INTERVIEW: Youmin Kim, founder of WhatsApp order form, — “I was inspired by inefficiency”

(PHOTO: Youmin Kim)
(PHOTO: Youmin Kim)

SINGAPORE — We now live in a world where words like Foodpanda, GrabFood, and food delivery have become commonplace. It’s a natural consequence of a time in our zeitgeist where staying home is encouraged (mandated even at one point) and having food sent to our homes is as important as supporting our favourites food joints which are suffering under these uncertain times when the rules for dining in changes as fluidly as the emergence of COVID-19 clusters in Singapore.

With profit margins of F&B outlets already severely affected, concerned consumers are starting to delve deeper into the commission structures imposed by bigger players like Grab—often regarded as opportunists in a marketplace where demand for their services far exceeds supply. There’s also the issue of older hawkers who cannot navigate the technical complexities of food delivery apps and are left to the mercy of time. They’re left to either wait out the COVID-19 situation until it gets better or until they’ve run out of capital to keep their stalls running—whichever comes first.

This is why I found it strange that services such as aren't more widely regarded in conversations about food delivery and untenable commission rates. Founded by a former Facebook engineer Youmin Kim, aims to simplify food orders using WhatsApp as a platform.

Most importantly, the service’s basic features are made accessible to users with advanced features (automatic delivery distance calculation and removal of sponsored ads) available at a low monthly cost of S$10. In this interview, Youmin shares with me what inspired him to start and the lessons he’s learned in the one year since.

Nurzatiman: How would you describe what you do to someone you're meeting for the first time?

Youmin Kim: I’m the founder of Take App—an online version of a paper order form more commonly seen at some Chinese restaurants. For example, in Whatsapp, shop owners usually take 10 mins just to confirm one order—time they have to spend to explain the items available, the prices, delivery modes, payments, etc. It’s the kind of repetitive work that keeps one person fully occupied, especially if they have many inquiries on Whatsapp.

Take App speeds up this process by up to three times, reducing each order to just three minutes. In addition, the entire ordering experience is efficiently streamlined to ensure speed and accuracy.

What was the inspiration behind the creation of this app/website?

This might sound strange, but I was inspired by the inefficiency of some restaurants in taking orders for customers. If you were to ask me for the direct inspiration for the platform, it would be Tim Ho Wan, one of my favourite restaurants and one of the few places that use their paper order form efficiently. Once seated at the table, a server passes me an order form with a pencil and leaves me to choose what I want to purchase before coming back later to confirm my order. It’s efficient because while waiting for me to choose, they can serve other customers who are ready.

I’m also following several Facebook Groups that support Singapore F&B businesses, many without an online presence pre–COVID-19. I found tremendous opportunities there to bring these untapped businesses online.

Gold Kimchi (PHOTO: Youmin Kim)
Gold Kimchi (PHOTO: Youmin Kim)

What was one unexpected impact that Take App had that surprised you the most?

If there’s one demographic that Take App helped the most, it would be home-based businesses. So it’s pretty heartening to see Take App positively and directly impact small businesses and help support the livelihood of many families. Gold Kimchi, for instance, came on board with us last year, and they are now one of the most popular Kimchi sellers in Singapore. So it’s pretty amazing to see the growth of my sellers.

In your LinkedIn note, you mentioned that the website generated USD1.5M revenue for 1,000+ shops from 250K users in Singapore and Malaysia, which is impressive and a great marker of success. Looking back, in the early days of the site development, how did you imagine success to have looked like?

As of May 2021, we have more than 6,000 shops and 350,000 monthly visitors from Singapore, Malaysia, India, and Nigeria. It was a hobby project in the early days, so I did not expect such exponential growth. I mean, I only spent three days creating the first version of Take App. However, the service grew unexpectedly fast, and now I have to spend a significant portion of my time maintaining the system.

Last April, I left my previous job, which I worked in for the last six years, to focus on Take App. These are all things I never imagined before, but I cannot afford to stop as many small businesses and families are relying on Take App. It’s humbling, but the pressure is also ever-present.

What is the one most valuable lesson you've learned in developing that other food delivery platforms can learn from?

E-commerce and food delivery platforms are naturally complicated because different shops sell different items with variable pricing and fulfilment mechanics. Some are also not sufficiently tech-savvy to learn new things fast, so a simple user interface is critical. However, if we try to address every single one of their needs and options, it becomes a highly complex solution that nobody can use with ease.

Some of these sellers are also practising creativity to tweak existing solutions. My philosophy of software development is to offer the essential features first. It is not a perfect system, admittedly, but our sellers usually find their own way to utilise whatever features are available to the best of their ability. Then, I gradually add more details based on feedback. This is the secret to how a single person can develop and maintain Take App service.

When you look at the state of F&B in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?

Websites and delivery platforms that opened during this pandemic serve as a way for regular customers to buy food and a new opportunity for F&B businesses to reach new customers who might not otherwise be motivated to visit the physical store. As it is, diners are already shifting towards food delivery, and I reckon this will become a mainstay even as the pandemic situation gets better.

To that end, F&B businesses that haven’t already should take this opportunity to align themselves with this burgeoning trend to develop delivery-friendly menus, lower dine-in space-related expenses, and exponentially invest in increasing their online presence, whether it be in social media or via a website.

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