Shandee Chernow is the Founder and CEO of CertiStar, a Phoenix-based menu software company designed to help restaurants navigate food allergies. Launched in 2017, the software allows a partnered restaurant to take the pressure off their operations team and staff, knowing they can safely serve food-allergic guests. Shandee sits down with Chris Snyder to discuss how CertiStar leverages big data from restaurant partners to code food allergens safely and accurately.
How Shandee leveraged her computer science background to build CertiStar
The financial impact food allergen guests have on restaurant owners
The value of offering food allergen-friendly menus for restaurants
Leveraging big data to safely code food allergens in menu items
How CertiStar is helping the restaurant industry during COVID-19 shutdowns
This episode is sponsored by Juhll. They are a full service digital marketing consultancy that has over 20 years of experience helping your business grow sales online. They've helped most of their clients grow more than 50% year over year by helping them meet their digital marketing goals.
Juhll Digital Agency works with companies who are doing $50 million in top line revenue that have a marketing budget of $2 million. They build your company from the ground up and they also help you in creating a strategy that will work best for your team.
"The average conversation for a food allergy person to figure out what it is that they can safely order is between eight and twelve minutes." - Shandee Chernow, CertiStar
"You take an allergy person, you really take great care of them, keep them feeling safe, give them all the options, not make them have the big, long conversation. You have a loyal guest." Shandee Chernow, CertiStar
"And something else to keep in mind when you've got a group going out - nearly 100% of the time, the food allergic person has veto power. " - Shandee Chernow, CertiStar
Chris Snyder [00:00:05] Hello, everyone. Chris Snyder here, host of the Snyder Showdown, President at Juhll.com and founder of Banks. com. We usually talk with industry leaders and entrepreneurs about what's working and what's not with their growth programs. We actually decided to pivot to show and hear how industry leaders are guiding their teams through this tough time of COVID-19. Of course, we'll still cover all the growth-related programs. Our sponsor for the show today is Juhll. Juhll is a full-service digital consultancy, and we focus on helping executives solve their toughest digital growth problems. We do this while working as an extension of the executive team. We quickly identify the biggest problems impeding growth. We propose solutions that give you the best opportunity for success. Finally, the work has to get done. So we bring a private marketplace, a vetted world-class talent to execute your growth plan. And of course, we manage that whole process. To learn more, go to Juhll dot com. That's juhll.com. Or you can email Chris directly at Chris@juhll.com. OK, without further ado, today I have Shandee Chernow. Now she is the founder and CEO of CertiStar, a Phoenix based menu software company designed to help restaurants navigate food allergies. Launched in 2017, the software allows a partnered restaurant to take the pressure off their operations team and staff, knowing they can safely serve food-allergic guests. The software allows for a red, yellow, green stoplight scenario that can within a three-second search showing guess which menu options are safe and which should be avoided. Welcome, Shandee.
Shandee Chernow [00:01:53] Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on.
Chris Snyder [00:01:56] OK, great. Before we dive, sort of start, tell us where you grew up and how you chose math and computer science as a focus in your early years.
Shandee Chernow [00:02:04] Sure. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is right outside of Washington, D.C. I say in D.C., anybody who lives there will say that's not D.C. But if I say Silver Spring, Maryland, anyone in the rest of the country says, we've never heard of that. So we'll go at D.C. I'm a recovering Redskins fan because of it. It's a little bit difficult these days to really love that team.
Chris Snyder [00:02:25] Hey, all that was a Bills fan. We lost four seats so that this can't be any worse than that. It can really get pretty painful.
Shandee Chernow [00:02:33] So you asked about computer science and math. Well, I guess I went to school and majored in what I was good at, what came easy to me. A school that I went to, you got to pick your classes based on. You could see how many tests and papers and everything. And I avoided papers and writing at all costs. And once you have a computer science degree, their math is only a couple of more classes away. There was a lot of overlap. And so I went ahead and bite the bullet and went for the double major. But when we were talking a little bit earlier, you mentioned, is that what you really wanted to do? Right? No, I went with what I was good at or if I had had my choice and had really gone up to the pastors and done everything that I wanted to do, I would have probably ended up in medicine.
Chris Snyder [00:03:21] Wow. Yeah, that's interesting. Well, you know what? I'm a little conflicted, though, because doing what you're good at, if it comes easy to you, there's a way to integrate. Well, in your particular case, medicine is getting very mathematical, right, in, candidly CertiStar? You've probably enrolled a lot of math. Oh, for sure. In calculus into what you're trying to do, which we're gonna get into.
Shandee Chernow [00:03:44] So the logic behind it is it is pretty technical to figure out all the other things that someone can safely eat, for sure.
Chris Snyder [00:03:50] Yeah, for sure. So I think also being an entrepreneur and having that, you know, probably problem-solving basis, how has that helped you become a better entrepreneur or what is that uniquely enabled you to do relative to someone who doesn't have that background?
Shandee Chernow [00:04:09] Yeah, it's it's really interesting. In my first five years out in the workforce, I was designing software at MicroStrategy. They gave me a couple of products that I was kind of in charge of the functional design for and deciding what was in there. But I was always a part of a larger team that had larger vision and decision making and whatnot. So one of the things that I really enjoy about being an entrepreneur, particularly in the software space, is that as we design things, I'm the one who gets to have that kind of final say. Not to say that, you know, we it isn't a team effort and we don't I'll figure it out together. But, you know, as that problem solving comes down the pike and we need to figure out how it is that the best way to do something or how it is to best solve a problem. You know, I feel like I have a good skill set there and I've got a good background to be able to figure out exactly what the right solution is for our customers, knowing all the things that I know about what it is that we do. So it's been super duper useful.
