Jessica Valenzuela is a former early growth enterprise sales and marketing leader and the current co-Founder and CEO of GoGoGuest, a subscription software company helping make restaurants smarter by connecting the dots between customer behavior patterns and sales performance without the need for a costly data scientist or engineer. Jessica participated the Milestone Makers Fall 2020 cohort.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Jessica Valenzuela: Like everything in life, every choice we make comes with perks and a little bit of discomfort. It is no different when you choose the life path of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is very attractive because it provides me with the freedom to experiment, think and create outside of the status quo. It’s about introducing change and a better approach to solving specific problems for the long haul.
How did your company come to be?
JV: GoGoGuest started as an experiment focused on coffee shops. We wondered if we could change the behavior of digital nomads who often used guest WiFi and occupied spaces for endless hours. We also wanted to know if doing so would improve the coffee shop’s revenue or sales performance.
The idea came to me while traveling in Europe. I didn’t have an unlimited plan on my mobile phone, so I used coffee shops to check email, work, and FaceTime with friends. I noticed that my behavior was disrupting others and, now and then, I’d catch the coffee shop manager giving me “the look.”
The experience stayed with me. As I traveled from one coffee shop to the next, I realized the problem was more widespread.
This was the first thesis we worked on. As we worked more closely with restaurants and coffee shops of all sizes and as buying habits moved online due to the pandemic, we saw how technology and data combined with machine learning or AI can help shape customer journeys that are seamless and deliver delightful experiences.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
JV: The pandemic was scary, yet it was also good for us as a company. During the early days of COVID, we worked with our customers to adjust their subscriptions for at least three months. After three months, revenue bounced back to pre-pandemic times.
At the same time, the pandemic allowed us to test multiple ideas and work with a handful of our closest design partners. As a result, we started expanding our offerings into a Customer Intelligence platform for the restaurant and hospitality industry.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
JV: Things happen quickly in the startup world. Often, I find myself in impromptu mode, which I find thrilling, entertaining, and, at times, a bit scary. It is tough to share a “key low” because I bucket them all into learning opportunities.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons why certain people take the path of entrepreneurship. Our world view is that anything is possible and can be changed – it just takes time to find the right people who want to create change.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JV: GoGoGuest is a SaaS software company empowering the restaurant industry with intelligent business solutions to make better decisions.
The National Restaurant Association says more than 60% of adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives. Our company provides restaurants with easy access to their data, deep analytics, and insights that empower them to start, run, and grow as revenue driving and profitable businesses. When restaurants are more profitable, they can provide better wages for their workers.
GoGoGuest enables traditional and virtual restaurant concepts to move away from transactional customer relationships and focus on growing customer lifetime value (CLV) by understanding what, when, and where customers are buying. By seamlessly combining all the available data sources restaurants utilize, the GoGoGuest machine learning-powered insights to find unique factors to improve sales performance, make predictions, and identify expansion opportunities – all without a costly data scientist or engineer.
We make it possible for restaurants of all sizes to reach their sales potential.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JV: When I began GoGoGuest, I remember how many of my friends in the technology world thought I was crazy. A few insulted my idea, saying that I was about two decades too late with it. On more than one occasion, I was mocked for my plan by people who, quite frankly, did not see the same opportunity I did.
I wish I had known how far I would have to go by myself before people finally saw the benefit of the work I was doing. As I spent more time working on GoGoGuest and exploring my other interests, I realized that I had fewer people whom I called my friends but found an entirely new tribe of people who shared the same drive, passion, and love.
Thankfully, you will find new people to surround yourself with, and their support will mean the world to you. I have befriended so many talented people who love the work GoGoGuest is doing. Their excitement and passion are contagious, and I love the community we have created.
I also wish someone had told me to ask “why” more often. Asking questions is a great way to dig deeper into problems and find solutions to move forward as a company.
First Principles thinking is a blend of asking questions, understanding the information you receive, and listening to others. I firmly believe that you should not just listen to the idea but take the time to learn about the person who came up with it. Every person is different, and our experiences are constantly shaping who we are. We’re amazing creatures, and every person is capable of doing amazing things if they take the time to apply the things they have learned to better the world around them.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JV: One of the most impactful credos I live by is, “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest flower of them all.”
This quote relates to the plum blossom, which blossoms during the long winter months and serves as a friendly reminder that better days, and spring, will come around soon enough. Despite the harsh weather around it, the plum blossom breaks through and reminds people that life always finds a way of enduring – even during hardship.
The plum blossom’s resilience is similar to the feeling I have as an entrepreneur. It’s one of my superpowers!
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JV: When I’m solving challenges, I like to find time to think and get a better perspective before I respond to anyone or anything. It could be something as simple as a long walk, a ride on my mountain bike, or even just spending a little time with my dog, Beckham.
By stepping away, even for a couple of hours, I get a chance to think about the problem and find ways to best approach the solution. I never recommend replying to someone right after the situation happens because your emotions will cloud your judgment.
I firmly believe time and fresh air can change how we approach problems and choose to tackle them. Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures, but we still need opportunities to take a step back, process everything around us, and come up with rational, creative, thought-out solutions.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JV: I want to measure my success by the impact I can have on the industry I love and support. Restaurants have been put in a difficult situation the past couple of years, but sometimes the most complex problems have simple, elegant solutions.
Making a difference often does not need to involve grand gestures. I make time for the things in my life I’m passionate about, whether it’s my family, friends, or GoGoGuest. I appreciate every single minute of work that goes into making my company better and keeping it growing every day.
Now and then, I like to take a step back and see how far GoGoGuest has come over the past few years. These moments to stop and reflect allow me to stay grounded and keep everything in perspective. Success isn’t all about taking market share and making millions of dollars; it’s about helping make lives easier in small, impactful ways.
