Toast Co-Founder on Scalability, the Boston Food Scene, and Where Toast Is Headed Next
Over the past decade, companies across industries – oil & gas, healthcare, ecommerce, and travel, to name a few – have increasingly adopted cloud technology as the base for their underlying architecture. However, many “traditional” industries like banking and food service have been slower on the uptake, creating pockets of opportunity for entrepreneurs to innovatively delight customers without too many barriers or competition. Aman Narang, Steve Fredette, and Jonathan Grimm, co-founders of Toast, are doing just that.
Boston-based Toast is a cloud-technology platform that was “purpose-built for the restaurant industry. We began with an idea to make checking out easier for servers and diners through a payment app,” says Narang, who also serves as the President of Toast. After a few iterations with the original concept, they “quickly learned that [they] actually needed to build a whole new point of sale and restaurant technology platform to support the restaurant community.”
Today, restaurants that run on Toast see increased tips for servers, accelerated service speed, reduced staff turnover, and a decrease in time spent on administrative work. This is largely due to Narang, Fredette’s, and Grimm’s commitment to a vision focused on customer obsession. “Since day one, we’ve defined success as whether or not we are obsessed with customer success. Running a restaurant is tough; our job is to help make the lives of the restauranteurs we work with a little easier,” says Narang.
We recently sat down with Narang to chat about restaurant industry trends, why they picked Boston to headquarter in, what challenges they’re facing, and what’s on the roadmap ahead.
What trends are you seeing in the restaurant industry?
We’re seeing three key trends. First, in an increasingly tight labor market, the labor shortage and gig economy trend keeps the collective restaurant industry up at night. Second, there has been an explosion of food delivery and off-premise dining brands. So much so that restaurants need support in deciding when to even accept delivery orders to keep up. Third, and stemming from the first two trends, we’re seeing the rise of “cloud kitchens.” But these “pop up” environments present a whole new set of challenges, and these restaurants need to operate extra efficiently to survive.
What made Boston the best place to headquarter Toast?
According to President and Co-founder Steve Fredette, “Boston has a top-notch food and tech scene. We have some of the best restaurant talent in the world here with the likes of chefs Barbara Lynch, Ming Tsai, and Tiffani Faison and world-class universities. We love Boston and we’re so proud to be headquartered here.”
What’s the biggest challenge Toast has faced, and how did you overcome it?
Toast has grown very quickly. Every time we get comfortable with a process, it’s time to make a new one. So, we find ourselves scaling and reinvent at the same time. Take recruiting, for example. Early on, we were able to actively hire from our personal networks. Now, we find ourselves assessing and attracting talent at a scale that we could never have imagined five years ago. We’ve overcome this by simply embracing change and remaining thankful that our challenge is a good one to have.
What’s next for Toast?
Toast will invest over $1 billion in research and development over the next five years to continue building software and hardware specifically designed for the restaurant industry. This will empower our customers to do three things. First, it will enable them to attract, engage, and retain guests. Today, guests spend tens of billions of dollars at restaurants powered by Toast. New guest marketing capabilities planned the year ahead will enable restauranteurs to deliver highly personalized offers and campaigns triggered by guest behavior.
Second, it will allow them to recruit and retain talent. Restaurants using Toast Point of Scale already benefit from higher sales, tips, and reduced turnover. Toast Payroll and Team Management, Toast’s all-in-one payroll and HR solution, simplifies employee management of restaurants of all sizes buy automating payroll, streamlining onboarding, and reducing compliance risk.
Third, it will let customers improve operations and increase profitability. Today, the platform processes over 2,500 requests per second across tens of thousands of restaurants. Through Toast Reporting and Analytics, restauranteurs can monitor the performance of their businesses in real-time and on any device so they can run their business from anywhere.
AWS is critical to this growth, enabling us to scale our application-hosting infrastructure at both the macro level (long-term planning) and the micro (quick application scaling during periods of heavy use), making it possible for our team to launch products like payroll, reporting, analytics, and more. We currently rely on AWS RDS Postgres, Aurora Postgres, DynamoDB, EC2, ECS, Route53, and many others. We have a great working relationship with the teams at AWS, who help us make the most effective use of their wide range of products and services.
What’s one unique thing that most people don’t know about Toast?
Though we’re pretty transparent in sharing what we do, many people don’t know that nearly three-quarters of Toast employees have worked or currently work in or own a restaurant. We really live and breathe the restaurant industry and have empathy for what our customers do.
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Fredette says, “Food. We really like to eat here at Toast. We’re incredibly passionate about the restaurant community and the food we create and share together.”