Where can you eat in Cuba? That’s the basic question answered by AlaMesa (AttheTable) mobile app, with a database that engulfs over 500 restaurants in Havana and several more throughout the country. This app has been described as one of the most interesting initiatives within the context of Cuban entrepreneurs in terms of new technologies, and it’s also one of the most successful projects due to its positioning in such international spaces as Google Play and iTunes.
In an effort to learn more about this project, PanamericanWorld sat down with Alfonso Ali, co-founder of AlaMesa.
How did the idea come up?
We took into account that Internet access and infrastructure in Cuba is limited, so looking for information when you are at the street or home is quite difficult. If you add up the exponential increase in terms of the use of smartphones, developing an offline app was a must for AlaMesa to grow.
What are the target markets? Cuban or foreign users?
This app has been designed for all those people trying to find out where to eat in Cuba, so their origin or nationality is not relevant. Of course, since the app is mainly used in Cuba, it must adapt to the country’s context and I’m specifically talking about the connectivity issues I previously mentioned.
How can people have access to the app?
In they live in other countries, the app can be downloaded from the official Google and Apple stores. As for Cuba and those who don’t have access to the Internet, we distribute it by means of the “Weekly Package” and mobile phone workshops.
How does AlaMesa work?
The search and update of information is carried out by our sales representatives, who directly establish the contact with restaurants to gather and confirm the data. AlaMesa’s operative core is made up of 4 people that develop well-defined tasks, so the work flows without the team having to personally interact on a daily basis. We meet every week in order to analyze the objectives we have outlined for the whole month, when we have to make an operative or financial decision, or assess new ideas to foster the development of the project.
Being an entrepreneur in Cuba, how is that?
I think it’s similar to any other place. Basically, you have to work on an idea that fascinates you, you have to prove its worth and develop it in an effective and profitable way, depending on the financial limitations or any other obstacle you find in your context. We believe that being an entrepreneur precisely entails the fact of finding solutions to the problems of your surrounding reality.
What are the most urgent matters that affect this type of initiatives in Cuba?
Telecommunication infrastructure and legal recognition.
Cuban products are trendy, as well as the tourism destination. What does this fact entail for AlaMesa?
First of all, the joy of having more people interested in getting in touch with our country, since it helps change the image and ideas some people have of Cuba, some of which are decontextualized. I think the interest in Cuba will somehow drop or adapt with time, but due to the quality of our professionals, creativeness of the Cuban people, our educational system, geographic position, etc., Cuba’s position is guaranteed and it’s not only about being a tourism destination.
Projects in the near future?
Taking AlaMesa to the next level, going beyond the Embargo-related obstacles when it comes to making financial transfers, so we can provide direct booking services. We’ve been working on it and we’re looking forward to having it operational. Moreover, we have to keep on improving our platforms and services so AlaMesa becomes an unrivaled reference in terms of restaurants and gastronomy in Cuba.
Do you think other Cuban apps could make their way into international distribution circuits?
Of course they can. The situation (in terms of quality and innovation) is favorable, we have the knowledge and master the technologies to develop apps in every platform, interesting ideas, etc. In my opinion, the fact of having few Cuban apps (which not necessarily refers to apps developed by Cuban specialists in Cuba) available in Google Play or iTunes is more related to the requirements to join such virtual stores, specifically having a bank account to issue or receive payments, than to aspects linked to the development.
AlaMesa on Social Networks
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