The Korean online food delivery marketplace’s Chief Strategy Officer talks about the country’s penchant for dialling
He arrived in Seoul, South Korea, in February 2012, but his colleagues had already set up an entity in the capital city in 2011, and had started work there.
“We scouted the market here in Korea early in 2011,” he tells e27. “I guess it’s one of those cases where done is better than perfect.”
“We just kind of jumped into the cold water… Even though we didn’t have the master plan in place yet, we just thought, “Okay, there’s no time to waste here. Korea is a great opportunity. Let’s get the ball rolling.”
There were about three to four full-timers back then, alongside a small pool of interns, serving the still nascent online food delivery scene in Korea. That is a far cry from Yogiyo’s headcount of 350 people in 2015.
“It’s different from Germany, but the market opportunity was pretty obvious at that time. So, it was not like, ‘Oh, this is a super exotic market and we don’t understand it at all.’ We had some of the key people in Germany, and I don’t know exactly how and why, but they had travelled to Korea and they knew that there is a lot of delivery going on,” says Mayr.
“We wanted to automate everything — online, no calls needed and so on. So, there was a clear opportunity from my perspective. I was quite excited at the time,” he adds.
As the old saying goes, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” Today, tech companies are increasingly mobile-first, knowing that consumers are leaving their desktops for their tablets and smartphones.
Masao Kahihara, Senior Research Manager for Asia-Pacific at Google, wrote that Korea is a “smartphone paradise” with the second-highest smartphone penetration rate in Asia and the market for most apps installed on smartphones.
But for Mayr and his team back in 2012, going mobile-first wasn’t exactly as intuitive or easy as it sounds.
“We quickly realized that we had to change our strategy a bit, and a website alone is not going to cut it in Korea. Korea is very, very far ahead of the curve in terms of smartphone penetration…” he says.
Meanwhile, globally, other subsidiaries of Delivery Hero looked towards what Yogiyo was doing in Korea and learnt to optimise their mobile experience quickly.
At that time, while there were many consumers familiar with the ins and outs of food delivery, there were only two dominant online food delivery options: Baedaltong (which Delivery Hero invested in) and Baedal Minjok.
People weren’t going online to order food yet. Even today, according to Mayr, only five to 10 per cent of those who order food are doing so over the Internet.
In Korea, people are “used to it”, says Mayr, talking about how consumers are familiar with the “traditional” way of ordering food via the phone. They get a flyer, which comes with a pictorial menu and a phone number.
They pick up the phone and call in. Sometimes, the restaurant owner would recognise these callers and know exactly what they would like to order. Other times, the call ends two to three minutes later, and the food would arrive a while later.
“Also, it’s quite efficient in a way, at least comparatively speaking. So, for example, in Germany, if I’m ordering in Germany, and I dial a hotline or the restaurant’s phone number, there is an 80 to 90 per cent chance that I will speak to someone who’s not a native German speaker.
Restaurants are mainly run by immigrants in Germany, and that’s actually a common theme in almost all countries we’re operating in. But in Korea, there are not many immigrants running restaurants, so everyone speaks the same language,” he says.
“The majority of Koreans actually know us, but still, for one reason or another, they don’t use mobile applications for ordering. For me, that’s a bit of a sign – Okay, we are not done. We have to constantly improve our service offerings. There’s a bit of inertia, right? So it’s not enough to be a little bit better than the traditional [way of ordering food] but we have to be much better,” he adds.
Even if Koreans continue to pick up their phones only to call restaurants manually, not the automated way Mayr had intended them to go with, there is still a problem. Discovery. There was no way for people – even those who order food via phone delivery – to know and order from the different restaurants around their area. They definitely won’t be able to do so via a call.
“I think, for this office, for example, I can choose from more than 500 restaurants,” says Mayr, referring to the Yogiyo headquarters in Gangnam, Seoul. In that case, the company’s ranking system helps users know just which restaurant to order from.
At the moment, the Yogiyo app still does not support the English language. Mayr also does not think that the service will support the language in the near future.
“It depends on other priorities right? There are still so many things that we have planned that will give us a better return on our time,” he says.
“First of all, there’s not so many foreigners in Korea anyway, compared to other countries. Even once you have the interface, that doesn’t really solve the problem. I give you one example – I use Uber from time to time if I’m abroad but not in Korea, because if I use it in Korea, then basically I will get a call from the driver and he’s like oh where should I come? … But then, he talks to me in Korean.”
Doesn’t that mean that perhaps the interface is not as automated as Mayr was hoping for? Why do consumers still need to pick up calls from drivers, if they are able to confirm their location via the app?
“The problem is even if it works 90 per cent of the cases, what do you do with the remaining 10 percent? If the motorcycle rider cannot find it, you know, it happens, it’s not really my fault… He calls me, of course, because he has my phone number but we cannot communicate. Then, what happens? That is a big problem,” he tells e27.
Does Mayr order through Yogiyo, then, despite not being able to speak Korean? “I don’t speak, but I can read the text … so for me, it works quite well,” he says, ending our interview.
The post Can’t be a bit better, have to be much better: Yogiyo’s Christoph Mayr appeared first on e27.
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