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Recently announced as our keynote speaker, Sonny Mayugba, CEO and Cofounder, Requested will be joining us on opening night of Startup Weekend on November 13 to share his experience as a Sacramento entrepreneur. The following is an excerpt of a discussion I had with Sonny at De Vere’s Irish Pub recently.


[Jeff] What’s your 30 second pitch to describe Requested?

[Sonny] Requested is a mobile app where you can book a table and pay with your phone at awesome restaurants, bars, and cafes. What’s really cool about Requested is it’s a curated list of independent, locally-owned restaurants only, in the Sacramento area, soon to be global. We’re Hotel Tonight meets Uber, for restaurants.

You’ve got eleven startups to your name so you obviously don’t have a shortage of ideas. How did the idea for Requested come about?

One of my startups in that eleven was a venture called The Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar. It was a Tuesday at about 1:30 in the afternoon, I was sitting in a booth and I was looking around and I saw the bartender starting to clean lights. And I looked and I saw we have a hostess, and we have an army of cooks, and we have a server, and GM, and there’s no customers, and I thought, man, this is the time I want to do advertising and promotions, and discounts, and hook good people up. So that dawned on me. And then I started thinking, if I can do that during the slow times, what about those busy Friday and Saturday nights, maybe there’s someone who says, hey, I’ll pay you guys a little bit more and get a table when there’s no reservations available and we can fit them in. So that was the other part of the idea.

And then I started thinking, look at Red Rabbit. It’s a very unique style of restaurant. It’s a craft cocktail bar, Farm to Fork. And next door is my friend Trevor’s restaurant called Bar West which is a sports bar with twenty TVs and fish bowl drinks. Two very different concepts. Both very successful. We have different customers, and I thought, I wish there was a way that we could actually connect to the customers that really like what we do. And that’s where the idea came from.

So the idea came about because you saw an unfulfilled need in the marketplace. How did you validate that your solution was viable?

That’s a really great question. As a young entrepreneur the first thing I would have done is find some people, find a little bit of money, build it in a private room and then launch it on the world and say, “We’re gonna be huge!” I don’t do that anymore.

So, the first thing I did was I started telling everyone I know about this idea. This is 2012 by the way, so, mobile was really starting to skyrocket. The idea of the social layer and mobile commerce was brand new – because I wanted this payment to go through the phone – and so I started telling everybody I know about this idea, and said, “What do you think of this?” And I started getting a lot of good feedback from people. And actually, truth be told, I really had thought about the discount side and I told my friend Mark Otero, who’s had a really successful exit with video game company EA, he said, “You know Sonny, if you can do the discount side during off peak times, why couldn’t you do the premium side on the peak times?” So you get good ideas that way. So I was getting some good validation there. Then I got together with my team, my cofounders.

The team from Red Rabbit or did you start a new team?

Yea, I started asking people saying hey I’m going to build this product. I identified some people I wanted to work with – they’re all three engineers – and I said I want to build this with you, would you be into doing it? So really the next step was finding the team.

The number one people sought after in the world today are software engineers. So, if you want to get an idea validated, ask some software engineers if they want to join you for free and quit their high-paying job. So I asked them and they agreed, “Yeah, we want to quit our high-paying job and follow you on this mission.” So that was validation.

So then I said before we build anything why don’t we paper test it. Let’s get a bunch of foodies in a room and show them the idea. And we did. We got a bunch of foodies, and the real key was I got a bunch of foodies that I didn’t know. I asked one person, my friend Callista, a marketing director at Paragary Group and I said “Grab a bunch of your friends that don’t know me. Let’s put them in a room at Hacker Lab.” And I said, “We’re going to show them some screens and some ideas, just ideas, see what they think.”
Then the next thing was I went and found people from Ella, Mikuni, Zocolo, big restaurants and said, hey can we do the same thing? I put them in a room and said what do you think of this idea? So all these groups shot holes in it, and told us what they liked and didn’t like. And from that we got a lot of validation and told us that we wanted to do it.

So what were some key lessons-learned in getting from the idea to launching the app.

The biggest lesson is product iteration. If you read Eric Ries’s Lean Startup, he borrows from Toyota’s manufacturing process which is all about Build, Measure, Learn. That is one of the biggest key learnings in the early stage before launching. It is product first, build the product, put it in front of people. And a product can be screens. Get something in front of people. So you build it. Then measure how they use it and learn from it. Then go back to building. Iterate.

We built a prototype in late 2013 and put it out in front of people and the feedback was tremendous. It lasted 3 weeks. It was an app on a phone. And then we shut down and quit our jobs in 2014, started bootstrapping it and then we built our second prototype.

