Editor’s note: This article was originally published on August 16, 2021. It was updated on November 5, 2021 to add details on the expansion of Bite Ninja’s seed round. Our parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Bite Ninja.
Bite Ninja co-founders Orin Wilson and Will Clem operate a chain of barbecue restaurants in Tennessee called Baby Jack’s, giving them a front-row seat to how Covid-19 has shifted the foodservice scene forever.
One of the main impacts has been a serious labor shortage in the hospitality industry, which has been so severe that some restaurant operators are being forced to close their doors on days they’d otherwise be open.
At the same time, Clem and Wilson noticed more and more people looking for ways to work remotely and achieve greater flexibility with their schedules. Before the pandemic, one in five Americans worked from home on a regular basis; today, that has risen to 71% – most of whom say they’d prefer to keep it that way, according to data from Pew Research.
“The pandemic just turned a light on what was already there because restaurants have had trouble staffing for forever,” Wilson tells AFN.
The Memphis-based startup recently closed a $4 million seed round which was led by Owl Ventures. AgFunder, Manta Ray, and TRAC also invested. The latest round followed a pre-seed raise in July involving AgFunder, Manta Ray, and and Y Combinator.
The idea for Bite Ninja was born on a Friday night when Clem decided to open his laptop at home, remotely log into his restaurant’s ordering system, and take orders at the drive-thru lane. His first reaction was how few people noticed that he wasn’t in the restaurant.
“Orin said, ‘You don’t realize what you’ve got here. You’re advertising a work-from-home job, this is something everyone is going to want,’ and he was right,” Clem tells AFN.
Why AgFunder invested in Bite Ninja – find out here
Bite Ninja is hoping to bring a bit of the gig economy to the restaurant world with its remote employee ordering system. The startup provides software that can integrate with restaurants’ existing ordering systems, allowing remote, casual workers — which it calls ‘Ninjas’ — to log in and take customer orders.
The Ninjas can handle orders from a variety of sources including online, phone calls, drive-thrus, and curbside check-ins. It also offers interactive displays that can be placed in drive-thrus or beside cash registers inside restaurants, allowing customers to connect with a Ninja who can take their order.
Bite Ninja takes care of hiring the Ninjas, providing them with training before sending them into the digital restaurant world.
“Things happen, and even if you have a beautiful restaurant and food ready to go, workers call in sick or have car trouble. As the manager, you’re calling around in a panic looking for help and by the time it arrives it’s probably too late and you’ve missed your peak rush,” Clem says.
“With Bite Ninja, it’s on-demand help. You can see a bunch of buses pull into the parking lot and within 20 to 30 seconds, Bite Ninja can fill up that counter. We’ve got restaurants that have four of our mounted displays at their registers.”
Once the rush is over, the restaurant can go back to using its in-person staffing, and the startup can deploy its Ninjas to work elsewhere.
The restaurant is charged on a demand-based basis similar to surge pricing; Ninjas can work for as long or as little as they like, and get paid instantly once they complete their shift.
“Some of our Ninjas may want to go out and do something that night,” Clem says. “They can work a few hours and the money is in their bank when they’re done. They don’t have to wait two weeks to get paid like in the normal restaurant world.”
Today, Bite Ninja has grown to a workforce of 3,000 Ninjas who are trained and ready to take orders for any restaurant in the US. It claims that it’s working with chains that have several thousand locations across the country to set up pilots.