Interview With Mark Surkin
Describe your product or service:
“We deliver catering packages to the guests of virtual events.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“We believe that sharing meal[s] is the best way to foster connections between people.”
How are you funded? I.e. venture capital, angel investors, etc.
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“Five full-time team members and a few freelancers.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“Not always but certainly from around college-age when it finally got through to me that I'd have to work for a living. My grandfather had his own business that was later acquired (chemical sales). My mom runs her own child psychology practice, and my dad, before he retired, was the primary partner in a law firm for many years. So, running things runs in my family I guess!”
How did you come up with your startup idea? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
“Dineable was a COVID pivot that evolved naturally during a conversation with a client from our prior business model. They said ‘we're doing virtual events now, pitch me some ideas.’ I said ‘let's send food to everyone.’ They said ‘Figure that out, and we'll pay you for it.’ Acting on it was pretty natural — last year anything was possible and people were willing to try new things. So, we sent ten emails, sold four pilots, and we're off to the races. Confidence came because people kept opening their wallets and providing positive feedback.”
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
“We had a long list of potential names (75 or so). Our old model was around dietary restrictions, so we wanted to have a brand personality that was welcoming and told someone ‘yes you can’ who often hears ‘no you can't eat that.’ Someone else came up with the idea of combining ‘Yay’ and ‘Table’ which became ‘Yable.’ I hated that name but went home and wrote down synonyms of ‘eat’ and ‘able’ together until I saw ‘dine’ and ‘able’ next to each other. Removed the space and here we are.”
What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
“The absolute hardest thing in starting a company is finding a good balance of team members who work well together, respect each other, can work autonomously, understand the mission, and aren't afraid to push back when they think something is being done wrong. It took me about three years to figure out how to find the right mix, and I'm so grateful to have found the team I have today.”
Who is your product or service made for? Who is your target market?
“We reach all types of people as ‘guests,’ but the folks buying from us for the events that they are planning are corporate event planners, association managers, and department heads at corporations.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“We have an omnichannel marketing strategy. Our branding is consistent and seamless across all platforms, and the brand voice that we use on each channel is customized to reach the specific audience that lives on that platform and what they are looking to get from that platform.
Traditionally, event planners are used to a more cumbersome sales process. We have created a seamless experience on our website that makes a corporate event planner and meeting planner's role exponentially easier.
We run loyalty campaigns via email and social media, and our growth strategy consists of reaching new leads through Google Display Ads, Google Search Ads, and drip campaigns.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“SEO, Word of Mouth.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Marketing KPIs: ad impressions, clicks to website from all social media channels, ads, and email campaigns; what channels our website visitors came from; views of the funnel in Google Analytics
Website KPIs: what CTAs people are clicking on the website, scroll maps, heatmaps, page views, number of sessions, what pages people are looking at and spending the most time on
Business KPIs: revenue, number of won leads, number of lost leads, profit margin, [and] cost”
What's your favorite book on entrepreneurship?
“‘The Mom Test’ by Rob Fitzpatrick”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“Being an effective salesperson isn't much different from being an effective therapist.”
How do you stay motivated?
“Focusing on what we do for our customers and their guests. Every event we operate means we've helped more people build connection and community through food.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“Sell first, build last. Focus on progress, not winning.”
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
“Finding ways to keep the company growing, creating a cohesive team, [and] building a product/service that people love.”
More on Dineable
We were fortunate enough to hear some valuable insights during our interview with Mark Surkin of Dineable that will inspire, motivate, and teach aspiring and established entrepreneurs alike.