Chris Snyder [00:05:05] So MicroStrategy, correct me if I'm wrong. They sell database software analytics, business intelligence software to large or organizations. Right. Not small businesses. They have large data sets that they work with. They solve some pretty large problems. So transitioning from a large team with a lot of data is probably sometimes very large budgets. Now you're moving in to sort of star where you basically start from scratch. You have prob probably I'm making an assumption here, but let's talk about the journey. A great company that's been around for a long time. A team that's super smart. You have clients that are super smart. And then you wake up one day, you're like, full stop. I want to get my ass kicked all day, become an entrepreneur.
Shandee Chernow [00:06:01] Like it's a super fun decision to make. When I was selling software. So my territory. To your point was billion-dollar companies and above in the desert southwest. Right. Super sophisticated with solid budget. You know, big problems and big datasets. Those are my customers. And so as a salesperson in that industry, one of the things that I did a lot was go out to dinner and out for drinks and out to lunch. And I'm kind of out to eat and drink all the time. Right on travel. And when you have food allergies, that's really challenging. So what I would do it. I would find myself getting to the restaurant, you know, thirty, forty-five minutes ahead of time, figuring out where we were going to sit pending the waiter, you know, against the wall. I mean, like, OK, we've got to have this big, long conversation about what it is that I can eat. And then I need you to pretend we didn't have this conversation. And I'm going to go back out there and you guys are going to eat me here with my whole. You've never seen each other before. Yeah. Right. And it was all to avoid this, like, super awkward, kind of stigmatized, overly personal and vulnerable conversation in front of my prospects and customers. Right. So there's this kind of big spun out hidden piece to what it is that I was doing just to be able to sit down and have a social business meal with someone.
Chris Snyder [00:07:15] Yeah. And this is, what, two or three days a week? And this could be launched. This could be at dinner. This could be I don't even know. I just I have a lot of empathy for people that have to do extra stuff because it's already hard. Right. Right. You've got to get the reservation. You've got to make sure the clients are happy. You got to make sure there's parking. How far away is it? If it's a hundred degrees? Do they like many things to consider when you're in a client services client-facing business and now you've got this issue?
Shandee Chernow [00:07:45] Exactly. It's just a heavier burden to carry. Right. And you're it's a life and death line. You don't you don't want somebody to screw it up. You have to have that kind of Robert conversation, if you will. But you don't want to do it in front of someone that you're trying to sell stuff to. Right. Awkward relationship where they'd be a little awkward, I think. Right. And so, I mean, the way that I tell it, I got tired of trying not to die every day. I didn't like that. I thought, you know, there's got to be a better way. And if you think about that background and data and querying and business intelligence, we can play bingo with all the best friends over there. Food allergies and a restaurants menu. It's really just a big data problem. There's lots of food allergies. Hundred and seventy, which isn't a huge data thing. There's a ton of ingredients, right. Our database has well over three hundred thousand ingredients encapsulated in it. And then every menu has a ton of recipes and all of those component recipes and all the things that those dishes are made up of. So really what we're doing is putting all of that together in order to figure out what can be safe for a particular guest.
Chris Snyder [00:08:51] Yeah, you're like the eHarmony or the Match.com.
Shandee Chernow [00:08:55] Of food allergy management stuff. It's just that's a great analogy. Yeah. Because you have to make the match.
Chris Snyder [00:09:04] And if you screw this up, you know, you made an interesting point about life or death. And I think, you know, me being someone without food allergies, I don't have a way of understanding it. It's like talking to someone about being an entrepreneur. And they're not. It's not until you do these things. Right. But I think for me, just knowing that someone could actually die if you mess this up, the accountability and the ownership here is massive and you are the use case. I mean, let's be clear. You're the use case. You're solving this problem for yourself, right?
Shandee Chernow [00:09:42] Yeah. And I have used our software and eaten at every single one of our customers.
Chris Snyder [00:09:47] That's amazing. So you are here. So so actually I'm kind of interested. This is completely off the cuff. What kind of data stacked you guys use? What kind of technology you're using Google stuff for using Amazon stuff. I mean, you may not want to comment. You like Chris. I'm not going there. I'll get my CTO on.
Shandee Chernow [00:10:08] But I'll tell you, if you get too technical, you know, they took my computer science card away a long time ago, OK? But, you know, we're hosted in a very large hosting company. And we're using we use Linux and we use MySQL. And we're basically a website that does a lot of its data queries. And there's a ton of logic behind the scenes, which is all patent-pending, right? All of it. Yeah. All the things that you have to be able to go through to figure out whether something is really safe, the way that it works, as everything starts out in red, unsafe. And if it's able to kind of work its way up to yellow, great. And yellow is usually a modification. So whether it's cooking and clean equipment or leave off a particular component or some combination there. And then it really has to work hard to get to greening. Everything starts out and now you can't have that. And then we end up giving everybody as many options as possible. So you mentioned that you don't have food allergies. I didn't either until I was twenty-eight. And one day I woke up with this big, huge fat lip. It turns out that 15 percent of people who have food allergies develop them in their adulthood. Wow. They say it can be any food at any age, any person.
Chris Snyder [00:11:19] Well, OK. So now that's interesting because I think when I was this had to be when I was in my early thirties, which was a while ago now, but I actually went and got one of those allergy tests done where they take your whole back and they poke you like two hundred forty times.
Shandee Chernow [00:11:39] Oh, I know that test. It's the most ridiculous.
Chris Snyder [00:11:42] Yeah, but I couldn't have died from that. I mean, I'm not married.
