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Who: Mark Egerman, Co-founder
What: The app that lets you pay at restaurants without waiting for the check.
When: Founded in September 2012, then after a year of private beta testing officially launched to the public in October 2013
Where: New York, NY
How: Andrew Cove, Cover co-founder and longtime friend of Egerman’s, had the idea for the app in a sort of “ah-ha!” moment. Waiting for the check after a “remarkably slow” dinner, he says he realized it was a very similar process to paying for a taxi. It then struck him that what Uber did for cabs, did not exist in the restaurant world.
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Cove, knowing Egerman’s technical and legal backgrounds, called him to pitch the idea of collaborating to create a digital payment experience for restaurant goers. Egerman, who was then working as Policy Analyst/Mobile Payments Lead for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says he packed up his bags and moved his family from the Nation’s Capital to the Big Apple to gets started on the project.
The two worked out of Egerman’s apartment, bootstrapping the initial portion of the build. Then earlier this year, Cover raised $1.5 million in venture capital funding.
“Restaurants pay incredibly high costs to process credit cards – one of the highest rates for a sector in the whole economy,” says Egerman. “We realized we could make money from the beginning and save small businesses money [as well].”
The app has a clean, sleek design and is simple to use. Users log in and are prompted to either create or join a table at a restaurant. Several diners can split the bill simply by joining a table. After letting the restaurant know they’re paying with cover, diners can put their phones away and let the restaurant handle the rest. The app even leaves your tip for you.
In the last year, Cover has partnered with over two dozen eateries in New York including Northern Spy, Estela, Carbone, Parm, L’Artusi and El Toro Blanco.
Biggest challenge: Egerman says the biggest challenge the company faced was getting restaurants to work with them early on, especially during the testing period.
One moment in time: The first time customers used the app at the end of September 2012, the co-founders sat in a nearby bar with their laptops, nervously watching the servers during the meal.
“We needed to make sure everything went perfect and it was a tense few hours as we waited,” Egerman recalls. “I still remember the moment when the bill was submitted, that we saw people’s cards had been correctly charged and that everything had worked.”
Best business advice: “I think the best advice that we would give is to build your product for a specific merchant vertical -- this gives you the chance to build with context. Context-free apps or tools don't work,” Egerman says. “We built Cover to address a very specific experience: paying at a sit-down restaurant.”
Most influential: Egerman credits New York for having the largest influence on Cover as a company. Ask anyone, for New Yorkers and tourists alike, restaurants are the new Broadway.
“New York is the restaurant capital of America. The thriving startup culture here has supported and welcomed us and helped us build our business. And New Yorkers value good food, good service, and perhaps more than anything else, their time,” he says. “This is why Cover has been such a success here and we couldn't have done it anywhere else.”