Small business owners — are you working harder or smarter?
This is a question that for years confounded Robert Kaskel, proprietor of Thai Rock Restaurant, and he has finally come up with a solution. Onhand, a user-friendly online platform that with a touch of a button, small brick-and-mortar business owners will be able to manage their operational activities sans the extra paper work and spending endless time tackling tasks that sometimes seem impossible to complete, much less track.
How did Kaskel drum up this idea? In 2013, the summer after Superstorm Sandy, Kaskel and his wife, Metta, were slapped with a stinging fine by the NYS Labor Department for a lapse in their restaurant's workers' compensation insurance.
“That was a crazy summer for my family as both our home and restaurant, which is our income, were both destroyed,” Kaskel said. “We were in a bad place. As the entire interior of the restaurant was destroyed, we salvaged what we could by running the restaurant on the deck and focusing our energies on our jet ski operations.
“I had a mountain of mail that was piling up. Because we were really over our heads with trying to get the restaurant back on its feet, we were just overwhelmed,” Kaskel said.
Kaskel said that a couple of letters in that pile happened to be about his workers’ compensation insurance. “My insurance broker called to alert me that the policy was two-weeks expired. Bewildered, I asked him if it could be reinstated. The answer was no. The carrier was unwilling to reinstate it because of the time lapse,” Kaskel said.
Then six months later, Kaskel said he received a letter from the NYS Labor Department stating that since his business was without insurance for two weeks, they put an insurance policy in place for that lapsed period. However, there was a catch. He received a penalizing insurance bill for that time period which exceeded what he would usually pay for the entire year, and on top of that, they accessed him with a few thousand dollars penalty, just to make sure that it wouldn’t happen again. For Kaskel, that was the final straw. He vowed never to let an insurance policy lapse ever again.
“This unfortunate experience really put me into action. In early 2014, I created a spreadsheet in place to map all of my insurance policies, and with my information technology (IT) background on Wall Street, I am all about information organization. I entered all the information common to insurance policies such as the agent, insurance type, carrier, the premium, is it financed or paid outright every year, contacts and of course the start and end date of the insurance policy. Between my restaurant, jet ski and other endeavors, I have about 15 different insurance policies with some that expire monthly,” Kaskel said.
However, a question that his wife asked him for years, really began to gnaw at his gut. “From day one of opening Thai Rock, my wife asked me the question, ‘Why are you working so hard?’ She asked me this because she observed other restaurant business owners, who didn’t spend nearly as much time with the management of operations as I did.
“For a long time I did not know how to answer that question, so I thought maybe something was wrong with me. I’m working too hard and don’t know any better,” he said. Then Kaskel’s idea for Onhand was born.
“My idea for Onhand answered the question that my wife repeatedly asked me — How come other owners aren’t as busy as I am. The answer was that other owners delegate tasks to both external and internal parties, however even these parties experience the same operational issues that I am besieged with.
“How many systems out there actually create more paper work because you are using the system, instead of solving the problem? I took my ideas from my IT days, when I designed, implemented and supported applications for Wall Street. I economized my clients’ time. I would analyze their business, understand how they did their work, and work with my users to make a simpler process to make their lives easier; to put in automation things that helped them, instead of slowing them down.
“So I applied that same kind of thinking when first creating my business plan for Onhand. What did I do for my Wall Street clients that could relate to the management problems I was having with Thai Rock?” Kaskel questioned.
He came up with two different applications for Onhand. The first application, consists of five components:
The first component encompasses managing both internal and external services for businesses such as restaurants, gas stations, healthcare offices, childcare, construction, food services.
“I am focusing on the small brick-and-mortar businesses, particularly those that are heavily regulated. For example, with Thai Rock, my sprinklers need to be checked periodically, pest control, hood cleaning, beer line cleaning. These are external services provided by external parties. Then they are internal services, where employees of the business are delegated tasks such as window cleaning, or for retail services it might be stocking the shelves and inventory. I want business owners to be able to assign tasks to their employees, who will independently schedule their tasks, while the owner captures it with a certification letter of task completed or an alert showing it was not completed, all generated by the system,” Kaskel said.
The second component includes automated tracking of insurance; the third component tracks things like licensing, permits, taxes and real estate filing; the fourth component entails tracking violations and law suits; and the fifth component encompasses human-centered assets such as tips certifications, bartending licenses, food handlers’ safety certification, etc.
Onhand’s second application consists of a referral service marketplace for businesses to help them with tasks such as finding better pricing for goods they use, etc.
According to the Kaskel, Onhand’s first interface would be a web browser and then in the future, a mobile app. Currently he is in the testing stage for the beta version of the browser.
Kaskel is also a finalist for a $10K grant from the Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC) 11th Annual StartUP Business Plan Competition, sponsored by Citibank. For the competition, he had to attend QEDC classes and then submit a business plan to be judged by a panel of judges in order to win the grant. Winners will be announced, Friday, April 21.
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