From pizza to POS, Wabi's spicy proposition for restaurants

POS software

Wabi app for restaurants

It’s an improbable story – a pizza restaurant gets tired of paying money for all its software and decides to build a multi-function tool that replaces most of its app stack. This is the story of Melbourne-based Wabi, which sprang from Santoni Pizza in Hawthorne, and it has at least one extra twist that is spicier than Calabrese pepperoni. 

Wabi is built around a point-of-sale (POS) app and it charges 1.5 percent of each order. This fee can be added as a surcharge to the customer’s bill, giving a restaurant a way to pass on the whole cost of the software. Given that Wabi includes online reservations, staff rostering, basic inventory as well as payments and POS, all run from a smartphone or tablet, this is quite a bold proposition.

Wabi only has a handful of customers, and yet it recently signed a distribution deal with Reckon. Reckon will provide sales, marketing and tech support for Wabi and offer it in a bundle with Reckon One, Reckon’s online accounting software, to hospitality businesses. 

It is far too early to know whether Wabi will succeed. However, the emergence of an app that consolidates features from multiple areas could signal the beginning of a new wave of multi-function tools.

Digital First caught up with Michael Koutroulis, restaurateur and now bootstrapping tech entrepreneur, to find out how he had started this journey and where it will go next.

DigitalFirst: Why did you start writing software for your restaurant?


Koutroulis: I've got two pizza restaurants here in Melbourne, with my brother. I’ve had one in Hawthorne for about 12 years and we have a new one in Richmond, which has been open over a year now. 

When we began we didn't really know what we were doing. My brother was a pizza maker, I was learning from him. We decided to start a restaurant. And we had to find on the run all the technologies that you need to run a business. 

Point of sale was an expensive one. We chose Vectron which was very clunky, had buttons and stuff that you didn't really need chucked on the screen. We also needed a rostering tool to handle all your team management.

Then we got a booking system, Quandoo, which was also pretty expensive. They charged $2 per head for customers coming through online. Sometimes you're paying $2,000 to $3,000 a month in fees. That was probably the biggest pain point. 

Then you've got Uber, DoorDash, Deliveroo, they take 35 percent. There were all these fees that no one really tells you about. So we learnt the hard way. 

The main one was reservations. We just couldn't keep paying those fees for customers that were already ours. 

So I set out to create a booking system. I thought, how hard could it be? I taught myself UI, UX (user interface and user experience principles). I do all the designs for Wabi, still to this day. 

DigitalFirst: Do you have a background in software design? 

Koutroulis: No. My first design I did in Canva. From there I learned (dedicated software design tools like) Adobe XD and Figma and just pieced together a basic layout, and slowly my skills got better. Then we built a reservation system. I found a team of developers (two in Melbourne and a team in the Philippines) and was working very closely with them. 

DigitalFirst: So what did you do with these developers?

Koutroulis: We built a reservation system to take online bookings and it was great. We got some businesses in the area to start using it and asking for features. It was very organic. We weren't really thinking we're going to take over the world with this software. 

Then we just kept building it out. From reservations we turned it into point of sale, within the same interface. And from there we added rostering and team management and payments. 

The beauty of this little ecosystem of everything is that you get to track data sets across all areas. So you know when a customer books and how they booked, and you know how much they spent. And you also know which employee put in this information as well. 

We've also partnered with Reckon. It does the accounting, which is a whole different beast. Basically, you can automate all your services with us and Reckon.

DigitalFirst: How did you go from making pizzas to building software? 

Koutroulis: I struggled. It took eight months. There were a lot of local agencies that didn't want to build it. No one really wanted to touch it. That's why I was forced into creating the designs myself. They were saying, “You're going to need a front end (developer), you're going to need a back end (developer)” – stuff that I didn't really know. Then I was introduced to one main developer in the Philippines. His name is Ray, he's actually moving over here with his family this month. But he was just a front end developer so we still had to develop the back end. And yeah, it's been a process. We've been building it for about three years now.

We started sharing the reservation function with other businesses after year one. It was just like a basic outline of reservations and take-away bookings.

DigitalFirst: How much have you spent on building it?

Koutroulis: I’ve lost track. We're just putting in what the business needs to move forward. 

DigitalFirst: Do you have a figure for how much it has been so far?

Koutroulis: No, I couldn't tell you.

DigitalFirst: How are you funding it at the moment?

Koutroulis: Boot strapping it at the moment. We have seven developers and they’re working pretty hard. But we are able to streamline that by my doing the designs. The designs are very comprehensive and super detailed, and they can kind of build on that. And we're able to test it in real time. That's why we've been able to build such a robust product.

DigitalFirst: Let's talk about the business model. You're giving it away for free. So is there a clip on the payments?

Koutroulis: Yeah. The way we thought about it is, you're paying for point of sale, you're paying for reservations, which is quite expensive, and then you're paying for rostering – and then you're still paying the banks or whoever you're using to process your terminals. So we were saying, why pay subscriptions in all these (areas) when we could actually get the customers to pay? They're going to pay anyway – a merchant fee – and then the rest of the solution is free. 

Restaurants are very slim margins. For all these software companies to say, give me a percentage of this, give me a cut of that… I don't really think of it as fair. 

DigitalFirst: What fee does Wabi add on top of that?

Koutroulis: 1.9%. They usually pass it on to their customers like a merchant fee when you tap your card, or they can wear it in their fees as well.

