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Crafting palatable experiences with Daniel Meretsky

Fail Faster

Episode 431


14 minutes

Join us in this episode of Fail Faster, as we chat with Daniel Meretsky, a tech and restaurant industry expert.

With over 15 years of experience, Daniel shares his insights into pioneering smart card technology, optimizing McDonald’s operations, and adapting to changing customer preferences. Discover how data and AI are shaping the restaurant industry and the importance of leadership in fostering a collaborative team. Explore Daniel’s involvement with innovative brands like Fresh Kitchen, Callie, and Camp, all dedicated to health, nutrition, and excellence. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, restaurant pro, or aspiring leader, this episode offers valuable insights at the intersection of technology, innovation, and leadership in the restaurant world.

Podcast transcript

Vandana: Hey, Dan, welcome to the Fail Faster podcast. How are you today? 

Dan: Very well. Thank you so much for having me. 

Vandana: Awesome. And this is our first in person podcast, people. How exciting is this? 

Dan: All right. 

Vandana: So let’s begin, Dan, by introducing yourself. Tell us about a little bit about yourself a little bit about your background, please. 

Dan: Oh, I’ve been in the technology industry for quite some time. First, my name is Daniel Meretsky. I’ve had the luxury of living in Europe for a time building smart card systems, being a credit card expert, helping develop credit card systems and support credit cards, moved over to the retail space, where I’ve been in the restaurant industry now for about 15 years. For most of it part of the McDonald’s Corporation. And now I’ve been blessed to work for teacher restaurant group where I lead their technology for three of their brands here in Tampa, which are also in all of the Florida area, including Miami and Orlando. 

Vandana: Awesome. Awesome. What a great, tragic trade. So 15 years in the restaurant business, what has kept you here? 

Dan: Well, one thing about restaurant business, different than say, discrete technologies, I get to be a part of everything. So not only is it just one portion of technology, maybe development, I also get to be part of asset management, procurement, help desk, big tech development, AI development, and something is even as small as a simple process that needs to be created. So I get the retail side and I get the corporate side. 

So it’s a, if you’d like to do a lot of different things, the retail industry or the restaurant industry is a great luck of fate. 

Vandana: Awesome. Awesome. So tell us about some of the successes that you have been part of during these 15 years in this field. 

Dan: Oh, wow. I’ve been blessed to be on quite a few actually. So before the smart card was brought to even America and everyone knows that that’s a little chip card in your American Express or your visa, I might have to help be a pioneer of this in Europe. And I helped develop the backend for this for Deutsche Telekom. So we were working on an app for about two years, which was pretty amazing. And then to see it come over into America was really great. 

When I came over to America, I was able to bring the first cash card to Discover. So that was a great accomplishment. You know, I’ve had so many on even inside McDonald’s, I was able to help develop a system to help troubleshoot issues all across the McDonald’s restaurants, which was, which ended up being used in almost every type of analysis needed to solve restaurant issues. It became an international tool that I was able to develop. 

And now here being a part of CRG, it’s a company that’s just amazing, really is. Phenomenal values, phenomenal food privilege is not eaten in these restaurants. How to recommend it, it is, you won’t go anywhere else. And being able to start at the bottom and create all these processes and procedures right where they had none. And so that’s been a really exciting adventure for me now. 

Vandana: Super. Very good. And what have been some of the failures, if you may, and some of the learnings? 

Dan: For sure. I would say probably I have a few, both on the technical side and on the leadership. Technical, when you are beginning in your stage in technology, you’ve learned what you should do, what you ought to do, what you need to do. And as you start getting more equipped to handle the different situations, and you get a little bit more confidence, you feel like you can skip some of these steps. 

And it’s amazing if you take the time to do the business analysis first, probably 80% of it, and take the time to do what you ought to do and should do in the development side, you’ll always get a better product with less issue. But as you start, like I say, doing this so well, you skip a few quarters, believing you can do so, usually in the long run, it’s biting and not being so great. 

On the leadership side, I would say making sure that people you’re working with are living the values. And if they’re not living the values, and it’s not in their DNA, so to speak, continually letting them stay in the environment is probably bringing down the environment more than helping out the company. So I would say, make sure that people you’re working with are living the values. And if not, unfortunately, they probably aren’t the right fit for the values that you want to have in your company. 

Vandana: Very well said. Yeah. So recognizing who is the right fit to travel with you along. Yeah, it’s already on, right? 

