coupons, loyalty points and notifications of special promotions. Rewarding customers for in-app ordering leads to increased allegiance and positive association.

Marketing Benefits

While QSRs are rising to the technical age to retain customers, PoS and well-branded apps create opportunities for the companies themselves as well. With mobile food ordering apps, restaurants can now sit directly in the hands of consumers, creating a much more intimate marketing delivery. Push notifications can alert users of promotions and specials, or even remind them of their favorite order as lunch time nears.

Once a consumer decides to open the app and order, there is new opportunity for up-selling through custom ordering and prompted add-ons. Apps are often connected to the user’s credit card, creating less hesitation in spending and instead raising ticket averages with just a few clicks.

Data Collection and Efficiency 

mobile ordering

Restaurant ordering technology has opened the door to a wave of data. By analyzing who, when and how often consumers are ordering companies can prepare better than ever before. This data allows them to forecast when they should order certain inventory and to what extent they certain ingredients should be stocked. This optimizes kitchen operations – leading to lower waste of ingredients and cash.

A Digital Evolution

Companies should not fear technology taking away from the personal experience their brand has to offer. Rather, it is time to celebrate the opportunity to add a secondary positive experience for the consumer, and a wealth new tools and data for the business. Optimize your business with an integrated PoS, website and branded app today by Scheduling a Demo with Hazlnut. 

Ready to take your business to the next level? Schedule a demo today