Still Hungry: Toast Talks Growth and Collaboration at Hatch Fenway
Chris Comparato doesn’t have much time to sit down to lunch these days. The CEO of Toast, the fast-growing point-of-sale system for restaurants, headquartered in Hatch Fenway, instead usually finds himself “sprinting from one meeting to the other” at the time of day most are eagerly shuffling out of the office for a mid-day bite.
That is to say, he’s been busy. And it’s no surprise. The company, which just raised $30 million in Series B funding, plans to nearly double its staff in 2016, with hopes of creating 150 new jobs both in Boston and throughout its 45-state footprint. On top of that, Hatch, the now operational workspace for scaling businesses, is starting to fill up, providing Toast, the building’s first tenant, with new, previously untapped opportunities for collaboration.
Nonetheless, Comparato is keeping his finger firmly on the pulse of what’s happening with The Fenway’s diverse array of eateries. He has to, with area staples, like Mei Mei and Tatte Bakery, as well as the soon-to-launch Greek joint, Saloniki, among the company’s growing client base.
Last we caught up with Comparato, he schooled us on the company’s history and explained why it moved its base from Alewife to The Fenway (to wit, its close proximity to world-class universities graduating top-notch talent had a little something to do with it). This time around, we asked him what the future might hold for the company and about how the neighborhood’s newfound entrepreneurial spirit is evolving.
Hopefully he was able to manage some time for a lunch break after our chat.
In 2013, Toast had 10 employees. How many do you have now and how many are you planning to add in 2016?
Right now I’d say we’re in the range of 185 employees, give or take.
In 2016, we’re looking to add 150 employees to our team. I’d say about 50 percent of that growth will be outside of Boston and about 50 percent inside Boston, and based out of The Fenway or Hatch. These are pretty significant goals, but we’re excited about it and we’re excited about our momentum. Spread out, we’re now in 45 states across the country in terms of restaurants that we service, so we’re putting more direct sales reps, as well as services consultants, out in the field to match the growth in major cities.
I mentioned sales and services, but the other primary areas of hiring growth are in engineering, research and development, quality assurance and product management. At our core, we have a very strong engineering team and engineering culture. You’ll see us fuel some of that growth in terms of adding more technologists and engineers to our team. That’s a pretty significant piece of our growth in 2016. Then there are various other functions we’ll be expanding as we build out more infrastructure, including HR, finance and marketing.
Last w spoke, Hatch wasn’t yet what it is today. How have things changed in the six or so months since then?
There are a lot of signals and indicators that I see. One is just in the Hatch itself. We now have neighbors that are filling up the floor. It used to be Toast and Shoobx. Now there’s Shoobx, next to them you’ve got Appcues—successful small company, growing fast. Next to them, Her Campus Media moved in. It’s interesting because just in our hallways and in the Hatch area on the 8th floor of Landmark, it’s super busy. There’s just a lot more traffic and activity, which excites us because it’s like-minded, sort of early- to mid-stage startups, getting the job done but also having fun and networking.
We want to do more with them. As kind of an anchor tenant, one of my goals is to reach out and see if we can host more socials. A good example is today, we’re doing our quarterly Hackathon. We do it every 3 months, and it’s an opportunity for the company to shut down for a day and a half and work on some sort of novel solution, pioneering our product into new areas. I’d love to reach out to the other companies and our neighbors and say, ‘Listen, let’s all do the Hackathon on the same set of days and make it even more fun than it is just doing it at Toast alone.’
As the original tenant of Hatch, are there any particular new neighbors you have that you’re excited about following and seeing grow? And what are you doing collaboratively with them?
I’m excited about following all of them, to be honest with you. We’re actually starting to collaborate. You look at a company like Shoobx, we’re now using their software to do all of our employee onboarding and some of our corporate governance. That’s just an example of where we said, ‘Hey, listen, we can build all these tools ourselves, we could outsource to a much larger company, or we could leverage Shoobx and help those guys out and also give them feedback.’ For a while now we’ve been using them, but it’s nice to have them next door because if we see a glitch or a new functional requirement, we can go down the hall and say, ‘Hey guys, have you thought about this?’
We have a Toast University Online educational program, and we said, ‘Hey, can we use Appcues as software to help us build user training workflows on top of our tablet device?’ So now we’re collaborating with Appcues, and we’re prototyping with their tools to see if it could become part of our Toast University software stack.
Having these close neighbors allows us to not just hang out and have fun, but also talk about the value proposition that they’re going after, the value proposition that we’re going after, and where there are synergies where we can collaborate at the software level. And that’s interesting because I think it offers the teams a chance to work together and get some feedback. I’d say that’s a pretty unique opportunity coming out of being co-incubated with some of these other startups.