How big was that team that did the initial prototypes?

Four people. Four founders. Myself and my three cofounders. Back to your original question, the biggest lessons-learned, besides Build, Measure, Learn, are definitely Move Fast, Be Lean.

So in moving fast, you don’t want to worry about it being perfect?

One of the best quotes that a lot of startups live by is General Patton’s quote, and I don’t know if I’ll get this exactly right, “An executed plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

Actual General Patton Quote:
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

I’m not getting that exactly right, but it’s basically saying, Ship! Get it out there! As entrepreneurs, we can sit in the back room and try to perfect and tinker on our product forever and get it perfect. Because we in our minds have a vision of what it should be versus get something in front of people. Listen to your customers. Talk less. Listen more. Move fast. Break things. I’m a huge believer in the Facebook philosophy Ship Love. Move fast. Break things. I love that.

So switching gears a little bit to the overall startup scene here in Sacramento, the upcoming Startup Weekend. You’re going to be the keynote speaker at Startup Weekend in Elk Grove in November. Can you tell us a little bit why you’re participating, what you’re looking forward to from the event?

Well first off, and I mean this honestly, I’m honored to even be considered and asked. The fact that I was even asked to be the keynote is an honor. I really mean that. I’m doing it because it’s a great way to participate in the startup community in my native city, but beyond that, it’s a great way for me, — the pragmatic thing is — it’s a great way for me to evangelize Requested and spend a little time doing that and that’s awesome for me.

But mostly the reason that I’m doing it, all my extra time, besides with my family should be spent on working on my company. But those type of events are going to be filled with entrepreneurs like me. As experienced as I am I still sit in a crowd at conferences and I learn and listen and hear ideas. I always feel very for grateful for the speakers who tell their story and you get a nugget and you get information and you’re like “God I never thought of that!” That’s awesome to hear and so if I can affect a local entrepreneur who applies it to their world or their company or maybe even just their job, doesn’t have to be a company, right? Maybe it’s someone who’s working a day job who comes and wants to apply the entrepreneurial spirit to their day job. If it affects them in a really positive way and I meet some great people out of it, man, that’s what it’s all about, right? It’s about making those connections in the world and life and sharing the experiences you have and the knowledge you’ve learned and to be quite honest, learning from others. Whenever I do these conferences you learn from other people. You get questions after, you’re like, “Huh, I never thought of that! Glad I came here. Glad I met you.” You know, making new connections. I’m really, really glad to be a part of it.

Lots of people have great ideas but don’t pursue them. What traits or attributes do you think are necessary to go from the idea phase to starting down the road of entrepreneurship?

This is an interesting question. First off, I think that everybody has the former trait that you mentioned. Everybody. Whether you’re Zuck or me. We all have ideas that we don’t act on. It’s just human nature. I think every single person has the trait to follow an idea that they think of. What it takes, is not so much a trait, which I consider innate, I think it takes the discipline and gumption to decide that you’re willing to pursue this idea. And it takes the feeling that this is how you want to spend some of your time here on Earth. And that’s the part that some people forget. Some people think, “Oh, I could never do that. I’m not that type of person.” I don’t buy that. Everybody can be an entrepreneur and everybody can follow an idea, whether it’s making a backyard garden or starting the next Airbnb. Everybody has that in them.

So it’s more about the motivation, rather than a skillset, like being a developer, a coder, or a UX guy?

Absolutely. There’s plenty of great non-technical founders. Travis from Uber is not technical. He’s smart. He’s competitive. He’s amazing, but he’s not like building code for NASA, right. He decided this is what I want to do and I’m gonna get my team and I’m gonna make it happen, I’m gonna pursue this.

But more important than that, he felt, and I think all entrepreneurs feel, you know we all get up and we have a choice of how we want to spend time in life. That’s just reality. If you want to spend your time going to work at a job, that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s really about the resolve of saying how do I want to spend my time. And sure there’s risk in everything. There’s risk in having a full-time job. There’s risk in doing your own thing. There’s risk in living on a beach. There’s risk in everything right? So you gotta quit thinking about that and decide how do you want to spend your time here. Do you have the resolve to pursue this idea. Do you care about it enough. Do you have the passion to care about it enough. That’s not a trait, that’s really a decision. We all have the trait. It’s really a decision. It’s not for everyone.

Awesome! Thank you very much for your time. Any last parting thoughts?

Thank you for the interview. Thank you for the post. Come check out Startup Weekend. And keep hacking!

Jeff Bennett