From burgers to credit card loyalty programs, David Kristal explains how he turned the Ember's restaurant chain started by his father into Augeo, an employee engagement and loyalty management program expected to generate $350 million in revenue this year alone.
Wednesday April 1, 2020
David Kristal had no intention of going into business with his father Henry, co-founder of the Embers restaurant chain. But with the heyday of the 24-hour diner coming to an end and the 80-restaurant Midwestern chain losing money every month, Kristal joined his dad in 1997 to try to save the business.
He managed to slow the bleed, although the restaurants never fully rebounded. In the process of trying, however, Kristal steered the company into the loyalty business. “We were in total crisis mode trying to figure out how to cash roll the business to avoid bankruptcy. We didn’t have a reputation in the loyalty space; we had to create it.” One service client turned into many and soon, the company had an entirely new focus in engagement and loyalty management programs.
Now called Augeo, the St. Paul-based company with more than 200 employees offers incentive and debit card membership programs in more than 50 countries. In 2018, Augeo spun off a fintech loyalty division for $140 million, and the company is growing again. In September, Augeo acquired enterprise engagement company MotivAction. It is expected to generage $350 million in annual revenue.
Kristal talks about fostering a company culture that can withstand a total pivot, and being willing to fail. “There ain’t no magic to this stuff,” Krisal says. “You’ve got to keep pounding it out every day. You hope you have more good days than bad days and hope you can make your good days great.”
After our conversation with Kristal, we go Back to the Classroom with the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Dan McLaughlin teaches in the Operations and Supply Chain Management program. He points out how culture can impact a company’s ability to pivot. “The is a classic example of agile business: you try stuff. I bet in seven years, Augeo will be doing something else because they’re willing to try things and move on.”