It all clicked in April of 2020. I had been observing the success of creators using Patreon in the creator economy and I was seeing the fundraisers from so many restaurants asking their patrons for help to keep their business open. I thought there could be a more efficient way to support a local business as a customer AND also get special benefits from doing it (in the same way this is possible in the creator economy). There was one group that was in need to get the customer support they deserve: Black-owned businesses. I reached out to black-owned businesses to see if we could help and we started testing the concept. The first customers were Urban Grind (Atlanta), Coffee and Cornbread (New Jersey), and Kwench Juice cafe in Nashville. All were female and black-owned.

We called it SubPort: Subscription = support

But it did not work out…the businesses were not getting subscribers.

When I saw the Square unboxed hackathon, I got motivated to give the idea another try using some of the learnings from the previous 3 failed subscription systems. 1) Instead of charging monthly, it would be weekly charges 2) The subscription would be more flexible for the patron: they can choose how much they want to pay per week 3) There would be different subscription offerings, adapted to each store. 4) It would be integrated with their existing Square workflow.

What it does

The system manages the whole subscription experience for independent coffee shops and restaurants. It has the customer-facing subscription and ordering part and the business-backed integration: sending the subscription revenue to the business and the orders.

This means:

  1. It allows the business to have their own branded subscription site. It does not feel like you’re in someone else’s site nor in a marketplace. This makes patrons feel like they are actually supporting the business.
  2. Customers can subscribe to any of the products the business offers.
  3. After subscribing, charges the customer automatically and it keeps track of how many credits each customer has so they can only redeem what they paid for.
  4. When a customer wants to redeem, they press a button, choose their variants, and if they want it for delivery, pickup, or curbside. The order gets sent to the restaurant’s Square.
  5. The restaurant receives the order inside their Square POS and they also receive a text message with the order details
  6. The order will be ready for the subscriber to pick up. No waiting line, no calling, no extra payment processing fees.

How we built it

We tried a lot of different ways to build it: we started by creating our technology but quickly realized we needed something more flexible from the get-go in order to make each subscription system special for our customers. In the restaurant sector (it was our first time building in this sector), it¡s very hard to have the same for everyone.

We combine our own code with no-code tools. This helps us build a backend that can scale and a frontend that can be customized for each client.

Challenges we ran into

The first 2 shops we tried, did not get any subscribers from their subscription system. Luckily, we were able to learn a lot from these failures and help the next businesses succeed with their subscription.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

So far, the subscription system has generated an extra $1767 in sales for businesses and we are seeing them generate more MRR than we do. Every time there is a new subscriber to a business using our platform, it fills us with a lot of joy.

What we learned

We’ve learned 2 key things that make a subscription in the restaurant sector successful:

  1. Charge weekly
  2. Let the customer decide how much they want to pay: In the case of Kwench Sedalia, the customer can choose how many weekly smoothies, juices… they want. It’s a subscription system that fits the customer’s habits and budget while supporting their business.

What's next for End-to-end subscription system for restaurant & coffee shop

Since subscribing to a coffee shop or juice store is still a new way of doing loyalty for small businesses, the hardest part for them is deciding what to offer as a subscription and how to think about pricing, credits, and offers. We have tried different ways onboarding systems from a chatbot, different types of forms, manually over zoom, documents…the next thing will be making the subscription menu creation a custom form for each product. We think this can make it easier to onboard businesses into the subscription economy.

Once we make it easier to onboard businesses into the subscription/creator economy, we will be able to scale our system and help more businesses get the subport (SUBscription=supPORT) they deserve. We plan on doing this by joining the Square App Marketplace soon.

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