This month, we’re celebrating DiscoverLink’s 15th birthday by thanking our clients who have supported us throughout the years. Without the commitment and loyalty of our clients, we would not be here today. To celebrate, we’re taking a walk down memory lane to share the history of how we came to be DiscoverLink.
Prior to DiscoverLink, co-founders Jeff Tenut and John Poulos were already experts in the restaurant industry. Jeff had been at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores for 17 years and John was Director of National Accounts and Research and Development for Grecian Delight Foods for almost 12 years. Working in management development at Cracker Barrel, Jeff realized there must be a better way to provide training to employees. He created e-learning programs for Cracker Barrel that saw huge results, saving the company millions. Seeing what a tremendous impact this program had on Cracker Barrel, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) recruited Jeff to join their team as Vice President of Product Development in 2001, joining John who had been Vice President of Sales for the NRAEF since 1999.
While at the NRAEF, Jeff and John were responsible for bringing the ServSafe food safety program online. Seeing an opportunity to bring broader e-learning solutions to the restaurant industry, they came together to brainstorm business ideas. “We originally thought about having a handheld device, similar in concept to a small tablet, to put content on and send to our clients,” John said. “We were really ahead of our time when we thought about delivering e-learning back in 2001.”
How We Changed the Industry
In September of 2002, Jeff left the NRAEF and founded DiscoverLink. Several months later John joined him, and they officially were up and running in February of 2003. Bob Evans was their first client, and the family dining chain set a goal to hire seven fewer employees per year per store (representing a 7% reduction in employee attrition). Using a series of custom courses, DiscoverLink helped Bob Evans reduce turnover by 35%, saving the company $35 million in the first year.
The Creation of our Products
As DiscoverLink continued to grow, Jeff and John solved dozens of problems for clients with content solutions. Through this process they began to see the same training courses being created repeatedly. They decided to create generic versions of commonly-requested courses to sell as off-the-shelf solutions. Today, this group of more than 90 courses is known as our DiscoverLink Content Library. These courses cover a variety of restaurant-specific competencies, from compliance to management development, and they can be customized to meet specific client needs.
With their focus on creating content, the DiscoverLink team was often asked for help choosing a learning management system (LMS) on behalf of their clients. They quickly learned that existing LMSs did not meet the needs of the restaurant industry. DiscoverLink partnered with an LMS company called SyberWorks in 2005 and modified its LMS to function better for the restaurant industry, and ultimately acquired their software and hosted clients in 2010.
In 2013 we launched our own LMS, DiscoverLink Talent, built from the ground up for restaurants. According to Jeff, “We saw an opportunity to change the way restaurants manage their training with features built to meet their specific needs. Other LMSs were too focused on the needs of white-collar, corporate workers and were not designed to be used in a restaurant environment.” DiscoverLink Talent is a hospitality-specific LMS that helps restaurant and hotel clients improve guest satisfaction, reduce training costs, and accelerate training.
In 2017 we launched DiscoverLink Learning, which is a scaled-down, self-service LMS for independent operators and small chains. DiscoverLink Learning allows small business owners to subscribe to an e-learning service and add any courses they find necessary for their business.
Partnerships to Round Out our Offerings
In addition to offering its own courses, DiscoverLink also partnered with Jim Sullivan, the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), and MenuTrinfo to share their content in online formats. Our partnership with Jim Sullivan in 2005 allowed us to provide Sullivision and Multi-U content online from one of the industry’s top training gurus. While Sullivision focuses on helping restaurants create stronger leadership, drive sales, and improve their service, Multi-U targets the seven stages of leadership development. Additionally, in 2015 we partnered with MFHA to deliver online cultural intelligence and with MenuTrinfo to provide gluten-free and allergy training.
Where We Are Today
Over the past 15 years, DiscoverLink has worked with 232 hospitality brands. Additionally, we continue to be proud sponsors of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART), the Restaurant Leadership Conference, TDn2K’s Global Best Practices Conference, and the National Restaurant Association. These sponsorships help keep us rooted in the restaurant industry to further support the industry we serve.
In addition to being an NRA Show sponsor, we also partnered with them to integrate ServSafe on DiscoverLink Talent. This integration allows clients to track ServSafe Certifications within DiscoverLink Talent, with seamless two-way communication between the products.
With the growth of our client base, we decided to launch our first ever Client Conference in 2016. The conference gave our clients a place to learn about best practices from industry leaders and fellow restaurant trainers. With attendance growth of 37% over the first year, our 2017 Client Conference was met with rave reviews, and we even began celebrating our 15th birthday with a cake that we shared with our clients.
From its earliest days as an e-learning pioneer, DiscoverLink has established itself as a leader in hospitality e-learning, and 15 years later we are still growing and helping our clients succeed. We have built more than 2,000 custom courses and served more than 10,000 unique business locations. In addition to our growing client base, our own team is also growing, and we now have employees in eight different states.
As we finish our walk down memory lane, we want to thank all of our clients for their loyalty, and give a special shout out to the clients who have been with us a majority of these 15 years:
- Golden Corral (14 years)
- Rock Bottom Brewery (13 years)
- Ted’s Montana Grill (13 years)
- TGI Friday’s (10 years)
- Culver’s (10 years)
- Dairy Queen (8 years)
We look forward to continuing our strong relationships with each of you and helping more hospitality customers succeed in e-learning!