Dan: I’m saying, absolutely. Absolutely. 

Vandana: Awesome. And what are some of the things that you think people are missing when they are trying to develop a product or a service? What are some of your onions there? 

Dan: Developing is always the fun part of your job. If a new product line is going to come out into the environment, and you get to be a part of that, you get the accolades, you get the bonuses, you get the budget. But what’s usually forgotten is the run afterwards. And most companies don’t spend a lot of time in the run. 

For small organizations, for example, Simple is a help desk. Most help desks are all outsourced. And if you talk to the restaurant owners, or managers, or even anybody in the retail space, they almost never like their help desk. It’s because they didn’t take the time to successfully build a run for the help desk. 

So you develop the product, but you don’t develop the process behind it. So they can run effectively or efficiently over time. And so they, something I would say is definitely needs to be added to that value add when you’re developing a product. 

Vandana: That’s a great point. Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever had a guest touch upon that. So let’s talk about some of the examples of how that would look like in the restaurant industry. 

Dan: Well, sure. Just not even the restaurant, I would say in any industry. So case in point now is that we want to, inside of CRG, we want to start building a good data warehouse because a product is desired. And the question was, is do you quickly just develop the product and worry about the best in practice data warehouse that you should have? Or do you just quickly get the development going and the product out the door? And most companies, they just want to get the product out the door. And they’ll worry about the backend later, while the backend later ends up realizing maybe two, three years down the road, it’s now a shambles. 

And it’s causing more headaches and more, maybe not a financial loss to the company, but stress to the people who’s working in it. A lot of issues of that arise, and not just a great product overall. And so I would definitely say, take a step back, make sure you understand the foundation you want to build. In this day and age, it’s hard to look more than six months ahead. But I would say try to, at least in your foundations, look a few years ahead. So that whatever product you’re building, or whatever operational outcome you’re looking for, it could be sustained. And so, yeah, that’s what I would probably say is something you need to work on. 

Vandana: That’s a great, great advice. Thank you for that. And what are some of the trends that you’re seeing with the customers as you’ve been in touch with them over so many years, over so many different roles? 

Dan: Customers are changing. And so it is amazing if you look at all the different generations, what each customer wants. And we’re learning that the trends for the younger aren’t so much, let’s say, as price, which would be for maybe our generation, as it’s experience. 

So the younger generation wants the ability to go to a restaurant in order to have it properly delivered to them, but not too quick, because if it’s too quick, their value seems to be diminished. But then also an experience to where they can actually take a picture of or a video of that food product, or the branding, or the presentation of that food and share it with their friends. And so each generation, you really have to understand who you’re catering to and where you want to go with your restaurant, or for that matter, any retail space that you have. 

Vandana: Very true. So in the restaurant industry, like what are some of the nuances that you are catering to as in building the software products? 

Dan: Sure. This restaurant group is different than say, McDonald’s. Well, this restaurant group, what we’re really catering to is the food, the food and the operational awareness to provide the customer with the best experience, not so much on technology, but more from just experience of the food and the inside the restaurant. 

Vandana: Okay.

Dan: I’m not with that we are trying to experience some things with technology. So we’re trying to have a great online presence or a mobile presence, which is very important. Other restaurant groups, for example, might be trying hard to get that truly experience with the app or the experience with when you go through a drive through it’s catering to you as an individual, right? 

Because now there is nothing private. We know where you’re at, how fast you’re driving, what restaurant chain you just passed, or what restaurant chain you just went into, and what it might take for us to get you from the road into a restaurant because you we know you have your child in the backseat, because you just picked them up or her up from daycare so that we can present you with an advertisement just before you pass a restaurant. 

So this is the type of technology that’s coming. It is already out there in some in some areas. It’s some, some people find it incredibly exciting. And some people find it incredibly scary. Yeah, because of all the understanding that we now have on, on everybody. 

Vandana: Yeah, let’s see where we get. It’s a lot of dynamics in every, every industry. And like you said, the experience and the price and the delivery, the speed of delivery and the presentation, all of that has to come together for each of these personas, which is, which is a hard thing. 

Dan: It is because at our restaurant group, we had everywhere from 15 year olds all the way up to 80 year olds. And so how do you market to each one individually and making sure that they all feel like they’re locked in the game to experience something that they want? 

