Aug 24, 2015 - News

The best Charlotte entrepreneur you’ve never heard of

Phong-Luong-charlotte

Phong-Luong-charlotte

Charlotte’s NexTable was quietly acquired by restaurant giant Zomato about 3 months ago.

It’s one of the most exciting startup exits in Charlotte, but for some reason, there wasn’t much press about it in our local media.

Now I know why there wasn’t much local coverage. It’s not Phong Luong’s style.

He loves to execute. He loves to work. He loves to solve problems. He doesn’t love to talk about it. He’s also the owner of Zen Fusion and operating partner at Miro Spanish Grille.

NexTable was basically a better version of OpenTable. From TechCrunch on the acquisition:

“Just one week after Zomato raised a round valuing it at more than $1 billion and acquired a point-of-sale startup, the India-based restaurant services company has made another acquisition. Zomato has acquired NexTable, a U.S.-based restaurant reservations and table-management platform that competes against the likes of Priceline’s OpenTable and SeatMe from Yelp.

The service will soon be renamed ‘Zomato Book,’ Zomato says. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed except to note that it is a cash and stock deal… NexTable was bootstrapped with no outside funding and was based out of Charlotte, North Carolina.”

I sent Phong a random friend request on LinkedIn. He accepted. I email him and asked to meet up (note: his email was a @carolina.rr.com handle, which kind of shocked me). We grabbed coffee at the Mayobird in Dilworth and chatted for an hour. I loved the guy.

nextable-office-charlotte

Here are a few things he said that I can’t stop thinking about.

On focus: “It’s critically important that you focus on who you are really trying to solve a problem for.”

On hard work: “You can’t work 60 hours a week and expect success.”

On business models: “Always question your business model. And, continue to listen and learn.”

On risk: “The real risk was our time.”

On opportunity: “The iPad created a big opportunity for us. OpenTable was not innovating fast enough. We could differentiate with a slightly better user experience and intuitive product.”

On Charlotte: “Excellent place to raise a family. Also, our airport is a huge asset; you can go anywhere. In terms of my activity in the Charlotte community, I like to be under the radar but active – most people don’t know who I am.”

On product: “Use your own product. We did. We also worked with local companies like Cowfish and Firebirds.”

On the origin of the deal: “Actually, they reached out via a LinkedIn message. We then went and met in New York City.”

On funding: “Build the product first, never raise money on an idea. I funded the whole project.”

On family: “My wife and I had date night once a week. Also, always put your kids first. ”

So, what’s next for Phong Luong? Three months ago he told me, “I don’t like to relax. I’ve already got a few things in the works, but nothing to mention yet.” I just checked his LinkedIn profile and it looks like he just started another company called MedSoft technology. But don’t expect him to be telling everybody about it, he’ll be busy executing.

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