DCTech’s Venga Acquired by Open Table’s Parent

They say good things come to those who wait… They never worked in a startup. Sam Pollaro and Winston Bao Lord aren’t They. That’s why when they built it and no one came, they pivoted. That’s why they grinded and hustled and pushed ahead and that’s why after 9 hard years, they accomplished the unlikely and difficult task of building an enterprise that attracted the attention of the travel industry gorilla, Booking Holdings. Booking is the parent company of OpenTable, KAYAK, Booking.com and Priceline.com among other travel brands.

While the details of the deal have not been disclosed, Sam Pollaro confirmed that it’s a positive return for the investors, employees, and the founders.

When I asked Sam, if the exit provided enough cash for him to purchase a yacht and be summering in Cannes with the money that he didn’t put into the Pollaro Foundation, he responded, “I’ll probably spend less time comparing the cost of the Safeway brand products at the grocery store.”

I first met Sam and Winston when they were pitching for their two-sided, restaurant content marketplace back in 2010. I didn’t like the idea and I passed. But they went on to raise $500k in seed funding and grew the company to 23 employees, operating at around break-even and growing. I’d estimate revenues to be around $3 million. They started turning a profit on a monthly basis in 2017 and ran at a profit for the 2018 calendar year. It

When I passed on this one, I missed the tenacity and grit of the team. When Sam and Winston found their original thesis wasn’t taking off, they didn’t just pack it in. Undeterred by the lack of traction, Sam and Winston pivoted and evolved the product to one that helped the restaurateur.

Today, Venga’s product is focused on the restaurant industry and fitness studios. The product helps businesses provide better service and more tailored communications to customers as well as online reputation management.

In a conversation with Sam, he explained that they track how customers feel about details including, Service, Food, Ambience and Value providing the kind of KPI’s that aid the restauranteur to manage their business.

It’s rare for a hospitality space startup to make it  aren’t without tens of millions of venture funding (see post). What makes Sam and Winston’s effort, even more, impressive is how they achieved this exit with maximum capital efficiency. In DC we’ve seen a few very well funded startups sell for more money than Venga… and yet less money then they raised.  They are to startups what Pluto Nash is to movies. Pluto Nash cost $100 million to make and took in $10 million in revenue. Venga is more like Rocky, a movie that cost $1 million to make and has grossed over $127 million (no Venga didn’t sell for $127 million but they grossed much more than they cost).

Here’s the thing – we’ve had much flashier companies in DC. Larger exits, more press generating companies and entrepreneurs… but in DC, there isn’t a better story about two founders, good people, who stayed focused, kept working and built something great.

According to Pollaro, the company will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary of Booking Holdings and Sam expects to invest additional resources to help grow the company.

He expects to be hiring especially in the customer success area and looks forward to a sales and marketing bump from a closer relationship with OpenTable.

Great work Sam, Winston, and team!