San Francisco’s love of long lines is well-documented. In our city, people LOVE to show up early and wait around at their favorite stores and live experiences. But for those of us who aren’t accustomed to it, waiting in line sucks.
These days, the solution that’s used across the food industry is the “take a number” system – where you pick up a number or a buzzer, then when your order is ready you’ll get the call. It’s a solid solution because it gives you a virtual spot and frees you up to do something else while you wait. But when everyone has devices sitting in their pockets, it can feel a little bit antiquated. What if you could take that concept, and make it digital?
Sleek, a San Francisco-based startup led by ex-Google and ex-Stanford engineers Spandana Nakka and Gaurav Aggarwal, has done just that. By moving the antiquated system into the mobile world, Sleek enables things that could never be done before.
Sleek partners with event organizers where long queues are a problem and to allow customers to hold their spot with their phones. For a few extra bucks, you have the option to expedite your order and skip ahead in line.
The experience is absolutely seamless – there’s no app to download and no cumbersome sign-up process. Sleek uses deep learning to dynamically calculate ‘demand fees’ based upon event conditions. It’s like Uber’s surge pricing, but for skipping in line.
The Sleek Experience
On Sunday mornings, a massive line gathers at Presidio Park to wait for some of San Francisco’s most popular street food – like Hotbird, a popular food stall that sells Nashville-style spicy fried chicken sandwiches. Hotbird’s customers often line up 30 minutes before the store opens in order to get their food.
But with Sleek, Hotbird’s customers were able to place an order in seconds, pay a small ‘demand fee’ (I paid $3.27 for my sandwich of $13.25) and 20 minutes later, get a text that the order is ready to pick up. The experience is seamless and built for the customer’s enjoyment. It’s simple, and it’s sleek.
Several people were overjoyed to not wait in the line; especially people with kids, pet dogs and pet hamsters (it’s San Francisco!). Once people got their hands on it, word about Sleek spread like wildfire. Hotbird’s kitchen almost couldn’t handle the speed at which orders were coming in, and collected an extra $600 in ‘demand fees’ in their first hour alone.
Under the hood, Sleek uses deep learning to synthesize data ranging from customer location to the volume and velocity of orders to give users an accurate estimate as to how long they would have to wait without opting for the ‘demand fee’ to cut the line.
Users can then decide to submit their order to hold their spot or pay extra to cut the queue and do something more exciting instead of waiting 20-30 min, but in either case, the centuries-old, and archaic practice of standing in lines is replaced with an elegantly simple mobile estimated time of arrival.
Once you’ve used Sleek, you’ll want to see it everywhere. And event hosts won’t have much reason to say no: it’s a great revenue generator. While competitors in the market often charge fees to vendors for their service, Sleek gives the vendors back an additional margin on every sale. Sleek is a win-win for customers and vendors alike.
“It is maddening to think of the billions of hours of human life wasted every day waiting in the same physical lines more or less unchanged over thousands of years when the moving of these to a digital and mobile-first paradigm seems so inevitable,” says Spandana Nakka, co-founder & CEO.
With a perfect marriage of technical ability, entrepreneurial spirit, and a significant, unsolved pain point, the startup has received backing by some of the best investors in the valley. While their initial focus is on food festivals, Sleek has its eyes set on concerts, conventions and sporting events. With billions of people attending at least one of these events every year, Sleek has a massive untapped market that investors have been eager to jump on.
No doubt that there can be a little bit of a marketing allure when seeing a massive line, but there are many customers who view long lines with disgust and frustration. I know I’d certainly rather pay a couple of bucks and get on with the rest of my day instead of wasting it waiting in line.