Several years ago, entrepreneur Chris Meaux scribbled down a business idea that he believed would transform the restaurant industry and its diners. Like ride sharing apps that were disrupting the transportation sector, Meaux saw a well-designed meal delivery app as a way to increase restaurant take-out sales, while also bringing patrons a broad spectrum of dining choices straight to their doorstep.
His instincts were right. In just four years, Meaux’s brainchild, Waitr, has become one of the fastest growing meal delivery apps in the nation. As of January 2019, it was available in 500 cities in 22 states.
Launched first in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Waitr’s growth has been fast and furious. Part of Meaux’s strategy has been to focus on small- to medium-sized markets that are underserved by national competitors. While some investors encouraged Meaux to situate the company in tech-centric markets like Austin, Boston or the Bay Area, he resisted, staying adamant about keeping corporate operations in Louisiana. Waitr’s headquarters remain in Lake Charles, and its Technology Operations Center, which opened in 2017, is located an hour east in Lafayette.
“Having been advised that we should look outside of Louisiana to launch a technology venture, I am proud to say that we have proven that theory wrong,” says Meaux. “We haven’t had a shortage of software engineers. We haven’t had a shortage of talent. And I don’t think we will.”
In fact, Meaux has used his passion for his home state as fuel for getting the company off the ground. A native of Estherwood, Louisiana (population 889), Meaux discovered a love for computers while at Louisiana State University. He worked in technology after college, initially selling computers and then started a company in Silicon Valley during the dot com bubble. While it failed, it didn’t squelch Meaux’s passion for starting a tech venture. Later, after working in the restaurant industry in Texas, Meaux drafted the idea for a meal delivery business. He moved back to Louisiana in 2011 and started working in earnest on the concept.
Working with software developers at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Meaux refined the idea, which he named Waitr. He started shopping it to investors, and while it was a hard sell, he had the most success raising money among successful Louisiana natives living across the country. The state’s Angel Investor Tax Credit also made it easier to secure investments.
Meaux’s knowledge of both the restaurant industry and Louisiana’s emblematic food culture helped him gain early traction across the state. Waitr spread from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Alexandria and other regional cities. In 2017, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees became the lead investor in a $10 million cash infusion to help the company scale up it platform.
Waitr has benefited from several Louisiana incentives during each phase of its growth.
Waitr used the comprehensive services of LED FastStart, the No. 1 state workforce program of the nation, to recruit and train staff for its Technology Operations Center. New hires included software engineers, restaurant operations leaders, customer service personnel and general administration employees.
Waitr has also been able to take advantage of other Louisiana incentives, including the Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Tax Credit Program, the most generous of its kind in the nation. And LED’s Economic Gardening Initiative supported Waitr’s continued growth by providing extensive market research.
In 2018, Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta bought Waitr for $308 million. It’s now publicly traded on the NASDAQ. Meaux remains company CEO, and continues to focus on growth. In January 2019, Waitr finalized a deal to acquire Minnesota-based Bite Squad for $321 million. A similar meal delivery app with almost no geographic overlap, the Bite Squad acquisition has helped Waitr double its reach.
“This gives us a national footprint now, and a lot more competitive leverage,” Meaux says. “It’ll help us get to that next phase of finding new ways to be a valued tech partner to restaurants.”
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