Interview with Superb Founder & CEO Zaedo Musa.
The pandemic has been terrible for the restaurant industry. But that hasn’t stopped tech startup Superb or its founder and CEO Zaedo Musa. Superb is a guest experience management platform that created the first OS for restaurants. Despite this being a tough time for restaurants, Superb has found great traction and is being used by restaurants worldwide.
Zaedo joined mid-stage startup coach Roland Siebelink on the latest edition of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. They discussed Zaedo’s history in the restaurant industry and how that experience has helped him make headway with restaurant-based software during a difficult time for the industry.
Roland Siebelink:Hello, and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. I am Roland Siebelink and I'm a scaleup ally for tech founders. And I have a very interesting tech founder in the remote studio with me today. And that's Zaedo Musa, the founder and CEO of Superb dialing into us from Copenhagen. Hello, Zaedo. How are you?
Zaedo Musa:Hi, Roland. It's a big pleasure. Thank you so much. I'm good.
Roland Siebelink:Zaedo, to cut a long story short, tell us about Superb. What do you do? What's your product and what difference do you make for whom in the world?
Zaedo Musa:Superb is what we call a guest experience management platform or a GXM. We are the world's first OS for restaurants. What we have done is simply taken the most business-critical tools a restaurant needs to drive revenue and manage the guest experience. We've connected them all into one seamless platform. And we allow the restaurant to simply collect the data they need to be able to build guest profiles, to do upsells, to be able to manage their reputation, and so on. And also collect the business data they need to manage the health of their restaurant.
Roland Siebelink:Okay. Can you explain a little bit more about what concrete features or data that you actually have in the platform that makes a difference compared to just the standard reservation solutions or some of the other companies you must be competing with?
Zaedo Musa:When I looked at this market initially - I was part of building Joe & the Juice, which you might know. It has arrived in the US. It's now a global juice chain with a pink logo. Back then we saw that the key to driving revenue and the key to making the guest come back was to remember small details about them. It would be the name of their kids. It would be which kind of coffee they would order and so on. Obviously, back then, we did not know who the customer was when they came in. And when I left that, we had around 200 juice bars. I looked at the restaurant industry and I saw, "Do you know what? They actually have reservation systems. You know who the customer is or the guest is before they arrive." And then I was thinking, "Okay, they must have solved this problem. There must be so much information hiding behind the system when you make a reservation." The reality was that restaurants are using fragmented tools that they're trying to integrate. But integrations do not really work and do not allow the transfer of data between them. I was really surprised how little information they actually had. The market is very much influenced by legacy software that has been around for 20 years. And you haven't seen that much innovation in the restaurant industry other than maybe delivery services, delivery apps, and so on. And what we basically thought of doing was initially to integrate all the tools the restaurant uses in one dashboard that could somehow create this funnel of guest insights and business insights that they could use to really control their business and the experience. Today, Superb is a native all-in-one platform for restaurants. We really differentiate ourselves from the competition, especially in the US, by being a platform fueled by native products connected to each other.
Roland Siebelink:Talk a little bit about your background, if you will, Zaedo. You already mentioned you were with that juice chain that grew enormously. You must have experienced that big growth. And what did you study? Who did you work with in your first experiences? Tell us a little bit more about Zaedo.
Zaedo Musa:I've always been active in the startup field. I was the type of entrepreneur who built whatever funny idea I got into my head. I've built everything from an e-commerce business that ships products all over Europe to building a platform that got hacked three times from China. And while I was studying - I studied business administration and IT management degree at Copenhagen Business School. I couldn't see myself ending up as a consultant or something like that. I really had that eagerness to solve a problem. I started actually working initially at Joe & the Juice. We built that from four or five juice bars to 200. We hired more than a hundred people, fired maybe half of them and grew that to several markets before I started Superb.
Roland Siebelink:What would you say is the big difference between running a restaurant business, especially a franchise chain, it sounds like, versus more of a software company?
Zaedo Musa:For Joe & the Juice, the brand was everything. And I definitely think founders that built their startups and companies, specifically at the startup stage, if they don't think branding from Day One, I really think they will fail in building a big company. When I was at Joe & the Juice, I really noticed that the brand had an enormous impact on the people working there. They really put the brand under their skin and the brand values. That is pretty similar to what I've transferred to Superb. We are building a category, a new category of the market. We call it guest experience management. For building an extra category and really fueling that, making the market accepted, you also need a strong brand positioning. That's one of the key elements that we are doing right.
Roland Siebelink:Talk about your traction a little bit. When did you actually get started with Superb? When did the first product come to market? And how far have you proceeded so far?
Zaedo Musa:Superb launched in the end of 2017 and in less than eight weeks, we drove it into the first 10 customers and basically generated revenue after that. That was really amazing. And I remember we hit around five, six, five, seven thousand US dollars MRR before we raised a $1.5 million round from a few Danish investors. And that's really where it took off. We started to build an organization. We started to improve the product. I would like to say since then everything is history. We had some good years. We grew organically. Globally, we had restaurants using the platform in Guatemala, Mexico, the U S Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and so on and so forth. But then reality also strikes and you realize it's amazing to grow globally. You celebrate it every time. But you also need to build up a base and really consolidate your position on the market. Since then, we have become an industry leader in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Italy. We are probably the platform used by the most top restaurants in Europe. Obviously, then comes the big question with COVID and how that has impacted the business.