Vandana: Right. So what are some of the things that you have always been, always worked for you like any any golden nuggets for the listeners, or leaders in your position or trying to belong in your position? 

Dan: I think leadership is key. There’s a difference between being a leader or being a manager. And so you have to decide who you want to be. And for me, being a leader is something I strive for what I want to present to team that’s working with me. So we have a roundtable approach almost all the time. 

My team members are just as important to me as I feel like they think I am to them. I’m very open to having an open door policy. And when we make decisions, we usually don’t make decisions, unless two other people make that same decision. So I might have that final say, but we get that roundtable and we’re discussing big decisions. And unless it comes from, you know, truly a strategy I’m not allowed to divert from, we go with usually with the consensus of the team I put together. 

Now, why is that? Because I’m trying to put together a team that’s smarter than I am, and has more experience and knowledge in other areas. So I need to make sure that they’re aware of that. That’s why I hired them, how awesome they are. I would say that I mean, I don’t ask my people to do anything I’m not willing to do. So as I’ve been putting together this smaller company, we didn’t have enough people, for example, to always work help desk support. 

Well, guess what? I told them I would do it. They might want it, but I was so willing to do it. Because if I’m gonna ask them to do this, then I do it, so. 

Vandana: Wow, that’s a great, great way to lead. Yeah. 

Dan: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. 

Vandana: And what are some of the things that you’re excited about right now, like in this quarter, next quarter, that if you can share some of the passion that you’re working on? 

Dan: Yes. So I do love the development, I do love the data on what you’re able to do with data. And so we’re now slowly starting to probably build out our data as schemas and how we want to interact with our customers more. So we’ll be putting that together. 

And AI, again, scary or exciting, depending on which side of the aisle you’re on, but I find to be very exciting. And so I’ve already started using it inside of what I’m working on from something as small as writing emails for me, as much as even creating some internal brain, not so much external yet to the customer, but internal for areas that we’re working on. 

And the speed that I’ve been able to do this now has been exponentially quicker. Again, great or scary at the same time, because yeah, it’s it’s it’s pretty amazing. 

Vandana: Yeah, awesome. Yeah, you just have to check everything. And I yeah, we’re using it a lot to in house to kind of automate some of the things and then just slowly introducing, you know, safer pieces into our….

Dan: Exactly. And you definitely have to research or read what you’re sent, what it’s coming back into. Because one thing I found with AI, it’s always a good that it has a people who are talking into it. And the people who are talking into it aren’t always themselves trying to be honest, they’re trying to be persuasive. So a lot of times AI comes back in a more persuasive or maybe not the absolute truth. And so you have to be careful with on what you what you’re posting. 

Vandana: Yeah, absolutely. Anything else for our audience before we wrap it up? This has been super exciting. 

Dan: No, I would say be yourself. Don’t be afraid to grow and continue to grow. It’s one thing I’ve probably done in the last year that I wish I would have done 20 years ago, growing for myself trying to really figure out type of leader I want to be and then be part of an organization that we share the same value. So it’s not just going to a place for money, going to a place where you feel like you and your company are on the exact same page. And that makes it even more exciting. 

Vandana: Well, thank you so much. Would you like to also add some of the names of your brands that people can? 

Dan: Oh, sure. In Tampa or Florida. So if you’re in Florida, I recommend one of the brands is called Fresh Kitchen. And what I tell people it’s four to five star food for about a three star price. And it’s pretty amazing. I don’t think you’ll go back anywhere else. All of our products are GMO free, they’re antibiotic free, they’re gluten free, and yet they taste absolutely amazing. 

Another brand we have is called Cali, C-A-L-I. And that’s only in the Tampa area. We have four restaurants just as phenomenal. But when it comes to their pizza or their cookies, you might not ever have better. And so that’s something amazing. And then I’m also part of what’s called Camp. And we’ve got Camp, which is an adult playground for working out. 

So we have yoga studios, we have HIIT studios, we have cycle studios, and everything is taught by class. And we have that in Tampa. And we have that was just opened up in LA. So this brand, I’m a part of, we’re all about health, nutrition, and really making you to be your best self. 

Vandana: Cool. So let’s do that. I think I’m ready to go to one of them. 

Dan: Oh, well, I’ll take you. We’ll go together. 

Vandana: Thank you so much, Dan. This was such a wonderful time with you. 

Dan: Well, you’re very welcome. 

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