Spotlight Interview: Matt Weinberg, Co-Founder and President, Development & Technology, Happy Cog


Matt Weinberg is Co-Founder and President, Development & Technology at Happy Cog, a full-service digital agency that helps restaurants and other organizations around the globe with design and branding strategies, web development projects, and digital marketing campaigns. Matt works directly with many of Happy Cog’s restaurant clients and is an expert in the evolving world of restaurant technology. He has over 16 years of experience building technology solutions for clients, leading the development of sites and apps ranging from large publishing platforms to completely custom eCommerce stores. We recently sat down with Matt to get his perspective on the benefits of next-generation restaurant technologies that “redefine the modern restaurant experience” and his experience working with one restaurant client, in particular, that has embraced these technologies to achieve success and “stay ahead of the curve despite the many new challenges the industry faces today.”

Congrats on your success at Happy Cog. Is it true that you founded the company while still in high school? 

Thank you! Yes. In fact, Happy Cog is a story of two companies: Happy Cog, founded in 1999 by web pioneer Jeffrey Zeldman, and Vector Media Group, which I co-founded in 2002 with my business partner (and high school friend) Lee Goldberg. On Nov. 1, 2018, Vector Media Group acquired Happy Cog. The acquisition merged Vector’s strong reputation and wide service range from design and development to digital marketing with Happy Cog’s history of driving web standards and human-centered design.

Now, our joint brand has more than two decades’ worth of client service experience and is a respected leader in the web development space, with deep experience in design and digital marketing. We’re proud to serve an increasing roster of clients in a wide variety of industries, including nonprofit, higher ed, consumer, B2B, SaaS, and, of course, restaurant groups and fast casual eateries.

Who are some of your clients, particularly in the restaurant sector, and what types of digital services do you provide for them?  

We have many clients in the restaurant and fast casual/QSR space with whom we’re proud to work with. Over the years we’ve enjoyed long-term partnerships with &pizza, Dig (formerly Dig Inn), Taco Mac, Leaf & Grain, Wendy’s, and all the Major Food Group brands (including Carbone). We’re a full-service digital agency which means we provide a wide range of services for our clients – most notably website and app design, website and app development, technology consulting and implementation, and digital marketing services (including paid media and SEO) – but also a lot of things in between. 

Let’s talk about your long-time client &pizza since you’ve been deeply involved in the company’s technology decisions over the years. &pizza launched less than a decade ago, in 2012, and now has 60 locations. What role has technology played in helping to drive &pizza’s rapid growth? How did the company weather the pandemic? 

We built an entire technical ecosystem for &pizza dubbed “&OS.” It includes a unique and custom ordering system that we built from scratch, along with custom ordering iPhone, Android, and Web apps, that seamlessly work together online and in-store. An order management and throttling system that we built feeds orders to a custom Kitchen Display System (KDS) that we also built, and combines them with orders from direct integrations with third parties such as Uber Eats, Caviar, and DoorDash without the use of third-party tablets. &OS is equipped to schedule orders, understand the capacity of various &pizza shops, throttle orders from any source as needed, and capture and analyze operational metrics such as make time. The system understands the difference between promise time and start time, completion and pick up times, and separates those metrics by shop, location, time of day and region. In some shops, we also created a large interactive live-updating pickup display screen that guests can use to track status (in addition to the text messages and/or push notifications they already receive). 

When the pandemic started, we amped up our efforts and quickly implemented a new curbside pickup feature and created an employee-facing expo tablet application. These are integrated with a text messaging system and arrival notification system, to keep consumers safe when picking up their pies. For example, when an order is ready, the system sends an automated text to the guest; guests can visually pick their parking spot and describe their car. Following curbside pickup, we worked with &pizza to revamp their digital menu interface — from pie selection to checkout — to be easier and quicker to navigate, increasing guest happiness and conversion rate. 

Our design and development teams have been working extremely closely with &pizza over the years, conceptualizing and leading the execution of their technical systems that have led to increased customer success. Even before the pandemic, &pizza’s partnership with Happy Cog over five years ago has allowed &pizza to stay ahead of the curve despite the many new challenges the industry faces today. Their priority has always been to build up their overall digital presence, and we’ve worked alongside them the entire way to make those goals a reality. Since our partnership began (and throughout the pandemic), we’ve been able to turn out countless new features and enhancements to their mobile and online ordering experiences. 

