Sunday 21 July 2019

Two's company: the Irish app that finds you a pal for dinner

Ronan Haughey, business development director; Ciaran Haughey, founder; and Caroline Haughey, HR director at Table4one
Ronan Haughey, business development director; Ciaran Haughey, founder; and Caroline Haughey, HR director at Table4one

Mark Evans

Late last year this column reported on the key differences between men and women on their travels for work. One of the key points was that while females hate dining alone, it's not as big a deal for men.

That's not the case for Ciaran Haughey.

A Table4one screen grab
A Table4one screen grab

He hates it, and the frequent traveller had a lightbulb moment two years ago, in a Manchester hotel. "It was the fourth night of a business trip, the fourth night eating alone," he recalled.

"I looked around the restaurant and there were 10 other people on their own in the same restaurant, looking at their phones."

That feeling of isolation was a constant bugbear for him, he says: "I enjoy a good meal, but I find it difficult to enjoy food on my own. Good company is a key ingredient." Looking around the restaurant, he did what everyone else was doing - and took out his phone. "I just wanted some way of connecting to them and I went online to see some way, or app, of doing that. I couldn't find anything so I thought 'there's a gap in the market'."

With it, the idea for Table4one was born: an app that connects people with business people in the same city who don't want to look like a Billy-no-mates. Users sign up via Google's Play Store or Apple's App Store, and enter details such as job, industry area and professional interests - whether they'd like to meet someone to talk business, pitch/be pitched an idea or even seek a job. Finally, and importantly, it asks for your social interests, whether they be sport, arts, politics, and so on.

The idea is to match you with like-minded individuals to while away an otherwise grim lunch or dinner time if you were dining solo.

"It's on a professional basis, it's finding someone in the same industry or similar objectives to what you have - it's LinkedIn for dining," he says.

The app is something of a passion for Haughey, with his brother and wife working on elements of the project.

Previously with Dell for nine years in technical support leadership roles, followed by a decade in the UK with Barclays, directing IT and HR operations, he now works full-time as a senior director of operations at a marketing company in the skincare and wellness sectors.

"I travel about 25-30pc of my time, so it's enough that it's still enjoyable and I like to see new places and experience new cultures - what I don't like is sitting down and having dinner on my own … I would rather travel with someone I don't like than on my own."

Launched at the last Web Summit in Lisbon, Table4one now has 27,000 downloads across 80 countries. "So, we're getting traction," he says. "Even with that, it is a numbers game, so 27,000 out of a global population is still a drop in the ocean, but it's a good start."

The app itself has a matching algorithm, so Haughey says if there if someone in the same industry or shares the same interests as you it'll match you with them, and has the ability to pull in some of your info from LinkedIn, adding: "We're quite early in our evolution, so the more we can grow the user base, the better the connection."

Given that it's a free app for users, it's monetised through restaurants, which can subscribe to be "at the top of recommended lists locally". Haughey says when the app reaches critical mass, he'll be looking to release a premium model with additional features and advertising. "It's been self-funding up to now, but we're looking at seed funding or angel investment now," he reveals.

What the app doesn't do - and it's clearly spelled out on it landing page - is act as a dating site. The feedback has shown that "women would feel a lot more comfortable with meeting other women business travellers". That option is provided, with users choosing from a list of would-be dining companions on their day of choice. On link-ups, he cites a recent example in Las Vegas, where he was showcasing the technology two weeks ago at the Consumer Electronics Show, where the CEO of a Japanese event management company, like EventBrite here, was using the app, and is now keen to do business with the Irish startup, and provided insights into its own IPO experience.

What the app has shown is the cultural attitude to food. "What we've found so far in Europe is the further south you go, the more adoption there is.

"The Latin cultures have more of a appreciation for the whole event of eating. Our biggest country for downloads is Portugal, then it's Spain and Morocco. In the Nordics there isn't the same uptake and culture."

And the Sligo native thinks being stand-offish can be bad for business, following the maxim of New York Times bestseller Keith Ferrazzi, a consummate networker, whose book was simply titled Never Eat Alone. "Two tables away could be your best business deal - investor, employer, it could change your life and you could miss out on that opportunity."

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