DigitalFirst: How many businesses are using it?

Koutroulis: We've got 20 at the moment, which is great. And we're growing. Reckon's getting some of their customers on board as well which is great. 

DigitalFirst: Okay – 20 businesses. It's not breakeven if you've got that many developers on it. 

Koutroulis: No, so it will take some time. We're probably looking to raise money in the next year or so. It’s early days.

DigitalFirst: Why do you think Reckon has gone all in on such a young product? I mean, you only have 20 businesses on it. 

Koutroulis: I think it's a good fit and they have a lot of customers who require POS (point of sale). And once you see the product, you'll see that we do POS really well. It's a win-win in the sense that we can get a lot more customers quite fast using Reckon’s channels, and Reckon is getting a product which is quite revolutionary as well.

DigitalFirst: What makes your POS better than any other POS?

Koutroulis: It is the cleanest POS you'll see on the market. And our main focus is customisation. Every business is different. Everyone runs their business differently and they should be able to change their POS. Not per account but per device. 

You may have a device that has reservations, you may have a device that has rostering, you may have a device that has POS, and then you can change the actual functions per device. It's cloud based, but it's very malleable in the sense that you may have a user who likes certain colours. So they can customise it as they like, and there's never really been a product like that. 

DigitalFirst: How is it stronger in customisation than other POSes? 

Koutroulis: It’s all customisable. If I want cold drinks at the top of the menu I can drag it to the front. Same with categories. All our table layouts are customisable as well. You can drag and drop tables in different combinations, and that syncs with the online booking widget.

DigitalFirst: So it's calculating the inventory of available tables automatically?

Koutroulis: Yes, and you can create different combinations. Two tables could be a two and a four (seat), and we then could group them and recognise it as a six. That would act as three different options in the online booking widget. 

DigitalFirst: Is this custom view on the iPad for a specific user or is it set for all users? 

Koutroulis: It really is up to you. You can give somebody manager access. It knows who is active on the account based on their PIN.

You can easily split the bill, surcharging is automated as well. It’s designed to be simple and user friendly. There's no real learning curve. You can kind of use it and work it out as you go.

I like to have different things according to different days. We just had Mother's Day so we had a whole set-up at the restaurant than you would have on another day. So we're really able to make it very easy to use for different occasions.

Our whole vision is we want to add so much value and keep adding value and innovating so that your businesses can run smoothly. 

There are cool new features coming in the future, like ticketing. And it’s all in the one ecosystem.

DigitalFirst: Ticketing for events or for takeaway orders?

Koutroulis: Events, experiences, run by the restaurant. We’re also linking it with social media so you can actually see your conversion tracking when you do an Instagram post, how they actually convert. That will be a big one. 

Ordering and inventory is another one we are looking into. In rostering, users get a link for the upcoming schedule, put in all their availability, then Wabi builds your roster for you. 

Rather than dragging and dropping and clicking schedules, your staff can put in their availability, any notes they want, then drop it into your schedule, and you can then blast it out.

DigitalFirst: What kind of reporting does it have? Or do you use a separate reporting app?

Koutroulis: We do it quite well. Because it is cloud based, it's live. So you can access it on your phone, you can see live sales. 

This is my restaurant Santori, live. We've got different (seating) sections, you can see what customers are spending, and the booking name on the table. We can start building a profile on (this customer) Steph when she books. We've got an email and we can start seeing how many visits – so she's a new customer – plus any notes. We can add tags, upload any images of her so we can really start to get a good history. 

DigitalFirst: What type of data is included in your reporting? 

Koutroulis: In the POS you can see what people ordered and how they paid. In (day view) sales is where you will do your cash up. 

We have a further breakdown of analytics where you can see almost everything – items category sold, beverages split, the busiest times, and so on.

For customers you can see their name, the spend and the items sold. In our next update, where we are expanding on inventory, you will be able to get it to the millilitre. Say if you’re a pub and you want to enter in all your bottles of wine and your spirits and how much you have per pour. All that information will be customisable as well.

DigitalFirst: How does it work with Reckon One accounting software?

Koutroulis: All your information can be synced to Reckon One such as employee data and sales data. Employee data includes salaries, how they’re getting paid – it’s a two-way integration. 

We also do time sheets. All your employees clock in and out on the device. It tells you what device they clocked in and out of and their name. You don't need to have a different piece of software just for clocking in and out. It's quite basic and again, very customisable. 

DigitalFirst: How did the deal with Reckon come about?

Koutroulis: It was an introduction through Novatti, our payment provider. They were pretty excited about our new integration. They work with Reckon and we just got introduced to (Reckon CEO) Sam Allert directly. And we just hit it off. 

DigitalFirst: So you’re using Wabi in your two pizza stores at the moment? What impact has it had on your business?

Koutroulis: It just makes our life a lot easier. Rather than having 10 screens to do the one function, we're able to have an iPad that does everything. All my data is kept in one spot. 

I can take it with myself, in my pocket. And it's really streamlined my business. To be honest, I don't know how I ran it the other way. I remember when we were writing bookings on paper, so we've come a long way.

Wabi is available now and integrates with Xero, MYOB, as well as Reckon Hosted and Reckon One. The road to success in software is long and difficult, even for seasoned software developers. However, Wabi is worth watching. It is an interesting example of consolidation, bringing the features of multiple apps into a single interface. And its pricing model could prove to be quite disruptive. 

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