Steven Kim on Qraved and His Craving for Entrepreneurial Challenges

Korean Wave is now in the culinary industry as well. Steven Kim is the CEO and co-founder at Qraved, Managing Partner at Imaginato who happened to be on stage at Global Entrepreneurship Week Summit Indonesia yesterday (21/11). Here’s the excerpt of our conversation for you. It’s the uncut version of our brief interview after his performance on Talkathon at the end of the event. I’m AP (Akhlis Purnomo) and Steven Kim is SK.

AP: So what startup are you running now?

SK: Currently running Qraved.com,  it’s a restaurant discovery reservation platform. Both are mobile apps on Android and iOS and web as well. We just launched our new iOS app so we’re quite excited about the different design and different features we have now.

AP:How does it work?

SK: So recently why we use our Qraved is one, I wanna know where to go to eat..to have dinner.. various different occasions, right? So either you discover, you find it by occasions, or you find about different types of restaurants. So ramen restaurants, barbeque places, Chinese flavor, or let’s say, I just wanna get an offer. That scenario you can actually just find restaurants that have offers. The offers are just very similar to Agoda offers, so depending on the day or time, the offer inventory changes. It’s only limited number of people that can get discounts so …and you have to book. That’s why if you plan to  …more and more Indonesians now are using our platform..yes everyboody used to be last minute. Everybody like “Oh Friday dinner, where should we go?” and book it right away like 2 hours in advance. Because of more and more discounts coming in, people actually book a bit earlier to secure that discount.

AP: So it’s like Groupon but in culinary industry or…?

SK: It’s different to Groupon in a few different ways. So …One, to the restaurants, our merchants..Hmm we’re actually just filling the empty tables they have anyway so similiar to hotel industry, right? So hmm, Friday Saturday dinners, this is easy but Sunday to Thursday dinners, like you have 10 to 15 empty tables. So it’s gonna be empty unless there’s something to assist it. So actually we’re helping restaurants to make more money. Whereas Groupon is just a marketing platform. So the discount itself is almost like a marketing expense, our situation is actually more yield management where restaurants actually make more money.

AP: How did you get the idea?

SK: Well, uhmm, one of the things ..when I came to Indonesia about 3 years ago, I was looking for restaurants because I’m a foodie and searched for different things. Back then the only two platforms existed was Sendok Garpu and …. (I can’t hear it perfectly -AP). I searched for Italian, I got Pizza Hut. And I’d say for burger and I got Burger King. So basically I wasn’t able to find this kind of unique..like specialty restaurants or a certain topic. And the biggest reason is because of the incentive of people to write reviews. It’s the mess of 18..19 writing reviews because they’ll get something free. That’s why ..I meant fastfood becomes the most popular thing. But actually I mean ..if you’re a culinary person, which I think a lot of Indonesian are now especially more on Instagram and Path. Now food and dining out is almost like ..it’s a lifestyle, it’s not only about dining. You take a picture, you are dressed up and post it up and that kind of stuff. So that good platform didn’t exist and that’s why …OK, how we make something that for people to look for something specific depending on the situation, depending on the dish, depending on the cuisine, they wanna try something new, or hmm.. yeah they just wanna find different places. What we’re trying to do is provide different experience, just better. Really making it easy to find different things and that’s why our value proposition is different things, so discovery of different types of offer, set menu and so on, super easy resevations, so like if you’re going out in big groups or you’re going out on a date, you want that window seat, because there’s only one or two window seat but you want your date to be at that good spot, you need to make resevations, but beforehand you have to make a phone call, so yeah OK we’ll see if we can get that window seat when we get there but now you don’t have to do that. Now you can just easily put it “window seat” in the reservation and it’s done. More and more people are using it. Specifically like this (Steven showed me his app on the phone) and you see the more you book and dine, you also get reward points, whch can be redeemed later on to get discounts as well. Ten times of you book and dine, it goes up to 1000 points which means 100K. If you get 2000 which uses 20 times, it becomes 500K. 30 times you’ll get 400K Rupiahs deduction. So let’s say nobody has to reserve, true, fine…if you just use it to track your dining behavior then you’re getting just more and more possible to get discounts in the future.

AP: Does the service also work in other cities aside from Jakarta?
SK: Right now we’re in Jakarta. We’re launching in Bali. next month. We plan to launch in Bandung, Surabaya and afterwards Yogyakarta, Medan, all in the next few months.

AP: You’re travelling around Indonesia?
SK: I am going quite a bit, my team is also …We currently have 30 people in Jakarta. Our office is in City Loft since November 2013. Before that we were in Menteng.

