BY GREGORY ZELLER // From the Two Birds/One Stone file comes CharityWait, a born-in-Nassau-County app that’s received a hefty six-figure investment from Angel Dough Ventures and the Long Island Angel Network.
A spinoff of CEO and cofounder Daniel Reitman’s SmartLine app, CharityWait allows users to register at busy restaurants – basically, get in line for the next available table – with a charitable-donation option that bumps them to the front of the queue.
It also gives restaurateurs “an iPad-friendly turnkey platform to manage the front end of the restaurant,” according to Angel Dough Ventures CEO Andrew Hazen – one of several factors that convinced the VC veteran to stake the Sands Point startup.
But his interest soared, Hazen noted, with the donation option.
“As soon as I heard CharityWait’s pitch, I knew I wanted to get involved,” he said. “I immediately saw how CharityWait could positively impact charities across the globe.”
Like big brother SmartLine, CharityWait eliminates the notebook at the restaurant podium, digitally queueing guests and texting them when their table is ready, allowing them to stroll the mall or promenade without losing their place. Both apps also share daily specials and such, as well as details on the party, everything from number of guests to nut allergies.
CharityWait goes a step further by giving guests the option of making a small charitable donation (the restaurant picks the charity). If they choose not to donate, they still see the specials and receive a text when their table is ready – but if they kick in, they move to the front of the line.
“I knew in an instant I’d pay $20 to skip to the front of the line,” Hazen told Innovate-LI. “Especially knowing the money goes to charity.”
While appreciated the idea of streamlined restaurant-management tech, the charitable component was the clincher for the investor, who sits on the board of the Eric Trump Foundation – which raises money for terminally ill patients at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. – and is a frequent contributor to Jericho-based hunger-relief organization Rock CAN Roll Inc.
“Whether it’s Aimée [Holtzman, Rock CAN Roll founder] trying to raise $10,000 or the Eric Trump Foundation trying to raise $10 million, it’s difficult,” Hazen noted. “A lot of $5 or $10 donations can have a tremendous impact.”
From that perspective, staking CharityWait was a no-brainer – even if Reitman’s team didn’t initially contact Hazen looking for an investment.
Working alternately out of Reitman’s basement and temporary Manhattan office space, Reitman and his cohorts – Long Islanders all – were seeking Island-based accommodations when they emailed Hazen to ask about vacancies in one of LaunchPad Long Island’s co-working facilities.
“We weren’t looking for funding,” Reitman said. “We were looking for an office. But we wound up getting some money.”
And a new home: The SmartLine/CharityWait team will be among the first tenants when the new LaunchPad Great Neck facility opens in April.
Regarding the Round 1 investment by Angel Dough Ventures and the Long Island Angel Network, Hazen cited several undisclosed milestone requirements and “a few hundred thousand dollars committed.” Reitman said his firm would look to raise additional capital sometime in 2016, but for now the focus is on growing the team and spreading the word.
The company currently employs six full-timers, including graphic design, sales, marketing, social media and business-development staffers. It will add seven interns this summer – all students in the MBA program at Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb Business School – through a Hofstra/Accelerate Long Island partnership, according to Reitman, himself a Hofstra alum.
Early response to CharityWait has been “tremendous,” Reitman added, with over 150 restaurants signing up before the app was officially launched, including a Hard Rock Café in Australia. In the parlance of international fundraising, that’s not nothing, and Reitman should know: He’s also a cofounder of Hope For Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean water, proper nutrition and safe shelter to children around the world. That charity’s most recent project was the construction of a children’s home in Kenya that currently houses 19 orphans.
Ultimately, Reitman would like to see the CharityWait app in “a couple thousand” restaurants internationally, though everyone involved recognizes that’s a long haul.
“It can be a tough sell to restaurants initially,” Hazen noted. “Anytime you introduce a disruptive technology that changes what you’re doing, people are hesitant. But this is more efficient, and many charities have strong relations with the restaurant industry.
“Plus, they’re already seeing that people who choose the charitable-donation option are more inclined to buy drinks or desserts,” he added. “So this can actually help restaurants monetize themselves a little better.”
As for whether Angel Dough Ventures or the LIAN would be involved in Round 2 funding, Hazen was noncommittal.
“I hope so – that’s why I got in it,” he said. “But it’s very early on. The next 45 to 60 days, I think, will be very telling.”
Reitman noted that without the Round 1 bump and especially the LaunchPad space, this would be a very different story – with an entirely different setting.
“I definitely like the fact that we get to work within the Long Island community,” the CEO said. “But for us to be able to operate on Long Island … there’s no real co-working space available, outside what LaunchPad is doing. Without them, we probably would have wound up in Brooklyn.”