Roland Siebelink:What is COVID? I'm not sure I've heard about it. No, I'm just kidding. That must have been a big rethink for Superb because we all know, of course, restaurants and travel business have been affected immensely by the pandemic. What happened there and how have you pulled yourselves through that?
Zaedo Musa:One of the key things I saw many restaurant platforms do around the first lockdown was they quickly pivoted into becoming takeaway platforms. Either they refocused their product roadmap for the rest of 2020 on building takeaway tech or integrations to those models. What Superb did was we actually took another route. We doubled down on our product roadmap. We even increased the engineering team with six, seven new people and the rest of the team also. And, just Had a laser-sharp focus on our roadmap. We have a food pickup feature. We had that before, even. But instead of becoming a takeaway solution, we assumed that it would be a trend that restaurants would jump onto and then shortly after they would want to go back to their normal business. Luckily for us, reality was that the customer segment that we are targeting thought it was fun to do take away the first month. But since then, it was easier for them to get compensation from their governments rather than continue doing it. Superb has grown plus 100% since the first lockdown. We've had an insanely amazing year in 2020 despite working with restaurants.
Roland Siebelink:That's amazing in this environment to keep growing, to keep doubling - indeed doubling down. That's a very good strategy, right? I wanted to go back a little bit to what you said in honing in on your best customers. This is an area where we have a lot of discussions with founders. It sounds like in your experience, you went from more of a focus on your total available market, more to your actually serviceable available markets, right? Can you run us a little bit more through the thought process there, especially how you think about that if you were to advise other founders on a similar thought process? Why is it so important to hone in from that worldwide big opportunity to more of a market leadership position, as I understand it.
Zaedo Musa:As a founder, and especially sometimes I remember also as a first time founder, it's very easy to get over excited about the first customers, and the opportunity worldwide, and growing and so on. And I think it's healthy. I really believe that some of the most successful founders that have built billion dollar companies, they had that mentality from Day One. They really want to build a global business and have to constrain themselves. But I think it's very important for startups to - that follows exactly the same strategy that we had to both learn the hard way but also since then have really done well - is that you need to zoom in. You need to not focus on the total addressable market and think you can build a one-size-fits-all product. And I really see that with the Saas wave, we've seen a lot of software companies that really try to do this to obviously improve the unit economics, the market sizing, maybe impressive investors. But you need to really zoom in on your specific segment to be successful. They're not even the early adopters. They are the ones that are going to drive your market bigger. That was also the strategy with my thought process of becoming a market leader. I said, "Let's build a category." Let's not tap into the reservations category or the point of sale category or the payments category. Let's make the specific addressable market understand what is the vision that we are actually doing and put it in a more understandable way for them with the category.
Roland Siebelink:How do you reconcile that in your head between that huge vision of we want to be so great worldwide, it's amazing to have restaurants in Guatemala using our platform, versus let's just focus on these long-term customers that will stay with us hopefully forever and make them understand. That's much more of a niche approach and under-the-surface approach. That must be hard as a founder to reconcile those.
Zaedo Musa:Very hard, very hard. And especially when you just start up, that's not the initial mentality you have. You just want to get out there. But I really believe in the notion of niching down. Niching down allows you to be the best in that niche. And then you can always grow out. I even will argue it gives you a better focus and a better overview after you've excelled for a specific niche. That's also why by niching down, Superb is the best out there. We have all the advanced features - not built for the low end segment of the market - but built for the casual to top end of the market. We have just started tapping into big restaurant groups and so on. That has never been the target, even though it's a super-attractive customer, because you can easily grow into 50 restaurants with one sale. It's really a discipline, I would say, to learn to manage yourself, especially as a CEO because whatever you do transfers over to how your team thinks and sells and so on.
Roland Siebelink: Zaedo, you were saying that you are pre-Series A, and I think in the pre-conversation you said you were looking at raising some funds, possibly this year. What's your strategy there? How's it going? What kind of investors are you looking for?
Zaedo Musa:The strategy is - we look at investors that have touched upon vertical SaaS platforms out there. Platforms that offer a broad suite with the tools that otherwise would be fragmented. And I think that Superb, I would say, is a part FinTech and a part SaaS product. And our business model and product value reflect that. We have a pretty strong case there. It is obviously tough to raise money for a restaurant software platform in the middle of a pandemic. It is super tough. But as I told you before, the VC market is split into either they love it and see a huge opportunity and understand that a huge boom in business is coming right or they completely do not touch platforms operating in the travel industry or hospitality industry.
Roland Siebelink:Do you find that VCs are more looking to differentiate and they are trying to be smart and invest before others? Or do you find, as I hear so often, that it's more of a herd mentality and they all jump to the same targets at the same time?
