This week, we’re excited to introduce you to Richard Liang, founder of Preo. I met Richard a few weeks ago at Cornell Tech where he was part of a Q&A panel of founders associated with the Dorm Room Fund. I found out that we not only share an alma mater (Go Blue!), but we both believe in solving everyday inefficiencies through technology. Richard is part of a new wave of tech entrepreneurs that developed their business chops in the finance sector before launching their companies. He’s also unique in that he started his business in grad school.
StartupLowdown: Richard, thanks for taking the time to speak with Startup Lowdown! Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself? What’s your background?
Richard: Hey Roger, I started my career as an investment banker and moved onto private equity. I was also a bartender for a number of years on the side. There, I saw that payments during peak times of service made it difficult to serve all the guests without having them crowd around the bar. So when I started my MBA at Columbia, we set out to solve this problem with a mobile payments solution.
StartupLowdown: What is Preo and where does the name come from?
Richard: Preo stands for Pre Order and is an allusion to Priority. The name comes from our company culture, and our mission – to provide priority service for guests who pre order with Preo.
StartupLowdown: . Can you tell us about the technology and how it developed?
Richard: Our technology is special because it automatically notifies guests when their orders are being prepared. This is done without an iPad or a second screen, so staff don’t need to perform a second or third step to fulfill Preo orders. We really approached our development from the end user’s perspective. In order to provide a consistent experience, we developed the technology to ensure the back end system is easy for staff actually serving the orders.
StartupLowdown: You started your company while pursuing your MBA when most of your peers were certainly exploring more traditional paths. What made you decide on entrepreneurship? Did you have a backup plan?
Richard: I decided to pursue Preo because I believe in a world without lines. My career in finance and as an investor gave me insights into how founders thought about their business, and I wanted to build a service that would really enhance people’s lives.
StartupLowdown: Where do you see Preo a year from now?
Richard: I see Preo as the easier alternative to waiting in line to order and pay for food & drinks everyday. Our system for vendors is a seamlessly integrated, and we’re excited to start letting guests order outside the lines.
StartupLowdown: What’s your advice for a college graduate that wants to build a successful business and doesn’t know whether they should immediately enter the startup world or gain experience at an established company?
Richard: Founders are leaders who need to have vision and be able to manage people. Unless you’re an engineering founder and plan on only building product, you will need to learn how to articulate your vision and convince people that your vision is worth their time. If you find that people consistently follow you, and your plans for a goal are generally successful then you’re well on your way. If you’re struggling to build a team, and just have an idea, then I’d recommend at least taking an internship with a startup so you can learn about the complexities that come along with wearing multiple hats. Unless you plan on working at a larger established company for several years first, I wouldn’t recommend the corporate world – the obvious exceptions are large tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.
One last word – your 20’s is the time for you to identify your passion so you can make the world a better place. It’s your responsibility to figure out your greatest value add, and provide that to the rest of the world. Never stop believing that you can make a difference, and your passion will drive other people to believe in what you believe.
StartupLowdown: Richard, your story will be an inspiration for a lot of our readers. It’s been a pleasure and we wish you the best of luck!
If you’d like to find out more about Preo or give it a try, go ahead and check out some of the links below: