Last week we had some exciting news to share – Jonathan Fornaci joined Punchh as COO.
Jonathan understands the restaurant industry well, having led two iconic restaurant chains including Rita’s Italian Ice and Straw Hat Pizza. And he has also started two fine dining restaurants from scratch – in Peru and Costa Rica.
What’s unique about Jonathan is that he also brings technology expertise, having served as chief technology and information officer for GE Capital/Genstar, where he managed technology and operations for 10 GE Capital divisions.
During his four years at Straw Hat Pizza, he helped it grow from 38 to 86 units. In 2011, he took the CEO’s post at Rita’s Italian Ice before joining Punchh.
Here’s a quick interview with Jonathan:
Question: You were doing well in restaurant operations. So what brought you to a technology company?
Jonathan: I was amazed at what Punchh did for Rita’s Italian Ice when I was there. It’s really pretty simple. Punchh helped us launch our mobile strategy by creating the Rita’s Rewards mobile app.
Using mobile, we could grow same-store sales by getting existing customers to come back more often and grow into new markets. We could tap into existing customers’ social networks and market to them one on one because we knew exactly what they liked. That’s the Punchh philosophy: know what customers like and don’t like and market directly to them using that information.
That has never happened before in restaurants, which usually go for TV, Radio ads or direct mail, where you spark interest in maybe 5 percent of the audience and nothing for 95 percent of the audience.
Question: What will you bring to the post that perhaps another COO might not?
Jonathan: Having run two different and successful restaurant chains, and having owned and operated fine restaurants in Costa Rica and Peru. I’ve lived the real issues restaurant operators live, and I know what they have to deal with.
I also know, since working with Punchh, what most restaurants probably don’t yet: that they can know all their customers. I just spoke at a conference where I asked, “Does anyone here know 10,000 of their customers?” Of course, no one raised his or her hands. But in fact, they didn’t raise their hands until I got that number down to about 100 or 200 of their customers. That’s a problem industry-wide: There are almost a million restaurants in the U.S. and they don’t know who their customers are. Can you imagine GE, Amazon or Netflix not knowing their customers? Now the restaurant space can finally know each and every customer.
So here’s what gets me excited about my new job: Punchh is that one connection restaurants are missing. Restaurants have amazing POS information that tells them what they sold in great detail, but it never gets tied back to a customer. Once you do that, you can market to your customers personally.
Question: Do you have any goals laid out for now?
Jonathan: In short term, my goal is to bring on a number of new restaurant clients. A lot of restaurants are using spot solutions in their marketing, meaning they go to this company for one solution, another for that solution and another for that. Punchh brings them one solution that covers the entire marketing gambit that a restaurant needs.
Further down the road some I’m going to focus on growing the number of brands we work with in the U.S. and internationally, as well as explore other industry verticals. There’s a lot of potential for this technology.
In both cases, I have to convince potential customers that they have to capture at least one key audience: millennials. Thirty-one percent of disposable income in the U.S. is now spent in the restaurant space—by millennials. That’s amazing! So if you don’t serve them, you’re out of luck. And you’d better be able to capture them with technology like Punchh. They don’t want gift cards or other offers, they want things conveniently delivered to their mobile phones. The industry must adjust to this technology.
Question: We know all work and no play would make Jonathan a dull boy. So what do you do in your off hours?
Fornaci: I’m on two boards: Meals on Wheels and Paws, a no-kill animal shelter in Philadelphia. I’m passionate about those causes. I’m also a big SCUBA diver. Being under water gives me a sense of freedom that’s hard to explain. It’s just the most amazing time being there with all that beauty surrounding you and nothing else to focus on. I really love it.