Zaedo Musa:Yeah, I would say probably 80, 90%, they follow the trend. And there they are part of shaping that trend. Whatever is invested the most money in today is the hottest industry. I think now people are looking at ghost kitchens as the next big thing after delivery apps. But that's okay. I think there's enough money out there. I think it's a matter of finding the right investor. And I'm okay with the last 10% of the market being potentially the right investor for Superb.
Roland Siebelink:When you as a founder start looking at all these possible funds and angels that could invest, what are your selection criteria? If you had the luxury of picking between a number of investors, which would be the ones who pick? What criteria are the most important?
Zaedo Musa:There's a lot of money out there. I don't see that being the number one criteria. Everyone has that attribute. What I actually look at is, I look a lot on the investors that have spent their time within the specific segment. For example, the hospitality or leisure industry. I look at that because that's relevant for Superb. It's about not wasting time, obviously. Then also look at the people behind, right? I look at how the teams are shaped at the different VC firms. Is it two partners and 10 associates or is it six partners and two investment managers and then one associate and one analyst? I think there's an interesting dynamic there to look into. It says something about them.
Roland Siebelink:You built a lot of experience, Zaedo, first with the juice company and now with your own company. Yet, being a CEO and founder can be a bit of a lonely position sometimes, right? Where do you go for advice for getting new energy, for new insights?
Zaedo Musa:I have an amazing team that really gives me the energy. And I think if you walk into Joe & the Juice, you'll hear the music pumping. And what I do is - Superb went all remote. We started during the pandemic, now we're a remote company. And you really need to find that energy yourself. What I do is I just put the music on and try to simulate it somehow. And it automatically somehow becomes real. I really try to find the excitement in what I'm doing. I have the freedom to do what I want. And then I talk to people like you. I think that's pretty exciting.
Roland Siebelink:For me too.
Zaedo Musa:Yeah. It's amazing. I think you need to find the opportunities yourself to keep getting smarter and keep getting motivated and stuff like that.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent. So much more to uncover there. But since we're almost running out of time, my last question to you, Zaedo, is what advice would you give to founders coming behind you that are just starting on their journey, that may have just started to reach some degree of product-market fit? What are some of the key learnings you have built over the years that you would like to impart to other founders?
Zaedo Musa:I think one thing - I try to read at least one book every month. That's not necessarily my advice. I'll always advise people to read and learn. What I noticed across all those books, giving you so much advice on how you build the company, how you excel in specific areas, is that there's some kind of pattern that - in regards to what we talked about - you really need to think big, but you also need to start small. Don't think big and start big; that that's not a good combo. Thinking big, starting small, and being super strong on that niche is the key to success from my perspective. When I talk to founders today, I really tell them you probably will have to think big and you probably will have to start big and you will probably have to make that mistake to even think like I do. Wow. You can save a lot of time by actually being really good, very small in a niche where you can control the agenda, you decide what they need and build innovation, and then outgrow that.
Roland Siebelink:I can feel your book hitting the shelves already, Zaedo, "Niching down." I love that title already. And you're right. It's about being able to reconcile in your head the dream with the actual reality on the ground. And that's not something many people can pull off, right?
Zaedo Musa:And then I think the last part is more on the humane side. What I did early on was I really wanted to be a founder. I really had this idea that I had to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and so on. But I've never been as productive, as happy and as energetic as when I cut down and I just said, "I've accepted I don't have a nine-to-five job." That's not what I'm saying. I'm working all day long and work is part of my life. But really taking the time off, allows you also to recover. It allows you to reload. When there's a Christmas break, try to actually take the Christmas break off and see how much magic happens from that. You really come back as a new person for the new year.
Roland Siebelink:Excellent advice, Zaedo. I really appreciate it. Zeado, if people want to hear more about Superb, where should they go? Is there a specific piece of content that you recommend they download? And if you're hiring, what kind of people are you looking for?
Zaedo Musa:They can always, if they would like to hear me speaking even more, they could go to the Experience Matters Podcast on Spotify and Apple. They can also visit our website superbexperience.com. Find me on LinkedIn, connect with me, ask me questions. I'm very open to sharing any advice that I can and to learning myself. I think that in regards to the careers page, right now, we have some positions open and they can find them via our website in the footer. We have an ambitious plan to grow to around 150 people in the next year. We are looking for global talent and we want to hire the best. Feel free to reach out to me if you think you're one of those.
Roland Siebelink:That's excellent. Very good, Zaedo. And, of course, if you're investors or other people that like to be professionally interested in Superb, then I'm also happy to provide an introduction to Zaedo. Part of the deal here. Thank you so much, Zaedo Musa of Superb, founder and CEO, calling us from Copenhagen today and on the road to raising an amazing Series A for this experience management category for top end restaurants.
Zaedo Musa:Exactly. Thank you so much, Roland. It was a big pleasure.
Roland Siebelink:Thank you everyone.Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.