Shandee Chernow [00:11:45] My allergist and I have a deal - we're never doing that again.
Chris Snyder [00:11:46] Oh my God. It got to a point when they were like a quarter of the way done. They literally take needles and they use your...they call it a back panel. I think. Yeah, it's just it was the most ridiculous thing ever, and they were like, OK. You're allergic to grass.
Shandee Chernow [00:12:06] My entire back blows up.
Chris Snyder [00:12:07] Yeah. I only had a little spot, little spots here and there for horses. OK, great. I don't hang around a lot of horses, so I'm good there. Cats already knew I was allergic to cats and then it was like grass. Everything has grass, your money.
Shandee Chernow [00:12:23] Yeah. Literally, my entire back turns red and puffs up. It's not it's not cute.
Chris Snyder [00:12:29] So you're not you're not doing that anymore.
Shandee Chernow [00:12:31] You don't know it. Well, for it for environmental stuff the scratch test and the blood tests are super useful for food allergies. It's a different kind of reaction. And so, you know, the way we like to talk about it. Not a doctor. Is that food allergy tests are a good starting point to figure out what it is that you might be allergic to. But it's not a definitive and the only real way to know if you've got an anaphylactic allergy to something is to eat the food and then see what happens. But you shouldn't do that at home. Don't try this at home, kids. Wow. If you think you might be allergic to something, work with your allergist to figure out how best to determine that.
Chris Snyder [00:13:04] So what do they do? They dose you. So I've heard about this because my son has a friend that gets that that used to get that way. He's actually better now. They dosed him with small amounts of like eggs. As in again, I guess he just went in and they dosed him and now he's. We'll have to worry about him dying if he comes over and accidentally eats something and nobody reads the package.
Shandee Chernow [00:13:29] Right? I mean, oral immunotherapy. They've got that for a few of the foods and they've shown, you know, pretty, pretty good results. The jury's still out on how that's going to look. You know, across the board for all the different types of foods.
Chris Snyder [00:13:43] OK. So I'm going to date myself a little bit. But I was born in the 70s and I grew up in the 80s and 90s. And I got to be honest with you. Never met my entire life. Didn't meet probably a single kid with food allergies.
Shandee Chernow [00:13:57] Sure. Yeah. I was born in the 70s. Grew up in the 80s and 90s, too. Same experience.
Chris Snyder [00:14:00] What is going on here? Why is this happening? Do you have a comment on that?
Shandee Chernow [00:14:04] I have a lot of comments on that one. I think that, you know, the stigma is starting to kind of come off as we have more and more access to information. Those people who are food allergic can actually see that there's lots of other people who are food allergic to and that it's OK. One of the reasons that we feel like, you know, restaurants all say, oh, we're really good at this is because a lot of food allergy people will kind of roll the dice every single time they go out to eat. They read the menus and they might ask a couple of qualifying questions, but they're not really revealing the severity of what might happen because of the stigma. They don't want to have that conversation. So a couple of things. One, I think that the stigma is coming off, too. I think that people are more vocal about it now because they realize that they're not allowed three. And this we're getting pretty anecdotal here. But if you look at the information around, when we started really putting a lot of GMO stuff in the crops and a lot of pesticide usage, there is there seems to be not a doctor. Pretty high correlation between the two. Now it's impossible to go back. I'm allergic to peanuts. Never was growing up, right. I used to eat peanut butter with a spoon out of the jar. Yeah. If we take my body back to 1980, whatever. Would I still be allergic to peanuts? I don't know. We can't do that.
Chris Snyder [00:15:24] Yeah. No, it seems I'm just thinking qualitatively about it, not quantitatively. And you've made a good point, which I never thought about before, which is. Well, hey, man, not a lot of people would bring it up because they didn't want to inconvenience people and maybe they felt like a dummy about it when just, you know, in times back then. I mean, it was I mean, it was a little bit rougher than it is now when you had an issue.
Shandee Chernow [00:15:49] Right. Yeah, for sure. Right. And, you know, there's a so there's a statistic around prison populations. So in the US, 10.4 Percent of the population is considered food allergic. And that's symptoms bad enough that, you know, the doctors agree. It's not like, oh, I'm allergic to this right now. This is the medical community - basically, it's a 10.4 Percent. In the prison population. It's like 3.1 Percent. So one could draw the conclusion that people with food allergies don't commit as many crimes have not. Or you could draw the conclusion that they don't want to provide a vulnerability to the rest of the population to be able to be used against them. Well, I think I think there's something to be extrapolated there. To your question about where is where's all this coming from? People don't want to reveal that.
Chris Snyder [00:16:33] That's a good point. So I want to get, I want to throw a word at you to just because I'm thinking about how many of you basically have this marketplace of allergies. Right. Or this marketplace of allergies. You also have a marketplace of ingredients. Do you? How did you build or buy a taxonomy to get your information architecture straight about how all of this is going to go? Because I can't imagine that something to this scale had been produced commercially before, maybe in a research lab where you've got some really smart people looking at this stuff, but you have to have some information and data structure here and it has to make some sense.
Shandee Chernow [00:17:18] Yeah, we built it. So, I mean, again, that's my background. Right. Is literally in designing and creating and analyzing and getting the best out of data. And so that turned out to be applicable to what it is that we do. There's quite a few data sets including, you know, good old brute force that are included in the underpinnings of CertiStar and what we build.
Chris Snyder [00:17:43] Yeah, that's amazing.
Shandee Chernow [00:17:44] I understand why no one's ever built it before. For sure.
