Release Date: February 10, 2012
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Paper be damned. Two former servers from Western New York are spinning their experience waiting tables into a technology start-up that offers a digital solution for managing food and drink orders.
Refulgent Software, based in the University at Buffalo's Technology Incubator, produces and markets "Ambur," an iPod and iPad app that serves as a restaurant point-of-service system. Company founders James O'Leary, a former UB student, and Ansar Khan, a 2011 UB grad, developed and piloted the application while working at Kabab and Curry, Khan's family restaurant in Williamsville, N.Y.
Using Ambur, waiters can take orders on an iPod and route them instantly and wirelessly to an iPad, which sends the information to a kitchen printer. This saves servers time, eliminating the need to visit a fixed computer to log every table's orders.
Refulgent Software moved into the UB Technology Incubator, run by UB's Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR), in January. O'Leary said he and Khan were drawn to the facility because of the services it offers to entrepreneurs, including business seminars, guidance in seeking investment and coaching from professionals with experience in helping companies grow.
"We're a new business, so it's really valuable to have that sort of expertise in the building," he said.
View a video about Refulgent Software and how it was launched: http://bit.ly/yJWlVo.
Ambur's capabilities include splitting checks and processing credit cards easily. The app, which leverages an iPad as the restaurant's main computer, allows managers to export sales reports in file formats that QuickBooks and other accounting programs can read.
Refulgent Software does not levy a monthly fee for use of Ambur, which costs $999 to purchase. Customers don't have to pay for upgrades. The company bills its app as a product "designed by and for people who actually work at restaurants." That philosophy is part of what sets the firm apart from competitors.
"Restaurant owners are used to getting nickeled and dimed, and we wanted to remove that hostility," O'Leary says. "The market's lucrative enough that we know we're going to get our money without charging excess fees."
O'Leary came up with the idea for Ambur in 2009, when he was working at Kabab and Curry while studying economics at UB.
"I didn't like carrying around a notepad, and to have to constantly read what I scrawled," he remembers. "Sometimes, I had to go back to the customer and ask what they had ordered because I wasn't sure what I had written."
O'Leary came up with a tech-based solution to the problem: Cut out the paper altogether, and create an app that does the job.
At the restaurant, he tested his homemade system on his personal iPhone. Then, in 2010, when Apple debuted the iPad, something clicked: O'Leary saw the device and immediately realized that its touch screen resembled that of a restaurant computer.
"We realized there was an opportunity for a business," said Khan, who began working with O'Leary to design and test a networked system of iPods that fed food and drink orders to a central iPad.
Khan's parents, who established Kabab and Curry in 2001, also got on board, making recommendations on how to make Ambur more user-friendly. They gave feedback on how the app should provide financial reporting for business analysis, and on how to structure controls to limit employee access to sensitive operations.
After a successful pilot, Kabab and Curry replaced its point-of-sale system with Ambur, and Khan and O'Leary launched Refulgent Software.
Since April, the company has acquired more than 140 clients. The firm now employs five people, including Khan, who graduated from UB in May with a degree in biology, and O'Leary, who is taking a break from his studies to help expand the business.
"People often say that starting a successful business at our age is impressive, but to us, it's surprising how easy it was," said O'Leary, who, like Khan, is in his early 20s. "As long as you have an idea that fills a need for a group of people, and you execute that idea and get feedback on it, anyone can do it. We hope other students will see our example and try it themselves."
About Ambur: http://amburapp.com/
About the UB Technology Incubator: http://www.research.buffalo.edu/stor/incubator/