Imagine exporting your product or service without the complexities of customs or navigating challenging shipping routes. In today’s technology-driven society, more Canadian businesses are selling their goods through apps, without ever having to deal with a border official.
Toronto-based TouchBistro is an example with its iPad point-of-sale (POS) software system for restaurants. Servers use the app to take food and drink orders at the table and then send them directly to the kitchen from the iPad, without having to run back with a piece of paper or plug them into a central terminal.
TouchBistro’s customers can download the app for free from Apple’s App Store, and then pay a $69-per-month subscription fee to use the services, which includes updates and around-the-clock technical support.
TouchBistro was founded by serial entrepreneur Alex Barrotti, who saw a need for the product while living in Turks and Caicos in 2010. Barrotti became friends with the owner of a Japanese restaurant who was bemoaning the time wasted by his servers having to run back and forth from the outdoor patio to place orders with the kitchen staff inside.
It was around the same time the Apple iPad was released, which Barrotti felt was a good size to carry around and it had Wi-Fi capability to send in orders instantly.
The TouchBistro app was launched in June 2011 on Apple’s App Store in both Canada and the U.S.
Today, the TouchBistro app is being used in 6,000 restaurants around the world. It’s largest export markets are the United States, followed by Australia and the United Kingdom. This spring, the company launched the app in Spanish in Mexico.
“People are seeing the benefits not only from a cost-savings standpoint, but also from an efficiency standpoint as well,” says Barrotti. “The fact that I can take the order from the table and send it to the kitchen automatically is a huge time saver.”
He says the company chose to launch in Canada and the U.S. first because of their similar language and time zones. Today, the app is available in more than 140 countries. TouchBistro is also Apple’s top-grossing food and beverage app in 37 countries.
With Barrotti’s previous e-commerce company INEX Corp., which he sold in 2000 to InfoSpace Inc. (now Blucora) for U.S. $45 million, there was no such thing as an app store. Instead, the company would put its software on CDs and then mail it out to customers, who would then install them. “Even if you could download it back then, it would take days, because the connection speeds weren’t as fast as they are now,” quips Barrotti.
Still, there are hurdles for companies like TouchBistro with products that are distributed electronically. First, the app needs to be screened by Apple for compliance. TouchBistro must also reconfigure its app slightly for each country, taking into consideration different languages and payment systems.
There are more sophisticated challenges as well. In Mexico, for example, restaurants must register with the government any customer bill that will be used as a write off for business purposes. TouchBistro had to create a module for the app that allowed restaurant owners to integrate their system with the Mexican government’s sales tracking system.
“That was a challenge, which we met,” Barrotti says. “It also makes the product that much more valuable in that market.”
He says the company is now looking at doing the same for other Latin American countries, where required. While the app can still be downloaded and used in any country without it, Barrotti says the official integration makes it more efficient for his clients to use.
Another challenge for TouchBistro, as it grows internationally, is ensuring it can provide around-the-clock support for the app in different languages. The company has responded by hiring new multilingual employees at its Toronto-based support centre.
TouchBistro has also opened a sales office in New York to help handle the growing business in that market, considered the restaurant capital of the world.
Today, TouchBistro has about a dozen employees in New York and about 100 in Toronto. About two-thirds of its sales are international and the rest in Canada.