Chris Snyder [00:17:47] Well, one would argue the perfect like the perfect use case had to come along that cared enough about it, literally turned it into a like a founder's dilemma that could've been life or death. This was clearly a huge problem for you. And you were clearly equipped to solve the problem uniquely. And that's probably why has been done before.
Shandee Chernow [00:18:08] The necessity of invention - there's a saying about that.
Chris Snyder [00:18:09] Exactly. So, OK, so let's talk about the transition to CertiStar. Did you finally just go to one of these lunch meetings one day and just go? I'm so tired of this shit, I gotta do something about it and quit your job and start a company the next day? How did how does that work?
Shandee Chernow [00:18:26] Yeah, basically. And that that's a compressed timeline of what happened. So I had some, you know, private friends and family that we've kicked around a lot of ideas over the years and every single one has gotten destroyed. I don't know how this goes. Right. Some great idea. You're all excited about it and then you tell somebody else about it. And so that lunch moment happened for me and I when I got this great idea, punch all the holes and they went. Let's do this one. And I went. What do you mean? I don't understand. Where's the hammer? And so I went and met with the attorneys who are now our law firm, and they happened to specialize in the defense of the food service industry. So we're all on the same team. I asked them to similarly bring the hammer, if you will, and figure out kind of all the places where we needed to make sure to protect ourselves. And then I quit my job and started the company the next day.
Chris Snyder [00:19:29] Got it. Got it. You have co-founders.
Shandee Chernow [00:19:32] I have co-investors.
Chris Snyder [00:19:35] Co-investors. So this is probably some angel or seed-ish money, institutional or you guys did this on your own?
Shandee Chernow [00:19:46] We did this on our own.
Chris Snyder [00:19:47] That's awesome. I do the best way to do it. Look, my business partner, I would say also my wife. We've done a few these on our own as well. And I mean, look, obviously, there's trade offs, but you run the show, right. And, you know, you don't spend a lot of time in board meetings or playing politics or status games. You don't spend a lot of time on airplanes. You spend your time with your clients and your team. So you probably go a little slower. But I would argue that it's probably gonna be better. I would argue that.
Shandee Chernow [00:20:18] So, yeah, no, I. I find pros and cons. Right. I mean, what keeps me up in the middle of the night? Are we doing the right thing this way? Are we doing the right thing that way? Yeah. Those are the reasons I don't sleep. You know, it's to your point, it's true. We're able to move a lot faster in some ways. Right. So I founded the company in August of 2017. And the patents were filed in November. And the software was launched generally available, built, fully ready, fully tested in March.
Chris Snyder [00:20:49] That's fast. I'm jealous.
Shandee Chernow [00:20:55] Very fast. I mean, there's not there's I don't know what the average in the industry. But you hear about companies who are three years in and they haven't launched the product yet it's not because they're doing anything wrong. It's because it's hard to launch software products. It's hard to build it. But when you have far less cooks in the kitchen, it's much easier.
Chris Snyder [00:21:10] Yeah, well, if you know what you're doing, it's much easier to. I think a lot of people just don't know what they're doing. They stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night and now they're an entrepreneur and they get a couple million bucks in funding.
Shandee Chernow [00:21:22] It's probably helpful that I have a degree in designing software.
Chris Snyder [00:21:26] Probably helpful. Yes. All right.
Shandee Chernow [00:21:28] So my developers went with me a lot on it.
Chris Snyder [00:21:30] So. So now let's talk about your pitch to restaurants, actually, before we get there. Who is in your target market? Because I'm thinking in my mind, some of the most appealing restaurants that I'd like to go to is the granny Italian. She doesn't write anything down or he doesn't write anything down. And now you've got options. You've got the pizza or the pasta or the salad. And they're not there's no ingredients. So tell me about your ideal customer profile. Is it the ones that have 70 chains that everything's all documented or is it. Can you help the really small ones? Or is it more towards the very large Applebee's? Like, tell us a little bit about your target market.
Shandee Chernow [00:22:18] There's a lot to unpack on that question. So. Let's start with who's not. So anything that's kind of farm to table, we hit the market this morning and found the following things. We would love to be able to help those guys, but it's probably not anyone's most efficient use of resources, right, when the menu's changing every single day. We require a lot of detail. Think about that. Right? Every single menu item, every single component recipe, every single ingredient. What brand are using all of those details? Right. And so that takes more than a day to be able to really do well and do accurately so that we're giving back exactly the right answer. So let's take those guys and put them over there as lovely and amazing as they are. When you the sweet spot starts in probably between five and ten of the same restaurant. Right. So we're putting the menu in once we're making tweaks for each of the locations. Sure. But really, there's kind of one core set of recipes and ingredients and then that work is able to be made use of in multiple places started. Go ahead and then. You know, obviously. Scalability is our friend.
Chris Snyder [00:23:31] Well, that's what I was gonna ask you, because I was in my mind, I was kind of thinking like, how the hell did she do this? Because this these restaurants, there's got to be millions, right? How many restaurants are there in the U.S.?
Shandee Chernow [00:23:44] About a million. Pre-pandemic.
Chris Snyder [00:23:45] OK. So there's a million restaurants. And I mean, your target is probably at least half of that, right?
Shandee Chernow [00:23:55] Yeah, that's right. So about seven hundred thousand of them are individually owned and operated. So it leaves us with, you know, somewhere in that area of three hundred thousand. Just in case anybody from the National Restaurant Association is listening, give or take a few.
Chris Snyder [00:24:12] So so 30 percent of this universe you can help, which means that every time...
Shandee Chernow [00:24:17] We can help the individual ones too, but they're going to look at us as less cost-effective.
