There are some things in life that everyone can agree on—like, waiting in line sucks. "I was waiting in line for food, after waiting in extremely long, frustrating lines for many rides," says QLess founder and CEO Alex Bäcker, who was visiting the amusement park with his family in November 2006. "I told myself there has to be a better way." During his 45-minute wait to order, he came up with that way, then went home and started writing up the company's first patent application.
Think of QLess as taking a number from anywhere in the world, without the hassle of showing up and standing around while you wait for it to be called. Just use your phone, tablet, computer, or an on-site kiosk to claim your place in line, then go about your day and show up when it's your turn. The tech tells you how long it will be until you are served, alerts you when you need to make your way to the counter or hostess stand, and even allows you to let someone "cut" if you're running late.
Three months after his inspiration, Bäcker joined forces with CTO Tim McCune, and they got to work coding. The very first wait that QLess eliminated was at a Texas accountant's office, but the Motor Vehicle Registration office in Nashua, New Hampshire, is the oldest continuously running QLess installation; it went live in 2008. The company was essentially a two-man shop until 2011 when they began staffing up, and these days, there are 15 full-time "liberators" (they free up your time, get it?) and just as many part-timers fighting the good fight. The company, whose motto is "Queue less. Live more," has partnered with several big tech companies—including Alcatel-Lucent, Blackboard, Dell, and Oracle—and was named Best Computer Services Company of the Year by the 2013 American Business Awards.
Bäcker's goal is a big one: "We want to eliminate waiting in line from the face of the Earth," he says. "The average American spends two years of his or her life waiting in line. QLess eliminates 100% of the line at 100% of QLess locations." So far so good; Bäcker says QLess has saved 15+ million people from nearly 500 years of waiting in line.
His company's clients are reaping big rewards from implementing the service, too. "Our customers—retailers, government agencies, healthcare providers, colleges and many other establishments—have consistent five-star reviews, 95% positive customer feedback, increased revenues from reduced walk-outs, 75% reduction in turn-aways, and data and analytics that allows them to manage locations much more effectively," says Bäcker, who hails from Buenos Aires and runs the company from Pasadena.
This makes Bäcker, who holds degrees in biology and economics from MIT and an M.S. and Ph.D. in computation and neural systems and biology from Caltech, extremely happy. "My goal has always been to allow my inherent entrepreneurial zeal to co-exist peacefully and constructively with my impeccably nerdy background," he says.