Hoyapreneur Profile: Joel Montaniel on How to Make it in the Hospitality Business

For our latest Hoyapreneur profile, we are excited to sit down with Hoyapreneur Joel Montaniel, Co-Founder & CEO of Seven Rooms to learn more about how he's grown Seven Rooms, to hear his take on the infamous story about a little luck and a pricey bottle of wine and how to make it in the hospitality world in New York City. 

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1. Before SevenRooms you didn't have much experience in the hospitality industry. What's it like starting a company in one of the toughest industries in one of the most competitive markets in NYC?

Starting a company in the hospitality sector was much harder than we ever thought it would be. The SevenRooms founders came from the finance world, where the deals have lots of zeros and commas, and we took it for granted how hard it is to make a dollar. Combine that with the industry we picked -- restaurants -- which are experiencing margin compression and the economic challenges of building and scaling their businesses, and there’s not a lot of money to go around. It made us focus on creating technology that was measurably valuable for the hospitality operator and forced us to think creatively how to make the operator more money through new revenue streams.  

2. Describe SevenRooms core mission. How did you come to realize there was such a pain point in how restaurants and bars operated?

SevenRooms’ core mission is to keep restaurants in business longer by making them more money. We focus on the guest experience, and leveraging data to personalize the experience, which translates into helping restaurants create memorable, long-lasting connections with their guests. Historically, the restaurant industry has been slow to adopt technology and the market leaders haven't innovated. They’re still offering technology running on premise, local servers (not cloud-based), with interfaces that look like Windows 95. It doesn't mean that this antiquated technology doesn't work or serve a purpose, however, there was an opportunity to do so much more.  The same way a rotary phone can still be used to make a phone call, but a smartphone offers so much more. We recognized an opportunity to build innovative technology to help these operators understand their business through data, streamline their operations, make smarter decisions and provide better service to their guests. We set out to fix that problem - and the rest is history.

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3. There is a story out there that SevenRooms was saved over a $200k bottle of wine. What is that all about?

We signed up one of our first customers (a customer we had been chasing for two years) with a cheers and a glass of $200K wine. The wine had been served in their restaurant earlier that night and the guest didn't finish the bottle, which was a 6L magnum of 1950’s French wine. We couldn’t let it go to waste.

4. Working in the restaurant, bar and nightlife space, what is your favorite restaurant in NYC, favorite bar and favorite club?

That’s a hard question, as New York has one of the most unique and diverse restaurant and nightlife scenes in the world, but I’d have to say the below:

Restaurant: Dell'anima

Bar: Mr. Purple and any bar that plays good music

Club:  PH-D in the Dream Hotel Downtown

5. Over the past few years how have you been able to scale SevenRooms internationally?

We have an existing, long-term partnership with a major credit card company powering their reservation bookings for their concierge group. Anytime cardmembers call in for restaurant reservations, they’re logging into our private corporate network to book exclusive reservations. That partnership has enabled us to expand into over 100 cities with some of the top restaurants in the world.

6. What was your favorite class and/or professor during your time on the Hilltop?

Professor So, and her English classes, were by far my favorite while in school. She was instrumental in pushing my thinking across the board, and was my advisor for my senior thesis. What I appreciated most is she always encouraged me to go one step further, just as I thought I had taken it all the way to the end. She taught me how to think critically and to look beneath the surface.

7. Aside from scaling to different cities across the country, what's next for SevenRooms?

We're excited about how we're innovating to change the guest experience. The restaurant experience has remained remarkably the same since our parents, and our parent's parents, were going out to eat. If you think about the special, most memorable times in our lives, oftentimes we're at a restaurant to celebrate with our friends and family. We’re working hard to help operators understand and see value in their data to help them provide the best levels of service and experience to their guests.

8. How has the entrepreneur alumni network been helpful to you and how can the GEA support you going forward?

I've been fortunate to build strong connections with fellow alumni in both the finance and tech worlds. Everyone I’ve talked to has been open and willing to help anytime I've reached out. Georgetown has such a strong foundation in finance (and government), but there so much that can be done to build out a strong GEA tech ecosystem. More practically, seasoned GEA tech entrepreneurs should proactively offer time and assistance for aspiring GEA entrepreneurs. We should also be incorporating as much tech education as we can into our undergraduate curriculum.

 10. Finally, how do you feel about Patrick Ewing as coach? You feel we are in the midst of a return to prominence?

Love it. He brings credibility to the team, with an NBA mindset and perspective that should help with recruiting. I’m looking forward to the season ahead.