Chris Snyder [00:24:20] Yeah, we're gonna get into that, too, because the end I would like to understand a little bit. OK, so now that we've identified 30 risk 300000 restaurants across the United States of America, by the way, if you're listening, listen to the details here, because you probably need the solution. Three hundred thousand restaurants across the United States of America could potentially use this product. Now, give us the pitch. What does it do? What do you tell a restaurant owner? And I'm sure you've told hundreds of restaurant owners this thing.
Shandee Chernow [00:24:49] Yeah. So just for a background, and when people hear about what it is that we do not the restaurants, but, you know, kind of Joe Public, they like to focus on the food allergy part. Oh, my gosh, this must be so helpful for people. It's not really what we're pitching. So from a pitch perspective, it's about efficiency. So right now, you know, one of the number one metrics in the restaurant industry is table tourney time. Yeah. How long is somebody sitting in that seat before I can put somebody else in it? Right. And so an average restaurant, you know, it's going to change drastically from French Laundry to McDonald's. Right. But if we're gonna pick average somewhere and like that 45 to 50-minute range. Lunch, dinner, breakfast. The average conversation for a food allergy person to figure out what it is that they can safely order is between eight and twelve minutes.
Chris Snyder [00:25:43] Oh, my God.
Shandee Chernow [00:25:45] So think about that. Right. Just straight up efficiency. Straight up. How many people can we see through this service?
Chris Snyder [00:25:50] It's twenty-five percent of your time is wasted.
Shandee Chernow [00:25:54] And 10 percent of your guests are hitting you with.
Chris Snyder [00:25:56] Yeah, that's amazing. And 10 percent of your guests. Right. See, I don't know why anybody else didn't want to have this conversation. They are hooked on the food allergy part. I do care about people and their allergies. I'm absolutely more interested in this.
Shandee Chernow [00:26:10] Sure. I mean, the altruistic aspect of it is certainly valid. I don't mean to undermine that. But from a business perspective, you know, someone is the efficiency piece, too. In general, what happens is the food allergy person is going to tend to try to be less of a burden. I'll just have a green salad. I'll just have a baked potato. I'll just have a side. Right. Something they know is safe and they can eliminate that stigma in that conversation for themselves. Right. So what we're doing now is giving them every single option on the menu so they can now order an appetizer and an entree and a dessert and a side and a cocktail. People don't think about beverages. So we're taking a customer who was ordering a six dollar salad and now all of a sudden we're bringing their average ticket price, other metric, significantly higher, if not above the average price. We're taking a nonprofitable customer turning their table more quickly and turning them into a much more profitable customer.
Chris Snyder [00:27:05] So your pitch, quote unquote, so we've already identified the market. We know how you got here, but your pitch is not going to a restaurant and say, look, we're going to save lives and you're going to be an amazing human being for doing this.
Shandee Chernow [00:27:20] We started that way.
Chris Snyder [00:27:23] You will be, by the way. But your pitch, your actual value to the organization is actually there's some unique economics involved here. And we can show you guys that we can do this. Is that OK?
Shandee Chernow [00:27:35] Yeah, that's exactly right. So let's make it more efficient. We want more butts in seats, if you will. We want to make those seats more profitable. And also, there's a there's an aspect of risk mitigation. So if you're having less reactions, great. That puts you up for less lawsuit potential. And also, food allergies are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. So I can't tell you how many times I enumerate what happens still on the regular where I go in with my food allergies and a restaurant will say, I'm sorry, we can't guarantee you that we'll keep you safe. So we don't feel comfortable serving you. And I always say that's illegal.
Chris Snyder [00:28:10] What?
Shandee Chernow [00:28:10] I'm gentler than that. I say, look, I'm never going to make that phone call. I will sit here with my iced tea and be perfectly happy. Right. I'm good. But the next person may not. And I just want you to be aware of that.
Chris Snyder [00:28:22] Well, did you tell them that there's nine hundred ninety-nine thousand other restaurants that will be happy to help you?
Shandee Chernow [00:28:28] Yes. Yeah, there's the three pieces, right, so there's the efficiency, the profitability and the risk mitigation.
Chris Snyder [00:28:34] OK. So there's also probably some tech stack items that they have to come equipped with because you walk into a restaurant, if they hand you a paper menu, that never changes. Like, that's gonna be difficult for you guys to deal with, too. Like, they probably have to have some tech, some sophistication around this. Like, tell us a little bit about that.
Shandee Chernow [00:28:55] So we hosted specifically for this reason that you've pointed out, which is, you know, very astute of you to do at the restaurant industry, isn't necessarily as technically advanced as some other industries are. So we host everything. We have no high tech infrastructure requirements on their side at all. And we are completely device-independent. So you can use, you know, the managers phones. You can use, you know, like Kindle Fires there. They start at like 50 bucks. Right. You don't have to go out and buy really fancy $1,200 tablet or whatever. We don't care whatever device you've got available, even if you only just embedded into your website. No device at all. You know, put it onto the guests, say, hey, can you go check out our website and let us know what you like to order? Use the menu that way.
Chris Snyder [00:29:44] So let's so let's get into how it works then, since you started that conversation. Well, so first of all, before I ask you how exactly it works, I can't imagine that since you called your company CertiStar that you wouldn't give everyone a CertiStar thing to put on their window. So everyone, the 30 million people in this country know that they're CertiStar secure or whatever.
Shandee Chernow [00:30:09] CertiStarred.
Chris Snyder [00:30:14] Why don't you call it Sort of Starred?
Shandee Chernow [00:30:15] You can be CertiStarred or you can be sort of starred.