&pizza also apparently built its own cloud-based technology stack. What are the advantages of taking an in-house approach to technology development? What are the key components of the stack and is everything fully integrated in terms of data and technology interoperability?

The &OS ecosystem that Happy Cog custom-built has allowed &pizza to focus on bringing new functionality to the “f&m” (&pizza’s term for their employees) and guests while not being locked into the specific confines of a particular point-of-sale or other third-party service. The core of &OS lies in its custom API and administrative dashboard, which allows &pizza to enhance menu data coming from a particular POS, and use that as needed across their online ordering, apps, and third-party marketplace integrations. By controlling that whole flow, individual third-party services and integrations can be swapped out as needed from a business perspective.

One example of an advantage of taking an in-house approach can be seen in how Happy Cog has been able to work closely with &pizza to optimize the fulfillment of orders. In real-time, &OS is capable of determining which shop is best suited to fulfill particular delivery orders as well as determining the best third-party delivery service to use, based on rolling metrics for those shops and partners. In this way, &OS is able to balance shop load, shortest delivery/fulfillment times, and lowest cost of delivery in order to provide the best guest experience and business goals.

Can you talk a bit about &pizza’s customer loyalty program? What underlying technology was implemented, how is the data used and how effective has the program been in terms of driving customer loyalty and retention?

Happy Cog (in conjunction with our partners at Sparkfly and Cheetah Digital) has helped &pizza develop a program that allows guests to easily sign-up and identify themselves with nothing more than a verified phone number. Once guests have created an account, they are able to earn points from purchases (both in-shop and above store) and then redeem those for rewards in their wallet. Through various reengagement integrations, guests can receive SMS messages about special offers, one-off rewards that have been added to their wallet, and participate in SMS based games to earn additional rewards. &pizza has always been very SMS-focused, so being able to interact directly with guests in this way has continued to open up various opportunities to drive customer retention.

What new technology capabilities are you most excited about and should restaurant owners and operators also be most excited about now that the industry is hopefully returning to normalcy?

The post-COVID restaurant environment will look entirely different from before. As a result, restaurants have been charged with finding new ways to engage with their guests, engage their guests to order again, and make smart business choices to keep their customers and their staff happy. From savvy POS systems and curbside pickup optimizations, to touchless ordering and food delivery, we’re excited to be at the forefront of creating and finding solutions that redefine the modern restaurant experience.

What, in your view, are the biggest obstacles restaurant operators are likely to face over the next few years as they look to rebuild their businesses? How can technology help address those challenges?

COVID quickly forced the restaurant industry to realize that a digital world is becoming increasingly more important than a physical world. Even as restaurants reopen, customers may not feel safe dining in. As a result, it’s going to be very important for restaurant operators to get a lot smarter about how they are using technology to service their customers digitally. This means rethinking everything from what your operating systems look like to ensuring that your websites and mobile apps are incredibly responsive, friendly, and easy-to-use. 

This rapid shift to digital also means changes to the labor market. Restaurants will need to place greater emphasis on workplace innovation to attract and retain employees. That means they must be willing to implement (or optimize existing) technologies and systems to support changing labor needs. As a result, if employees feel more empowered to leverage technology, they can deliver better guest experiences and feel more empowered and happy to work in a well-run restaurant.

Another obstacle we’ve seen restaurants face during the pandemic has been related to marketplaces. While still a beneficial source for growth, the fees incurred on orders and loss of direct interaction with guests can prevent restaurants from developing long-term retention of those guests. Happy Cog has worked with &pizza to understand the tradeoffs of these different sources of customer acquisition, and build incentives and pricing for its customers that reflect &pizza’s business goals – including by using technology to understand more about, and better incentivize, guests that have ordered directly. Additionally, we’ve built technology to help optimize for the best and lowest cost delivery partner on delivery orders, which can help offset various fulfillment costs.

What will be the primary focus areas for Happy Cog over the next year, as it relates to the restaurant industry?

We look forward to continuing our relentless focus on helping restaurant brands modernize their digital platforms (a traditionally slow process in the industry). From custom software builds to new technical infrastructure to completely revamped digital ecosystems – we’re excited to be leading the way in finding the best solutions for our clients. 

We’ll also be focused on helping restaurants own as much of their customer data as possible (as opposed to third-party apps owning the data). The challenge of third-party centralization will force restaurants to adopt a more data-centric view of their businesses. Continuing our deep expertise in this area will be another primary focus for Happy Cog and something we look forward to this year and beyond.