AP: How old is the startup (Qraved) now?
SK: One year now.

AP: Who’s the investor?
SK: We have 500 Startups, SIlicon Valley investor, Skype cofounder, a Japanese investor. We’re already in A Round.

AP: Any plan to expand to other countries?
SK: Sure, the reason why we choose Indonesia, apart from the market opportunity and everything else, is when I started Zalora in Singapore and then I went to Thailand to help build the business there, the operations there, there’re so many different problems. So what we can think is OK.. To develop in a location, you can’t expand easily. It’s very difficult, you have to change so many things. We have to start in Indonesia and go to Singapore even Bangkok and others, we’ve gone through a lot of different challenges that we’ve overcome, whether it be products or processes or whatever ..yeah I think it’s a good launchpad.

AP: That means Indonesia is a key market to your startup?
SK: I think it’s a great foundation because it’s challenging. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of challenges but that means there’s a lot of opportunity. I think when it comes to foreigners, like..this is my business, there’re more businesses coming into Indonesia. We started in here but some are concerned to start in amarket very early but for me, me being Korean and experiencing how Korea developed or seeing how Japan and China  developed, I think we’re in Indonesia right now because all the communication is now super super high. Social media penetration, Path, Instagram, going nuts, mobile…Internet penetration going crazy…Xiaomi coming in. The communication is being fixed. So now companies need to figure out what services we could put on that. And what we’re doing is putting F and B as a service on top of this communication platform that exists already.

AP: Is it difficult to set up a business in Indonesia?
SK: I think it is very difficult. Honestly…In every market it’s important to have a good local team and local partners and Indonesia makes that as well. It’s very important that you have local insights. I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest because I think Indonesians are amazing in the sense of English level, their acceptance of global services, curiosity on something new. These elements are already here. The biggest challenge of Indonesia in the way…and this is why this kind of event (GEW) is important…the younger people are not really leaping to embrace this opportunity. I think there’re lots people who go to corporate world. And I think that’s a bad decision because really when you’re younger, that’s when you can actually do a startup and experience it hardcore and try to build your individual division, or department or team and be like to grow it and work hard to make that happen. Let’s say you do it for a year and “OK, this is not for me”, still you can go back to corporate jobs. So I think young people in Indonesia have to really much more jump into entrepreneurship. They don’t necessarily start themselves, being a contributor to big visions of startup like Qraved.
I’m always looking for talents, looking for anybody who really is alligned with this type of vision, that Indonesia is a cool market and we’re building like one of the biggest in Indonesia. I’m always interested in people who share same visions.

AP: Is it that hard to recruit talents in Indonesia?
SK: IT think it’s more challenging than other locations, not because… there’s good talent but the supply and demand right now, there’s definitely more demand of talent than actually the supply. Also secondly, a lot of smart people currently in corporate jobs. They’re very good but they’re not looking for jobs so they’re comfortable. They’re not looking for more yet. When it comes to hiring, it’s easier in the market where people are genuinely thinking:”How do I improve my life?” But there’s still like..”Oh, I’m comfortable. I just wanna be here.” Kind of a bad attitude as well.

AP: Is it your first startup?
SK: It’s my fourth. I was with Rocket Internet before this, so I started a travel accomodation site like AirBnB,  Windu (2011), So I built up Asia Pacific and then I started Zalora Singapore. Up to 50 employees in six months and …then I came over to start in Indonesia at a B2B office supplies company and then I left about a year and a half year ago to start Qraved.

AP: Indonesia has recently a new government. Is there any expectation as a businessman or entrepreneur?
SK: Yeah, there’re some policies being announced that show positive trends in the business persepective. Obviously, the execution itself would be very important. Some are positive like the government’s plan to invest billions of dollars. The subsidy situation and it’s interesting that some don’t go nuts about this. There’re a lot of positive indicators. The momentum is what we believe in. And hopefully their execution of this policy is going to the right direction.

AP: Can Indonesia build a better entrepreneurship ecosystem just like Korea?

SK: To a certain extent, yes. It’s really depending on how you define an ecosystem like how you define entrepreneurship. Just because you’re trying to enhance entrepreneurship, it doesn’t mean “Oh, everybody! Start your own business!”. You can be entrepreneurial with an organization, being a part of companies especially if you’re early on in your career, it makes a lot of sense to do that so that you get the experience first and then when you’re actually ready, you can do it yourself. You have a lot of knowledge, network of people, have different pieces together. When it comes to ecosystem, Indonesia…hmm it’s getting there. This kind of platform and companies… A lot of bigger companies should be more supportive. We wanna hire more people as well. It’s always great to have people to build up that kind of profile.

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