Chris Snyder [00:30:19] Yeah, exactly. That would be good because you could die if you were only sort of starred So before we get into how it works. Let me ask you a question about Stripe. So Stripe has these neato things. I feel like they've changed the experience dramatically for me anyway. Do you guys have a relationship with those guys? You integrate with software like that or how like how does that work?
Shandee Chernow [00:30:43] Actually, we use Stripe in our backend for payment, too. All right. Yeah. Their system is great.
Chris Snyder [00:30:49] So. So let's talk about how it works. If someone walks into a restaurant. They have the CertiStar stuff. They start to tell a waiter or waitress, I have what do they say? I have food allergies. And then the waiter runs away and grabs a Kindle. Like what happens here?
Shandee Chernow [00:31:05] Yeah. So there's a couple of different options. We've intentionally made it logistically flexible. Like I was mentioning with the devices before, we don't want to dictate how would be interaction with the guest goes for the restaurant. We want the restaurant to do that because we don't want to change the experience that they are trying to have with their guests. But in theory, yes. So the customer says, hey, I got some food allergies. You know, we need to have that conversation. The server goes and gets the tablet, brings it back, and then puts in the allergies. Hence the search button and the menu comes back. Stoplight style, green, yellow, red. So allergy-friendly, allergen friendly with modifications, and unsafe. And then it's all broken up by category, the same way a regular menu would be, you know, appetizers, entrees, side desserts, whatever the menu looks like.
Chris Snyder [00:31:53] So it's your menu as a restaurant owner, displayed on your tech because they give you all the data. I'm assuming that's right. And since you don't have to integrate with their system, you're just like, look, pull up a website address on a Kindle handed to these guys and it's red, yellow, green. And you just hand it to the person at the table and they're off to the races. Is that is it really that easy?
Shandee Chernow [00:32:18] It is really that easy. And you can put in any combination of allergens. So there's a few systems out there that restaurants use or have built themselves that are competitors which only deal with the top eight. So the top eight are peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, dairy, wheat and soy. Somehow I came up with nine, so I must have duplicated.
Chris Snyder [00:32:41] There's something about math. It's that math and computer science background.
Shandee Chernow [00:32:44] Words are not my forte. So we allow any food, any combination. So mine are shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, which are our top eight. And then pork totally, you know, out of balance.
Chris Snyder [00:32:57] You might be the first person I've ever met allergic to pork.
Shandee Chernow [00:33:00] I met a woman. I was at an airport food court one day and I said to her, you know, hey, you got to have this conversation. I'm allergic to pork. And she, like, came over the counter. She was like, me too! We had like this big hugging moment. It was great. She had never met anybody else before.
Chris Snyder [00:33:17] Now I just feel bad. But you know what the good news is? You got to eat bacon for 28 years before this all happened.
Shandee Chernow [00:33:25] Yeah, so, you can put in anything. You can put in mammals. You can put in nightshades. You can put in whatever words you would use if you didn't have to explain it to another person. And we'll translate that. We'll look at every single item that's on a label. We look at, you know, everything about pork and all the number of different ways that you have to work on a label. Obviously, pork, pork chops, ham, bacon, chorizo. There's a ton of that.
Chris Snyder [00:33:49] Right. There's a bunch of mapping that you guys had to do on the background as well. So it goes back to the taxonomy, right. You know, kind of animal is pork. And then these are the eight different words that people used to describe pork. That's intense. That's a lot. It's a lot. That's a lot in.
Shandee Chernow [00:34:09] Well, I guess the good news is you think about what you're expecting someone who works in a restaurant to do on the fly in the middle of service. You're expecting them to do exactly that. That's not happening.
Chris Snyder [00:34:21] Every single detail on every single label of every single thing that goes into every single dish to 10 percent of the customers that they see in a night, which could be for a larger restaurant. A hundred customers.
Shandee Chernow [00:34:35] Right. And most of those customers know how burdensome matters. And don't tell them. Think about that risk.
Chris Snyder [00:34:42] Well, actually, I wanted to actually make a point about the risk. So your lawyers obviously were you were smart enough to go take care of that right away. But I'm just like, oh, my God, I can just see the risk in this. So tell us this, like starting a bouncy house for kids, right? Like, why would anyone do that? But just tell me about the risk. And tell me how accurate this is. I'm assuming there's never been a problem. But this obviously you're playing with people's lives.
Shandee Chernow [00:35:13] So, yeah, I know we've, I'm going to knock on wood here. There was one time in testing we found a scenario that could potentially... It was like this crazy, twisted way of building recipes we found at one time I shut down the entire system for all of our customers. It took us about eight hours to fix and that was the only time we found an issue like that. And it actually didn't affect any of our customers. None of their menus were set up in this like very, very, very specific way. So we take it extremely seriously. Right. If there's no room for error, it has to be right. So from a risk perspective, there's a couple of different ways that something could potentially go wrong. Right. And obviously, if we make a mistake, then, you know, our lawyers and our insurance companies are not particularly pleased with us at that moment. Yeah. The more likely scenario is that the recipe that was given to us is no longer the recipe that's used or that somebody made, you know, substitution and timelapse or, you know, something along those lines.
Chris Snyder [00:36:14] Got it.
Shandee Chernow [00:36:14] You know, we tried to impress upon our customers the importance of keeping us up to date, not, you know, kind of being loosey-goosey in the kitchen things. Yes. So I want consistency anyway, right. That's part of the protocol. I was watching Master Chef this morning with my kids and Gordon Ramsay said to one of the contestants in a restaurant. Consistency is what it's all about. And I thought, yes!
