As co-founder and CEO of Omnivore, Mike Wior leads his team in bringing to market powerful and seamless technologies transforming how the hospitality industry engages with consumers. His major focus is driving and establishing strategic partner and stakeholder relationships that are key in growing Omnivore. With an extensive background in cloud and security solutions for organizations including Wells Fargo, Adobe, and Google, Mike also serves as a board member and advisor for several fast-rising restaurant technology companies. When he’s not crisscrossing the country for Omnivore business, he is a passionate fly fisherman and avid reader of historical fiction novels.
Tell me about your early career.
Before college, I wanted to be a race car driver or a technologist. I wasn’t that great at racing cars so I chose the technology route. After I graduated, I started working for Insight in their professional services organization, a job I ultimately got as a result of a set of relationships I formed while running a pretty successful World of Warcraft guild through college. This was an amazing opportunity to jumpstart my career and over a short period of time, I gained experience working with organizations on a project basis from large corporations to small businesses. It gave me a valuable perspective of how well or how poorly different entities and businesses can be executed.
Eventually, I got tired of traveling all over the country and I landed at Wells Fargo, managing their internal hosting environments for VMware, SharePoint, and their early internal cloud services. I think it’s a great skill for anyone, especially those working in a B2B startup to have some large enterprise experience. I remember how shocking it was for me when I first started and someone told me it would take about 30 days to get an IP address for a server.
After about six years with Wells Fargo, learning how to maneuver and deliver around the red tape of such a large organization, I decided it was time to get to a place where I could have a more tactical impact and searched to find a company much smaller to work for. I ended up accepting a VP of Engineering position with a small consultancy in Palo Alto called Solid Instance. This job was a bloodbath of ‘bleeding edge’ technologies. We built everything from a live streaming surveillance drone for the Geospatial Intelligence Agency to some early Adobe Creative Cloud prototypes. During my time at Solid Instance, I learned that nothing goes out the door perfectly in the technology business and this goes doubly for startups. It’s necessary to start with a meaningful Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and iterate often.
After Solid Instance, I decided I was tired of prototyping and wanted to take a product to market and scale and so here I am today at Omnivore.
How did the concept for Omnivore come about?
In 2011, Chris Sullivan purchased a company called MenuPad from Australia and brought it to the United States to productize. I was his CTO. Chris being the great visionary that he is has always believed very early on that technology was absolutely necessary to save the ever-shrinking margins in the restaurant industry. MenuPad was an order at the table iPad based solution and was his first foray into investing in technology he believed could turn the tide for the industry.
In the process of working to bring the product to market, we learned that connecting to POS systems was a terrible mess. We had three contractors in different parts of the country writing three different integrations for three separate POS systems in three different languages with three different sets of endpoints. It was madness. We were never going to be able to support something like that at scale and so we set out to find a solution. We ran across a company who had done POS integration similar to what we had envisioned for Omnivore but had recently gone out of business due to patent licensing issues and found very few other options.
Our choice was to either build something specifically for MenuPad or build a new company with a neutral position to commoditize POS integrations for anyone in the industry. As we began to pursue due diligence, I met my co-founder, Mike Taczak. Mike is an absolutely brilliant developer with a specialty in API technologies.
We worked with Mike Taczak to scope a project for MenuPad that would also free us from any patent issues; initially, as a statement of work (SoW). Our agreement with Chris Sullivan was that if the project was successful, he would fund the company as an angel investor and we would move forward as necessary from there.
How was the first year in business?
We were forced to remain incredibly focused during our first year. We had our work cut out for us. No one wants a universal POS connection that only connects to one or two POS systems. It took us about 12 months to build the API product and our self-service development portal.
Additionally, we had a significant amount of business development to do. Our business relied on three important verticals: POS manufacturers, third-party restaurant technologies, as well as their restaurant partners.
Not everyone agreed to work with us right away but we had to make do with what we had. In some cases, asking for forgiveness rather than permission was the name of the game. I think just about every startup goes through some form of this – it’s an important component to disruption in my opinion. I’ve seen some incredible business development relationships built on the foundation of a small company doing something they technically shouldn’t have been doing.
Once we were able to get just a little bit of traction, it made it possible to progress from there.
What was your marketing strategy?
Originally, our go-to-market strategy was to be a middleware for application partners, leverage their rollouts and scale, then take Omnivore to market leveraging their sales teams. We realized it just wasn’t enough. We had to create an industry-leading platform and marketplace to solve not just the technical problem between the POS and third party technologies, but also the operational and business problems related to helping them go to market.
Creating the Omnivore App Marketplace allowed the industry to better understand what we were trying to accomplish and gave us a dialogue that didn’t require our audience to be nearly as technical as it had to be when we were only a middleware product.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Omnivore is a very momentum-based business and in the beginning, it was a slow ramp up. We needed to build partnerships and relationships across all our verticals in order to significantly increase restaurant locations and create a meaningful addressable market for our app partners to monetize. As we were able to lock-in wins with POS manufacturers, it opened up new restaurant groups that could seamlessly connect with our platform and in turn increased demand for restaurant technologies who would buy in to our idea for solving their POS integration issues.
That momentum building process continues today moving much faster than it did in the first few years. In 2016, Omnivore had over 400% revenue growth vs. 2015.
How do you define success?
At Omnivore, we seek to create a digital addressable market of physical locations for anyone to easily engage with and develop creative solutions for improving the consumer experience and operations at brick and mortar retail businesses.
My definition of success at Omnivore is when we help our restaurant partners realize the full potential of their IT strategy and empower them to bring meaningful change to their brand. When a restaurant begins to see the impact of how our technology can change their world and enable them to win against their competition, then I know we have achieved success.
What is the key to success?
Focus for Omnivore is especially important. There are so many opportunities and ways to apply our product that it is easy to lose focus on dragging an individual deal across the finish line.
Keep a running list of 10-15 opportunities and don’t stop working on that list until you decide a deal is dead or you execute a contract. Businesses in my experience are built brick by brick and win by win. As you grow, you will have more people throwing up bigger wins but the premise stays the same.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Your team is everything, no matter how capable of an individual you may be, there are just not enough hours in the day to build an effective startup all on your own. Surrounding yourself with smart people who complement your strengths and weaknesses well is incredibly important.
Enforce the culture of mutual respect. An individual may be the absolute best person in the world for exactly what you need them to do but if they can’t work well with the rest of your team, they aren’t worth a damn. Move on.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” – Mark Twain
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I can’t say I have any particular day in my mind. Growing this business has been a roller coaster. In The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz wrote that in startups you only ever experience two emotions: terror and euphoria. I wholeheartedly agree.
The important thing is to move forward every day, even if it’s only a baby step. I remember thinking when we first started that if we just get to a certain point, it would all be downhill from there – there is NO downhill. You are climbing a mountain and when you get to the summit of that mountain, there is going to be a whole new mountain to climb.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
While I accept that failure is a necessary piece of success, I absolutely hate it. I like to think I harness my own fear of failure to ensure I work as hard as I can to avoid it whenever possible.
Ultimately, my passion is achieving our objective and building a company worthy of the effort put forward by the team supporting it.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to take risks; you will win some and will fail often. You can learn as much from failure as success. Learn everything that you can when you do fail. Never accept that your failure just happened to you and there isn’t anything that could have been done to prevent it.
Make sure to take time to celebrate your accomplishments as you are able, because there is always more to be done. Pat yourself and your team on the back as often as you can.
I try to remember that I am running a marathon and not a sprint. Find a routine that keeps your head above water and allows you to stay healthy. Let the bad days roll off your shoulders, dig in and fight back. The next set of good days are just around the corner.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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