The company eatsa is making another pivot in its efforts to provide in-restaurant technology solutions to address the growing need for convenience and efficiency.
The company, now known as Brightloom, is cozying up to Starbucks in a big way, bringing the core technology that has made the coffee giant a bleeding-edge leader in digital operations.
It’s not the first pivot for the company, which began as a sort of new-age bowl concept built around automatic pick-up cubbies. Eatsa got out of restaurant operations in 2017, and morphed into a technology provider. It got some traction, namely with Wao Bao, but it seems the cubbies and the pick-up shelves didn’t move the needle enough, leading to the most recent pivot.
Along with the brand changes came a $30 million Series B round led by tech investors Tao Capital Partners and Valor Equity Partners, along with Middle East-based Starbucks licensee Alshaya Group and Alsea, a Mexico Starbucks licensee. Valor had previously invested with eatsa and has an active investment in Wao Bao as well, but the initial push will be in the Starbucks system, as CEO Adam Brotman outlined.
“Now that this deal has been completed, and now that we have access to the Starbucks tech, we can get to work to put together a roadmap to create a combined platform, first for global Starbucks licensees then the rest of the world,” said Brotman.
The key tech at play is the Starbucks “flywheel”; the full ecosystem of touchpoints for both consumers and the company.
“There is no one point that’s more important than another, there are four primary elements. There is ordering, there’s payment, there’s loyalty and personalization,” added Brotman. “Those elements are all connected by design to create a seamless ecosystem to get exactly what they want when they want it in the most relevant personalized way. It also creates a flywheel effect because customers will use one part but by definition feed all parts of the flywheel.”
That basic idea has revolutionized Starbucks operations because at every interaction with the flywheel, it generates more data about the consumer which the company uses to optimize offers and operations, prompting more purchases which in turn generate more data.
A number of companies had asked Brotman, who was previously the chief digital officer for Starbucks, if they could license the technology. Seeing the incredible churn and “seismic shift” in restaurant technology, it piqued his interest early on, but the timing was never right. But when the dealmakers came to him with the idea to head Brightloom, it started to make a lot of sense.
“I was familiar with eatsa and what they were up to. I immediately started thinking this is the moment to create a platform out of the digital flywheel,” Brotman recalled, adding that original tech behind Brightloom helps speed up that flywheel. “Brightloom had already created really good ordering digitally connected pickup windows and cubbies
And maybe most importantly, the cloud-based menu management so orders can be sequenced in the right way and be displayed in a kitchen. That really will supplement what Starbucks brings to the table.”
So when can the salivating restaurant industry buy in? It might be a while. The first goal is to ship the flywheel to Starbucks licensees, such as those who invested in the latest funding round. Those entities don’t have the same access to what makes the U.S. Starbucks system so sophisticated. It will certainly prove a major upgrade for the bulk of those licensees. Of the 80 markets outside the U.S., just eight have digital ordering.
Brotman said he’s most excited to potentially change the industry when that first phase is done and the flywheel is ready for the U.S. restaurant market, which is in the grips of overwhelming existential tech angst.
“The world is shifting like crazy with mobile delivery, mobile ordering, ghost kitchens, etcetera,” he added. “Restaurant brands know it’s not something that’s nice to have, but have to have. The dilemma is spending millions of dollars and years building it themselves or they have to put together, almost cobble together a patchwork of individual solutions.”
The company will be unveiling a roadmap with more details on the technology offerings in October when it unveils its product roadmap.