July 13, 2016
By Dan Fost
Like so many other innovations in technology today, Swiftdine has its roots in an everyday problem that someone wanted to solve.
The Azeez family of Lima, Ohio, enjoyed eating together in restaurants, but the father, Kemi Azeez, was a busy doctor who couldn’t afford the time those meals would take.
“My mom and I would order his food, call him, and he’d come to the restaurant and eat,” says Tobie Azeez, the youngest son, who was a junior in high school at the time. “That way he didn’t have to wait to be seated or for his food to be cooked. He could eat and then go back to work.”
That gave Tobie an idea for solving the problem with a smartphone: an app that would allow people to order their restaurant meal and pay for it, so they could just show up, be seated, and eat, without having to endure the waits for tables, food, and payment.
That’s why he started Swiftdine, an app rolling out later this year for iOS and Android.
Boosting Table Turnover
While the concept should prove a hit with busy diners, Azeez thinks restaurants will love it as well. Unlike the popular OpenTable, which allows people to make restaurant reservations, Swiftdine has people actually paying for their meal in advance, so if they don’t show up, the restaurant isn’t left with an empty table and nothing to show for it.
“We’ve only had one negative comment from a restaurant owner, who had the idea that the food wouldn’t be as fresh if someone was five minutes late,” Azeez says. “Others think it’s an excellent idea. It will increase their table turnover ratio. They’re really enthusiastic.”
The app could also bring unexpected profits to a restaurant.
“Now when you go into a restaurant, it will serve free rolls or tortilla chips, and while it can take 30 minutes to get your food, you’re sitting there eating bread or rolls,” Azeez says.
Many diners fill up on bread, and then don’t finish their meal, and are so stuffed that they don’t order dessert.
If, on the other hand, the diner comes to the restaurant and the food is ready, then the restaurant doesn’t have to serve as much bread and, Azeez says, “now you still have room for dessert, and you’re going to pay for it. This could also bring more money to the restaurant.”
Azeez plans to test the app with a couple of restaurants in his hometown of Lima, which sits in the northwest corner of Ohio, between Toledo and Dayton.
Azeez, 20, is now a student at Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio, outside Dayton, but he has taken a break from his studies. He’s working on Swiftdine with his brother, Toyosi Azeez, 25, who has a degree in economics from Ohio State, and their friends, Josh Bishop and Evan Bell, both 21.
The Azeez brothers credit their parents for making their effort possible.
“My brother and I are first-generation Americans,” Tobie says. “Our parents moved here 31 years ago from Nigeria. My dad only had the shirt on his back and a dream.”
Kemi Azeez, MD, earned his medical degree from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, but felt he could build a better life for his family in the U.S. He and his wife Ella moved to a tiny apartment in Connecticut where their first two children were born, Toyosi and his sister, Samira.
Kemi completed a residency at Columbia University’s Harlem Hospital, and the family soon moved to Lima, where Tobie was born. Kemi established an internal medicine practice, and Ella studied psychology at Ohio State.
“We weren’t raised to have our nose in air,” Tobie says. “We’ve been to Nigeria twice. We know what it’s like. We appreciate what they’ve done for us. It’s hard work to make this world continue to go.”
Building a Business
Tobie always had a sense for business. “When we were younger, he and his friend would buy candy wholesale from Sam’s Club and increase the price 25 cents,” Toyosi recalls. “He always had that entrepreneurial spirit.”
Josh Bishop, a childhood friend who attended Wright State with Tobie and is now part of the Swiftdine team, says he was the same way in college.
“At the basketball court outside the dorms, Tobie would tell guys, ‘If you make a half-court shot, I’ll give you $100. If you miss, you give me $2. He always knew how to make money.”
Toyosi also had a head for finance, and worked for a year in Washington, DC, selling stocks, annuities and insurance.
A Family Affair
The Azeez brothers, together with their father, Bishop, and another friend and co-founder, Evan Bell, took the steps to begin making their dream a reality. They have raised more than $300,000 from friends, family, and wealthy individuals, including from making a pitch at the local country club.
Tobie even saw actor and television personality Nick Cannon eating at a Waffle House in Dayton after an appearance at Wright State, and talked him into a meeting in Hollywood; after that, Tobie says Cannon is on board. They have signed up two high-end restaurants in their hometown of Lima, the Met and Vivace Cuisine.
And they hired Gigster to help with the technical work of building an app.
Toyosi read about Gigster on Business Insider, which had highlighted 25 up and coming companies. He was impressed by Gigster’s pedigree, including CEO and founder Roger Dickey’s resume building Mafia Wars for Zynga and CTO and founder Debo Olaosebikan’s work as a computer science doctoral candidate at Cornell University.
And he liked the way the company was combining technical expertise with machine learning to speed the process of writing code.
“We had a lot of ideas, but we weren’t coders,” Toyosi says. “Up until we found Gigster, we had bright ideas that were obvious the world would use but we didn’t know how to execute them until now.”
Tobie says the team had done some preliminary design work. Gigster has taken it and run with it. “Gigster’s pretty incredible,” he says.
“You get on the web site and you are assigned a project manager. He asks you what’s your budget ,what skills you need, are you doing iOS or Android. You present to them your design. Or they can charge more and give you a design team.”
Gigster then gave Swiftdine a series of milestones toward making each version of the app work. Swiftdine made a payment at the completion of each milestone, which usually only took a couple of weeks. They hope to have the app up and running this summer.
The Swiftdine team didn’t need direct contact with the developers, only with the product manager. “I have no idea where they are,” says Tobie, marveling at the concept. “I guess I’ll never know. Milestones come in and the app gets done.”
Going Big Time
It will be a big day for Swiftdine when the app goes live in the Apple and Android stores, but the team knows that’s only the beginning. It will enable them to test it out, first in Lima, then in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and then across the country.
To speed adoption, Swiftdine plans to hire sales reps in 32 cities across the country. It plans to charge businesses a flat $1 per person in a dinner party, with no monthly fee or percentage of the meal.
“The restaurant only pays us when people use our app,” Tobie says. “We only get paid when the restaurant gets paid. It’s a win-win-win situation. Everybody that’s involved here wins.”
Swiftdine will pay its sales reps a commission, to encourage them to sign up restaurants. A restaurant can request Swiftdine, and a rep would go on-site and install the software to work with the app. Eventually, it plans to deliver software via the cloud, but in the early days, it wants to make sure the process is seamless.
They have high hopes for the day Swiftdine is on millions of phones around the country.
“As long as you have the design and the concept and can communicate it effectively,” Toyosi Azeez says, “then the sky is the limit.”