A team of Overflow developers at work on the app, which is free to customers and bar owners. Photo by Zachary Moon
Written by Edward Smith
For bar patrons who want drinks faster and for barkeepers wanting to accommodate them, a new app hopes to streamline the interaction between consumer and purveyor – all for free.
Strummer’s in Fresno’s Tower District was the first to debut the app from Overflow Technologies Inc., followed by Veni Vidi Vici Dec. 6.
That’s two bars down and hopefully many more Fresno watering holes to go, said Nick Wortley. The Overflow team’s initial goal is to go live at 20 bars throughout Fresno, becoming “inescapable” by improving customer experience and efficiency behind the bar for bartenders spending too much time processing payments.
The trio behind Overflow is made up of Wortley, Overflow’s CEO; Adam Temple, chief innovation officer; and Michael Titus, chief operating officer. They came up with the idea a couple of years back when Titus and Wortley were in Los Angeles and Titus complained about a 45-minute wait time to get his tab closed out, saying “there should be an app for that,” according to Wortley.
Unlike other similar apps, Overflow works via an iPad the company provides to the establishment, eliminating the need to integrate with the numerous point-of-sale systems out there. The payment platform they use, Stripe, charges directly to and from bank accounts and owners can pull up a sales report that night.
Developers work with clients to create a menu of drinks. Customers create an account to see a list of specialties. They pick drinks from a menu, and when the beverages are ready, customers get a notification on their phone. All it takes is showing the bartender the order on screen.
For bartenders waiting to get drinks out fast, it gives indecisive customers a chance to figure out what they want without the bartender waiting around, said Rick Bains, bartender at Veni Vidi Vici.
Cash transactions can take 15 seconds and credit card systems can take 30 seconds every time they change hands.
“Having a drink pop up on a menu instantly – make the drink, here it is, no money transactions, you don’t do that whole process either – is kind of phenomenal,” said Bains, who has worked closely with the developers in adapting its features.
While the idea is not novel, Wortley said, the app focuses on creating profitability. They looked at other attempts to create a drink-ordering app and worked to differentiate their product.
One app called Flowtab that began in Santa Monica floundered because it couldn’t keep customers coming back, according to a 2013 article by TechCrunch.com. Another problem was a $1-per-order fee.
Wortley says they developed Overflow to cure many of these faults.
Temple and Wortley run Fresno-based tech firm Bixly Inc., and have done software design for companies including Apple, Google and Lockheed Martin, they said. They were able to design Overflow with their in-house team. One of the main priorities was making navigation easy at both ends of the transaction.
“There’s a saying that it’s really complicated to be simple,” said Wortley. “We spent a ton of time being minimal and stripping down features.”
And when they incorporate Google and Apple Pay in the coming weeks, it will make registering an account even faster.
For bartenders, they wanted fast and easy to match the fast-pace of working behind a bar.
“From the owner’s perspective, he gets his money directly, and the bartenders are still able to take their tips out of the drawer before the evening,” Wortley said.
And it’s in the navigation where the company hopes to fund the free support and hardware they are providing to businesses and consumers.
Where Overflow sees revenue potential is at the alcohol supplier and distributor end.
When asked what distributors and distillers can do to promote drinks at venues, John Carr, a representative with the California Alcohol Beverage Control in Sacramento said simply, “they can’t.”
Suppliers are not allowed to promote their products directly at the source – the bars. And yet, there is money to be spent.
There are workarounds. Bar patrons will occasionally find promoters from suppliers like Modelo to get people to buy beer with sponsored bar menus or drink coasters. Even more money is spent on television advertising.
Statista.com said beer companies together spent $1.5 billion in traditional media advertising in 2016. Liquor companies spent $376 million. Overflow can more effectively direct customers’ tastes, Wortley says.
“The idea with us is we’re essentially a payment processor,” said Wortley. “What the beverage companies are interested in is making it so when people order vodka drinks, their brand is chosen more often.”
They’ve tried running Tito’s as the default vodka drink, Wortley says, and when they did, it consistently made up 80 percent of all vodka orders. Eight times more than normal nights, Wortley said.
Until they begin getting those supplier contracts, Overflow is assuming all of the risk. Their 20-bar goal in Fresno and Clovis is by the end of the year, and would moves them from “that’s a cool idea, to here’s a contract,” Wortley said.
The team is currently in talks with two or three venues they hope to launch with this month.
While similar apps failed in bigger towns were app users were “inconsistent,” according to techcrunch.com, the geography of Fresno makes it a perfect test market, said Temple, Overflow’s chief innovation officer. In larger cities, you might find 1,000 bars and clubs in 50 square miles, Wortley said.
“Fresno is pretty big, but it only has 20 bars that are really hopping,” Temple said.
“And the next big city is two or three hours away, so you can’t just drive ten minutes to the next big city,” added Wortley. “It’s the perfect bubble for a test market.
They are slowly transitioning the 25 people at Bixly Inc. to Overflow Technologies. They are looking for $100,000 in investment capital to get them to the next phase of their business plan. With the product in place and the existing staff, all their expenses go toward marketing.
“I think it’s the future – in all honesty – for bars,” said Bains, the Veni Vidi Vici bartender.