Twists, turns lead Ginkens and company to ideal position
Erin Ginkens (middle) and the Entrepreneurial Technologies team recently launched TableNabbr, which aims to simplify last-minute restaurant reservations. The team, from left: Scott Olsen, Abby Shontz, James Armstead and Rose Rollenhagen. Photo by Eric Rowley/Juice.
When Erin Ginkens opened the current chapter of her career five years ago by leaving a job to launch her own business venture, she did so with what she believed was a pretty good idea of how the story would play out.
"I thought that I was going to market a billing program I had written for attorneys," said Ginkens, president of Des Moines-based Entrepreneurial Technologies. "(But) as soon as I got out into the world, my panic about no longer having a paycheck completely took over my desire to market my product."
So the plotline she originally envisioned took some twists and turns. She ended up taking on consulting gigs and client work, which was good work and remains a big part of ET’s business. But it wasn’t precisely what she imagined when she took the entrepreneurial plunge.
"As time went on I realized that I missed having something that I was doing because I was interested in it …" Ginkens said. "There is that extra level of motivation when we’re working on a project that is our vision and something that we specifically have a passion for."
Today, Ginkens, 31, and the ET team have found the time to tackle more of that type of project. And that’s closer to what Ginkens had in mind when she set out on this chapter of her career.
On Sept. 1, ET launched TableNabbr, a mobile phone application that helps potential diners find restaurants with open tables in real time.
Frustrating evenings spent hopping from restaurant to restaurant without finding a table led to TableNabbr, which looks to capitalize on what Ginkens calls "dining urgency." Using TableNabbr, which is available for free download in the iTunes app store — an Android app will follow soon — diners designate when, with how many people and in what area they would like to eat. Those specifications are sent to restaurants that meet the diners’ criteria, and restaurants have the option of ignoring the request, accepting the request or accepting the request with discounts or add-ons. Within 15 minutes of submitting their information, diners choose a restaurant, which creates a reservation.
TableNabbr (Left, screenshot courtesy of Ginkens) initially launched at six Des Moines-area restaurants: Dos Rios Cantina and Tequila Lounge, Big City Burgers, Mandarin Grill and Sushi Bar, Baru 66, Splash Seafood Bar and Grill, and Cosi Cucina Italian Grill.
"I think we’ve put together a great group of restaurants to try it out," Ginkens said, "so we're looking for them to provide us a lot of feedback as far as what’s working well and what’s not working all that well so that we can keep iterating."
In April, ET rolled out altruo.us, a giving platform that allows people to raise money online on behalf of their favorite charities while also allowing charities to have their own pages to collect donations.
"With altruo.us and TableNabbr both, (the idea is) that if we can come up with this idea and create it in a lean fashion where we don’t have to put all that much effort into it and we can get kind of big gains, then we should go that route," said James Armstead, ET’s lead developer.
It's projects like altruo.us and TableNabbr that Ginkens envisioned undertaking when she first decided to branch out on her own. Back then, she had created PushPin, a legal billing software, and wanted to do more work of that sort.
"It was amazing to me how gratifying it was to see real users use the software I had written, which was something that normally didn’t happen in my job because we dealt with such big entities that we never met actual users," Ginkens said. "So I was really inspired by that and decided to go out on my own."
That wasn’t the first time Ginkens' story has taken such an abrupt turn. A University of Iowa grad, Ginkens went to Iowa City planning to study English and “write the next great novel." That plan survived one year, until she was bitten by the tech bug while working a summer internship. She decided to switch from English to economics and MIS.
But in a way it’s those twists, turns and changes that have made Ginkens' story one worth retelling.
"I think it has been fun to kind of get back to that original goal," Ginkens said, "not exactly the way I thought I was going to, you know, with the legal billing software, but still to get back to the idea of working on something that we’re interested in."