From Selling Juice to Managing Bars

Date:   Friday , June 01, 2001

VitalLink CTO Manoj Tripathi, formerly CIO of the popular smoothie chain Jamba Juice, explains that his company targets restaurants and bars, offering services that allow owners to remotely monitor what is happening in their establishments. This remote management is specifically targeted at owners who manage multiple establishments. The idea is relatively simple, though the technology is pretty compelling, in a geeky sort of way, VitalLink claims.

As an example, bar owners will be able to install caps on their liquor bottles that measure the amount of liquor being dispensed through radio frequencies and then transmit that information. In other words, a bar owner can sit in his or her home office and know exactly how much liquor is being served at a given bar and compare that to how much money is actually coming in. Restaurant owners will be able to control what kind of music is pumped into their establishments, know how much revenue is coming in, and see what’s going on through video monitoring systems. Like so many managed services business models that have emerged recently, the infrastructure and hosts the data that is transmitted, all for a recurring service fee.

Tripathi is convinced that this will be a profitable business, despite the cost of investing in the infrastructure that managed service providers run up against. He joined the company in April 2000, not an particularly auspicious month to join a tech startup. But he insists, “We are not in the tech business, we are in the retail business, built on technology.” He suggests that his customers -- fast food or lower end chain restaurants -- will, if anything, prosper in the downturn, given that people will have less money to spend. So far, VitalLink has about 1,000 customers. The company has grown from 60 stores serviced when Tripathi joined in April, to 2,500 today. Within the customer base, the company services individual franchises of chains like McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and so on.

It remains to be seen whether these customers lead to a more broad-based adoption within the massive establishments, which is clearly the ultimate goal for VitalLink. Crosspoint Venture Partners is the company’s principal backer, with Lafayette Equity Fund and Riverside Management Group adding to a recent $26 million series C. Founded in 1999, VitaLink employs 130 people.