Chris Snyder [00:36:37] Yes, it's back to logic and software. Well, it sounds like some process, excuse me, process in human risk, more so than software risk. And then the other thing I was just thinking about, too, is and I'll throw a couple bullshit bingo words at you. I know you wanted to say that earlier, but, you know, natural language processing seems like something you guys should have or do have. You know, AI. I think it's just such a big buzz word. But I think, you know, given your background, we could probably talk about it in a way that's respectable and not bullshit it too much. And then the other thing that I was thinking about is the moat, the moat that you guys are building around a database that is growing and moves and then. So tell us a little bit about A.I. NLP if you're using that and then how much your database expands. Like how do you measure that expansion? Because it sounds like a lot.
Shandee Chernow [00:37:34] Sure. So you like packed up questions. So from a natural language processing perspective, you know, we kind of naturally do that, if you will, as people put in their list of allergies. It just ends up that way. Fortunately, at the moment, you know, we're not taking from a guest perspective more input than that list of allergens or, you know, vegan, vegetarian. So it's you know, it's something that over time, as additional requirements come to us from our customers and their customers, I think that is a very, very natural fit for us. But, you know, right now it kind of does its thing. From an AI perspective, I think it's more applicable on the back end. Oh hey, restaurant, you know, we see all of the things that your customers are putting in. Let's think about what maybe changes you should make sure your menu. Oh, I have one dish that has shellfish in it. You could advertise yourself as shellfish-free, which, by the way, is the most common allergen for adults. Right. It's things like that, I think come into play where we start to predict what changes somebody could make to their menus in order to become more profitable or more advertising, more marketable, etc..
Chris Snyder [00:38:45] Oh, that's a great idea. You could help. You could literally help them grow their market share by telling them, just take just say shellfish free and make the positive without the shellfish. And we'll give you the numbers like we just told you, that you're going to grow your business by at least 10 percent this year. Right.
Shandee Chernow [00:39:05] By doing just one thing, probably. There's quite a few customers we've pointed out to them. Did you know that your entire restaurant is peanut-free? And they're like, oh, my God, you can advertise that, right?
Chris Snyder [00:39:16] Yeah, that's great. And then this database growth thing. I know that, you know, AWS and all these companies that can be flexible of that stuff can get expensive. But ah, is your database do you experience like five or 10 percent growth month over month on these menu items? Like, how does that work? Does it grow linearly with how many restaurants you launch? Or is it the patrons putting in that number that grows your database or how does that work.
Shandee Chernow [00:39:46] So the the lion's share of our size is in the size of the number of ingredients. So if you think about all the things that you go to the store and buy or if you're a restaurant that they go to their suppliers and buy, that's where most of the things are. You know, the number of things that you can purchase dwarfs the number of things people are creating with that, if that makes any sense. Yeah. And so there is growth there. But for the large part, you know, our growth is it doesn't look as large against the size of the entire database. You know, the growth of our whole database, because there's this behemoth of ingredients out there that doesn't grow as fast as, you know, what people are creating or what people are entering from a knowledge and perspective. So our holistic database doesn't mean it changes. It grows, but it's not, you know, on the order of five or 10 percent a month or anything like that, because the the basis for it started out so incredibly large.
Chris Snyder [00:40:39] Got it. Got it. So, OK, so now let's talk about..and so I think I understand it. It sounds like a great business opportunity for a restaurant owner to do a better job and also just do the right thing by their consumers and just be a good person in general.
Shandee Chernow [00:41:01] And take some stress off themselves and their customers. And by the way, you take an allergy person, you really take great care of them, keep them feeling safe, give them all the options, not make them have the big, long conversation. You have a loyal guest.
Chris Snyder [00:41:17] Yeah. Lifetime value on that customer. Well, is probably thousands of dollars a year.
Shandee Chernow [00:41:22] And something else to keep in mind when you've got a group going out. Nearly 100 percent of the time, the food allergic person has veto power. Any group, right, friends, family know whatever colleagues, they always look at me. Where do I want to go? And I'm like, I don't want to decide, you know? But we don't want to kill you.
Chris Snyder [00:41:41] Mm hmm. Well, I do have I mean, we do live in Los Angeles. We do have a couple of friends. We go wherever you want as long as it's vegan. How do I even find it? What does that even mean? What about my feelings? So anyway, luckily, I only have like two friends like that, but. So this is so this is great. Okay. Now let's get to the COVID stuff a little bit. Two aspects of COVID, because I've talked with some guests that this is actually really helped their business. So two aspects of COVID. How is it impacting your business? Because like, you have to sell, which means you have to call restaurants. You have to or, you know, whatever you whatever you're selling motion is, is probably being constrained. And then the second part is, is, OK, what are the restaurants doing with your software that could be better or worse or even like what's going on with your business and also your customers?
Shandee Chernow [00:42:43] Yeah. So when people ask me, how's business going during the pandemic, I say "hi, we sell to hospitality," right? It's definitely a strained time, you know, not just for us, but obviously for our customers. And we just want to be able to support them in any way that we possibly can. So we have an offer out where any chefs or personal chefs or restaurants that have closed their doors or whatever can create their own digital recipe book inside of CertiStar as a bonus to putting all your recipes in for allergen purposes, we actually create this kind of cool cookbook-style recipe book for you with everything that you make. Well, right now, we're providing that at no cost, and even if you decide not to move forward with us, we'll give you the book at the end of it and you take it away. And hopefully that's useful. And that includes all the nutritional information, everything. So we're trying to be as helpful and supportive as we can from that perspective. We're also trying to kind of clean up all of our to do list. Yeah. But, you know, for our customers, what's been really useful during this time, think about what's happened to the restaurant industry. You no longer have the option of going inside and having this big, long conversation. Right. Most restaurants don't have on their Web sites a way to figure out what their food allergy options are. But for our customers, they do. They have it embedded in their Web sites. And so a guest can go on. They have to now pick up the phone and call in order to avoid the whole commission thing with their delivery services. Right. You pick up the phone and call. That person on the other end knd of wants to get off the phone so that they can get the next order because that's their constraint in terms of being able to bring in business. How many orders can I take right now? They don't want to have an eight to 12-minute conversation. It's very, very, very useful to be able to have it on your Web site. Figure out what you can have having a data based, fact based information so that someone can call in an order. So I think that that's been really, really useful for our customers during this time. Well, ordering.
