The Bottom Line
The Arduous Task of Selling to Restaurants, and for Restaurateurs to Make Purchase Decisions, Made SIMPLE
Dan McMurtrie is the Founder and CEO of SIMPLE, a digital platform that connects restaurants with suppliers of all types with the goal of saving both time and money for all parties involved. McMurtrie, who began his career as a minor league baseball player, made his splash in the restaurant world when he started Bullets Hamburgers, growing the business to more than 70 locations. His transition to the tech world has already seen a successful software sale to Sysco, and SIMPLE looks to be his most impactful creation yet.
The seasoned entrepreneur shares his thoughts on reducing complications around the restaurant supply chain, as well as how to tackle the insurmountable task of accessing restaurant owners.
For those unfamiliar with SIMPLE, what does your software do and what impact does it have in the restaurant industry?
Think of SIMPLE as a B2B amazon. It connects buyers, distributors, manufactures and restaurateurs in one portal. It gives different tools to each stakeholder, primarily in sharing data and information, which has traditionally been hard. It gives them tools to streamline their business, whether that’s centralized ordering, purchasing tools to do price checking, inventory and recipe
SIMPLE allows distributors and manufacturers to create a digital storefront for restaurant owners to easily browse through. Distributors can give different prices for different customers, within a private portal, so that different buyers can get different prices based on their volume and relationship with the distributor.
If you’re a distributor or a sales rep, it’s a tough job. You’re knocking on doors, trying to get a meeting with the buyer, trying to get information on how you can best sell them. That’s difficult for many reasons. We’re taking that information gap and making it digital. Buyers and sellers can see each other’s information, so a restaurant can compare prices across vendors to make quick purchase decisions. Buyers can’t see other buyer’s information and sellers can’t see seller’s information, so it keeps transactions private while promoting transparency where that transparency benefits all parties.
It’s like giving a restaurateur a Swiss army knife. They can use the tools as they see fit, and it’s free to them. At the same time, we make it easier for sales reps to sell to everyone because they don’t have to spend all their time knocking on doors.
Describe your career path and what ultimately led you to create SIMPLE?
I started out as a minor league baseball player, and then I got hurt. I had the fortune of meeting the founders of Outback Steakhouse. They ultimately became investors and mentors in a restaurant chain that I started. I learned the business from them; a lot of tricks of the trade around purchasing, buying and systems processes and controls. That’s how Outback does so well: they have their systems down pat.
I sold the chain, got out of the business for a bit and then came back in after investing in several software companies. A business partner of mine bought a company called Instawares, and I helped him build a B2B side of the platform, Supplies on the Fly, that focused on supply chain. That was eventually sold to Sysco.
Then I got back into looking at restaurants and saw how much harder it was then the last time I was in the industry. I felt like a lot of inefficiency was in the supply chain, and that this side was hard for both the restaurateur, who was pressed for time, and for the sellers, who have a hard time accessing restaurateurs. The cost to knock on a door is $100 - $120, whether the restaurant owner is there or not.
So this inspired you to create SIMPLE. How did you get the company off the ground?
I’ve worked alongside other software companies, so we hired engineers and built all the software in-house. We built out three sides of the market: the manufacturer side, the distributor side and the restaurant side. Each group has different needs. Our belief was that charging restaurants would be difficult, because they don’t have the budget that manufacturers do. Distributors face a similar challenge, because they don’t have a salesforce to reach a lot of restaurants.
As far as funding goes, our backers include the founders of Outback Steakhouse, the former Head of Coca Cola Food Services, and the former Chairman of Sysco.
And how are you getting restaurants onboard?
We have a partnership with the National Restaurant Association. SIMPLE is a free service for members as a value-add for being part of the NRA. There’s distributors in food and alcohol as well as manufacturers who would like to use our services to get a 360-view of the customer. Then there’s other partnerships with people in the industry, whether that’s with POS providers or other groups with contact with restaurateurs.
We’re also building out a referral network where operators can introduce SIMPLE to their peers.
How about restaurateurs who aren’t as familiar with integrating technology into their operations?
There’s about a million independent restaurants out there. You’re always going to have your early adopters, but not everyone is going to catch on in the beginning. Everyone uses technology in their everyday life, whether it’s buying a plane ticket online or shopping on Amazon. They’re just not using technology in ways that pertain to their business. The question is why would you not use technology to answer the number one issue going on in your business, which is how to reduce costs.
I think it’s just a matter of time before these people who aren’t using technology in their restaurant are going to integrate tech moving forward.
You were a minor league baseball player before your career got started … how has your experience as an athlete shaped your career off the field?
Sports is an amazing teacher around teamwork, perseverance, and taking on difficult odds. These values are very similar to what’s required to be a successful entrepreneur, especially in the restaurant business where every day is a new game. You really need to have an athlete’s mindset to adapt and stay positive.
And just like how I went into baseball because I loved playing, there’s no question that I’m in this business now for the love of the game. It’s about serving the restaurant industry. It’s my belief that technology can enable people to have better lives in this business when they don’t have to work 80 hours a week.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the restaurant industry today? What challenges are on the horizon?
Restaurants are a brutal business, especially in California. You’ve got wages and costs going up, and at the same time it’s hard to raise prices. The industry is facing a perfect storm in terms of costs. Labor is huge. Anything you can do to save time and manage your existing labor force more efficiently is critical. Streamlining processes like ordering, receiving, buying goods at a point or two cheaper will add up to whether the restaurant is profitable.
Cost savings go directly to the bottom line, while sales growth might drop a dime for every dollar made. SIMPLE helps restaurant owners save on costs, and much of that comes from saving time.
For more information, visit Simple123.com.