Success also means finding time to take care of yourself. Many co-founders like me are changing the world for the better, but it’s a long journey. You can’t forget to pace yourself and that without your passion and skill, the company you built would not exist.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
JV: COVID-19 has had a profound impact on my company and my life. Shortly after the pandemic set in and the nation struggled with the virus, restaurants temporarily shut down. The move cost the industry millions of dollars and left a lot of good people out of work. It broke my heart to see so many community hotspots close their doors.
I want the products we’re building at GoGoGuest to make running a restaurant a little bit easier. If restaurants can make better decisions using the data and insights they have access to, they can reduce food waste, improve their sales performance, and improve profitability.
Our success today is measured by how many owners and operators we can help make better data-driven decisions. When they have the right tools, they are equipped to grow and be profitable, whether they’re a traditional restaurant or virtual brand.
I am 100% invested in the success of GoGoGuest because I’ve seen firsthand how restaurants of all sizes can add value to their offerings using data. From personalizing guest engagement and streamlining back-of-house operations to boosting guest loyalty programs, it’s easy to make changes and scale when you know what the data is telling you.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JV: Having the right people around you can make all the difference as you begin to scale and grow your company. If you’re not paying attention to who you bring in, it can quickly hurt team morale and make it harder to achieve the goals you set out to meet.
Once you know who you want on your team, make sure they share the same vision as you – then let them deliver it. You don’t need to hold their hands. Give them room to grow and create, and they will be more productive than you ever thought possible. When you develop an entire company of people with the same goal, it’s a beautiful thing; one band, one sound.
Always trust your gut when it tells you something. Sometimes, a person might not be a great fit. You’ll find yourself making excuses in the hopes that things will change. Sometimes they don’t. You’ll know from the first conversation that someone is a perfect fit, and they will be the ones who will fight for you.
Being a leader is all about being flexible and adapting to change. Sometimes company and team needs won’t always be the same thing, and that’s okay, but they should not butt heads. A good leader sees changes before they happen, minimizing disruption and righting the ship as quickly as possible.
Finally, sometimes the change is bigger than you alone can handle, so you need to know when to bring in someone who can continue taking your company to the next level. As a leader and CEO, I know that GoGoGuest still has a ways to go, but will be prepared for that day when it comes.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
JV: A good night’s rest is essential. For me, that means deep sleep for at least six hours a day.
Exercise is also key – at least five times a week. I alternate between exercising at the gym, climbing, or mountain biking. When I am on the mountain, snowboarding replaces mountain biking during the winter.
Staying active with those you’re close to is another way to stay healthy. I try to maintain strong social connections with my friends and go out with my partner at least once a week.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
JV: The product we’re building is well-received by restaurants of all sizes. It is a much-needed product to unlock insights not readily available to restaurant C-levels or independently owned restaurants.
I hope the product we’re building will continue to add value to restaurants of all sizes by helping them reach their sales potential. When we can help at least 10% of the 860,000 restaurants in America, we can make sure 10% of the restaurant industries’ workers can rely on growing businesses, benefits, and higher average wages.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JV: I would love to be known as someone who helped push the needle and change the way restaurants fundamentally think about how they interact with their guests and streamline operations. Our team has always been motivated by the freedom we have to build solutions that solve big problems in restaurants.
Right now, restaurants struggle to get a grip on their data. It’s disjointed, which leads to many of the problems they face related to customer lifecycles, revenue management, supply chain issues, foot costing, menu engineering, and so much more.
GoGoGuest is making inroads to create efficiencies in restaurants with an easy-to-use solution that integrates seamlessly with products and platforms they are already used to using.
I also want to use my position and company to inspire other women entrepreneurs to follow their dreams. You have no idea how strong you are until you take the first step. Building a product from scratch isn’t easy; it requires resilience, perseverance, tenacity, and a never-say-die attitude. When the right things motivate you, it’s easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
JV: Resilience is a powerful and much-needed co-founder superpower. I believe every entrepreneur can attest to discovering what can seem to be an infinite amount of resilience as we traverse the difficulty associated with building a product that can improve lives and change industries.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
Yes, I have been very fortunate to receive mentorship from knowledgeable and friendly people. Through the Center’s Milestone Maker program, I met the best advisor and mentor a new co-founder could ever have. Thanks to his mentorship, our pitch deck, fundraising strategy, and my confidence level are undoubtedly in a good place. We matched through the Center, and I am proud to say we continue to work together to this day, even more so.
My mentor guided me through the process of shaping our Seed pitch deck and overall preparation to raise our Seed round. We are in the very early stages of the process but have had some early success and traction. In addition to mentoring, my advisor has invited several operational investors to join in on our round.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
JV: There are many people I would love to call out here. If I did, I would probably fill this page, so I will recognize the ones who have truly made an impact during GoGoGuest’s early success.
Chris O’Connor is our co-founder and Chief Product Officer. For the past six years, Chris has worked tirelessly to test our thesis by building multiple MVPs. He is also leading us during our next phase of product development and growth. GoGoGuest would not be where it is today without his patience, expertise, and leadership.
Mike Stratton, who was my client while working for Taptera. When I shared my idea with him and said I would like to build a product, he wrote our first check and introduced us to a few more people at Square.
Sami Kaipa, who is an entrepreneur and co-Founder himself. It was so easy and fun to work with Sami. Throughout our time together during the Nasdaq Milestone Maker program, he repeatedly reminded me to focus on one industry. Once it clicked, from then on, it was about polishing our pitch and helping me prepare to raise our Seed round. Excited to share that Sami is now an operator investor in GoGoGuest. He has helped make successful introductions to a few more!
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