Chris Snyder [00:44:42] You certainly have a lot of, you know, pivot ideas, just to be cliche. It's just you've got a lot of these attachments for revenue that when you have data, there's a lot of really neat things you can do. Of course, you know that, which is why you built a data company itself. It actually sounds more like a data company that, you know than an allergy preventative. You know what we've been talking about? It's just it could be a big data company, actually. So let me ask you just one or two final questions or actually if you could help our audience understand. You've been doing this for a while. And when I say this, I mean, being an entrepreneur, but you've also been in business. You've been hanging around, you know, computer science folks and nerds your whole life. Do you have any advice for people listening to this show about, you know, how you got to where you got. What are some of the things you do every day? Or how do you approach? Give us something that they can take away and go, wow. You know, I really, oh,
perseverence or don't quit. Or I mean, it sounds a little cliche, but I think it's useful.
Shandee Chernow [00:45:53] I think that the hardest thing and I had this conversation with a friend of mine just yesterday. I think that the hardest thing is to listen to the people who punch the holes. Right. It's really easy to get wrapped around what's such a great idea. And it's really painful to hear all of the reasons that it's not such a great idea. Right. And so they're there at the pile of things that you throw out should be significantly larger than the pile of things that you keep. It's terribly difficult.
Chris Snyder [00:46:24] Yeah, that's great advice. I was I did a show with someone yesterday and I asked him the same question. And the answer he gave me was mistakes. I love mistakes.
Shandee Chernow [00:46:33] I tell my son to fail quickly. Go try it. But let's not go down too deep a rabbit hole. Let's figure out if it's going to work on.
Chris Snyder [00:46:39] Yeah. You really have to get your head around this stuff because if you don't take criticism well, like, I openly ask people like, what is wrong with this? What is it? Cause if you don't know it and you make the investment, you figure out what's wrong with it after you spend a million bucks. That's that is not useful.
Shandee Chernow [00:46:55] Yeah. I had an example a couple of weeks ago where we were trying to figure out how to manage was a silly thing. Right. I was like this Web site thing and we're using one of the tools that we had at our disposal. And this guy on my team spent the whole day. And the end result of it, I went, I don't like it. Like, it's still not good enough. This isn't something that we're going to put out. And he was just kind of like, oh. And I was like, let's throw that away. Stop spinning your wheels on this one particular thing. Let's go find a different solution. And he was like, but I've spent all this time. I'm like, in the grand scheme of the scheme of things, you haven't. But imagine how much better it's going to be when we do find the right solution and how happy you're going to be that we threw that one away. And lo and behold, the next literally the next day he was like, how about this? Yes. Yeah, that's the thing. Yeah. So much better. I don't get. There's some theory and I'm not going to articulate it well, but basically like the sunk cost theory, you say with things because you've already spent a lot of time with them. No. Out.
Chris Snyder [00:47:53] It's political. It's emotional. And the thing of it is, as I find in some teams, this inability to at least create a plan, just a rudimentary plan. So, you know, what I tell our team is like you wouldn't think of going from Los Angeles to New York without buying your plane tickets. First, you wouldn't think of just showing up at the airport with no bag and just deciding that you wanted to go to New York, like just write a few these things down. Right. What is the problem that we're trying to solve? Give me the problem and then why don't you give me a few, like do the workshop in your mind a little bit before you start work. And then as you start to validate some of your hypotheses, you realize. This isn't gonna work, and you know what? Honestly, a couple days in - it's not the right problem. Yeah, yeah, that's the way it works. Brutal.
Shandee Chernow [00:48:54] Well, we just changed the way that we're doing. Well, we're in the midst of changing one of these things. And as I was explaining it to somebody on the development team, I said, OK, we're starting the conversation. I said, I need you to throw out everything that we're doing right now in the way that we're doing it before I tell you what I'm about to tell you. Put it away because I knew the objection would be, "but that's not quite the way we're doing it now." Well, of course - that's why we're changing it, because it's not the best way to do it.
Chris Snyder [00:49:21] You know, those are good lessons. And thank you for that. So we're right at time. Just want to let everyone know. I've been speaking with Shandee Chernow. She is the founder and CEO of CertiStar, a Phoenix based menu software company designed to help restaurants navigate food allergies. We'll have all of her information in the show notes. But Shandee, why don't you tell us where we can find you? You have a Web site or e-mail that you want to share.
Shandee Chernow [00:49:51] Sure. So we are CertiStar.com. And then at any of the social media sites @CertiStar, same exact spelling. Also our phone number is 833-EAT-SAFE.
Chris Snyder [00:50:08] 833-EAT-SAFE. Wow. That's like
a great domain. How did you get that? That's for the next show. That's for the next show.
Shandee Chernow [00:50:19] It took us a lot of combinations to find an available.
Chris Snyder [00:50:22] That's amazing. Well, I really appreciate it. Appreciate your time. And best of luck with everything.
Shandee Chernow [00:50:28] Thank you so much. Truly. Thank you for the conversation. I really appreciate you having me on.