The Dish: Technology for Foodies

Local entrepreneurs seek to make restaurants more accessible with Venga
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Meet The Press’ David Gregory, pro football hall of famer Darrell Green, and at a Venga launch party

There are over 1,000 restaurants and bars in Washington D.C. The life of a busy Washingtonian, however, does not always allow for extensive restaurant searches. The founders of Venga sought to fix this problem during the early planning stages of the new company.

“Venga was conceived out of a need to decide quickly where to meet a friend in town for lunch,” said Reg Stettinius, co-founder and Chairman of Venga. “Looking at my iPhone, I realized that I could know instantly where the Nikkei closed or the current NYSE information, but I had no way to make an educated decision about where to have lunch.”

Stettinius enlisted the help of longtime friend, Winston Bao Lord, a local entrepreneur who has started two PR companies of his own and is a board member of several organizations. When Lord brought in , a former co-worker and “technology wiz” according to Stettinius, the founding Venga team was formed.

Launched in April of this year, Venga is a website and a free smart phone application for iPhones and Androids that lists specials, happy hours and other at DC area restaurants and bars.

Venga was “designed and built by and for restaurateurs,” said Stettinius, who spent eight months with Pollaro and Lord conducting market research, managing product development and forming relationships with local establishments in preparation for the company launch.

The co-founders wanted to differentiate Venga from big-name tech startups by finding a more efficient method of connecting to businesses and consumers. The team met with over one hundred individuals, including restaurant owners and members of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.

“We asked [restaurants] what marketing platforms worked for them in the past; what they liked about them, what didn’t work for them and why,” Lord said. “[Users] wanted to very easily know what was going on at restaurants right now.  They also wanted one place where they could know what was going on at their favorite restaurants as opposed to spending time searching websites, Facebook and Twitter to try to find that information.”

Venga has developed a clientele of 80 DC restaurants, several of which have never partnered with sites like LivingSocial before. The Venga team stresses that they offer more than just the latest discounts for consumers. According to Lord, he and his co-workers want to provide consumers with as much information as possible and allow them to make their own decisions regarding what to choose.

LivingSocial and Groupon are enjoying extraordinary success,” Stettinius said. “I am impressed, but their model is not a sustainable way for restaurants to reach consumers.”

Though the company currently caters solely to the District with a team of of 5 employees, 10 interns and one consultant, they plan to extend to other locations in the near future.

“I think we’re on our way,” Lord said. “We are trying to change people’s going out habits. When they are making the decision of where to eat, drink or socialize, they should turn to Venga to see all of their different options.”

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