Why TwentyTables won DC Startup Week’s Top Prize and What We Learned Developing this Two-Sided Marketplace


This time last year, we developed a mobile app that has since taken Washington DC by storm. In October 2017, after six months of hard work from the mobile app design and development teams at 3Advance, we launched TwentyTables—a shining example of how a for-profit startup can disrupt an industry and simultaneously turn it into a force for good.

TwentyTables is a mobile app that lets DC office workers get $6 meals from restaurants and food trucks all over the city. And get this: for every twenty meals ordered, TwentyTables donates five meals to one of their partnering food charities (Capital Area Food Bank & DC Central Kitchen).

Seeing Alex Cohen lift first prize at the penultimate event of DC Startup Week was a proud moment for me and for all the team at 3Advance. We put our heart and soul into every app we create, so when I watch someone like Alex bust his ass every day to make sure the app we created is successful, it fills me with awe, appreciation, and pride.

Startups are anything but easy.

There are so many reasons a startup like TwentyTables should fail, mostly because this shit is so damn hard. If you’re founding a startup and you think you’re gonna do it part-time, you should probably rethink it. Part-time founders will fail without full-time boots on the ground. Your new baby is going to need all of your attention, all the time. You will need to commit yourself to making it work, no matter what it takes.

That’s why Alex takes to the streets every day. Before his brand meant anything, he convinced the first restaurants and food trucks to get on board, hand-holding when needed. Now he’s got a team to do it, but he still leads by example. He sends checks to his partner food charities, and he and the team get down there regularly to volunteer.

What’s especially tough with TwentyTables?

Restaurant startup apps are hard. Consumer-facing hospitality tech is saturated. Everyone wants a piece of it. Everyone thinks they know how restaurants work and what they need. But restaurant owners, managers, chefs: they don’t wanna hear it. They’ve heard the pitches, they’ve seen the sales guys. Even if you’re savvy enough to get close to the decision maker, you don’t stand a chance.

Two-sided marketplace apps are hard. Two-sided marketplaces are platforms that enable services and transactions between two otherwise unconnected groups. You know, like Uber—the driver has an app telling them where to go, and the customer has an app requesting a ride. Take it from a techie, this is not easy. You’re pretty much squeezing two apps in one and making sure it all plays nice. Now, forget about the tech for a minute (we’ve got that part covered)—what you should be thinking about is marketing. You need restaurants and you need paying users. And you need them together. At the same time. In the right ratio, or you lose both. Impossible.

Mobile apps are hard. Hell, making a mobile app is hard. Good app developers are expensive, and most software projects either fail or are disgustingly late. And you’ve got to understand that you’re not just making an app. After you somehow get found amongst the millions of other apps in the app stores, or you’ve ingeniously persuaded the masses to download your app, you’ve only just begun. Because you’re changing habits. This is the biggest challenge. You need to win with first impressions and you need to be sticky—or pushy enough to get people back in.

$6 meals are hard. What sane restaurant owner is gonna move a meal at $6? Ridiculous. They can sell lunch for twice that. It will never happen… Except it is happening. TwentyTables is making it happen.

With the number of options capped at three, TwentyTables helps restaurants customize their offerings. The price point of $6 is matched to what research shows is the national average cost for an individual to home-prep their bagged lunch, so this is the gold standard. At the time of this writing, TwentyTables has racked up over 100 restaurants in downtown DC, and now the tables have turned.

In addition to the hundreds of paying customers using the app every day, TwentyTables has delivered thousands of meals to their partner charities. They’re hitting the hockey stick curve, and they’re getting noticed. The team is currently looking for like-minded individuals and organizations to help take TwentyTables to the next level. So if that sounds like you, please get in touch.

Alex has amassed team members who are not only smart and effective, they are cut from the same cloth as Alex himself. But this isn’t coincidence or good luck. The standard has been set for how the TwentyTables rep shall be: unwavering, unyielding, and unstoppable. The key to Alex’s success so far has been the strength of his idea and the power of his conviction. He has the ability to sell his vision and now his product to restaurant owners, consumers, his team, his partners, his vendors, and his investors.

This is where 3Advance comes in. We are part vendor, part team, we are customers and I am an investor. We are advancing together, and we are learning a hell of a lot along the way.

So what has 3Advance gotten from the experience?

We learned how to build apps. Yes, really. We’ve been building web and mobile apps for a long time, but with TwentyTables we hit our stride. From user experience to DevOps, we got our app development process right and our product on point. We realized what we’re best at, and what we can achieve in a short period of time. In six months, we can create an entire mobile app platform and MVP—a minimum viable product that gets to market fast. We put the power directly in the hands of the founder quickly, and at a fraction of the cost of recruiting an in-house team.

We learned to be agile. TwentyTables was the first app development project we put through Scrum and Agile sprints. It was painful. Very painful. But we got through it, and a year later, all of our projects are on the same biweekly sprint cycle, and all of our projects are estimated using user stories and related tasks. We can see problems before they occur. We track all of our estimates and our actual hours. We work transparently with clients so we can make decisions together. This means that every minute we spend on an app development is as valuable as possible to the person who hired us.

We learned that going live is everything. For any startup founders embarking on an app development project, stay focused on when and why, and stop getting dragged into all the whats, and worse still, the what-ifs. What I mean is that you should focus on what exactly you’re trying to achieve and get there as quickly as possible. Don’t get hung up on the little things, because once you get across that line of go-live, you will never look at things the same again. Your priorities will change. Your needs will change. You will change. Trust in us, and we’ll get you there, and make sure you’ve got gas in the tank to get to where you really need to go.

We learned that our power is in our product. We are not visionaries. You are. We do not take the same risks you will with your startup, and we do not stand to win big when your hard work pays off. But we will make damn sure technology does not hold you back, and that the mobile apps we create give you the strongest foothold for success.

If you’d like to see what our team can do and support one of DC’s hottest startups, check out TwentyTables on social media. You’ll get the idea, and hopefully, we’ll get yours. Contact us to see how we can get your startup to life…assuming you’re ready for the real challenge.