Meet Recruit Holdings backed Wongnai - Thailand’s Yelp

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We at YourStory recently caught up with Yod Chinsupakul, founder of Wongnai, what we can call Thailand’s Yelp. Yod comes across as a very grounded and focused entrepreneur at the helm of Wongnai driving its growth.According to Yod, about 10 investment deals happened in Thailand in the last couple of years. Recently Yod and his team successfully raised a Series A round from Japan’s Recruit Holdings to further propel Wongnai’s growth.

Below we delve deep into Yod and Wongnai’s journey:

Backstory

I was working at Thomson Reuters from 2004 to 2008 as a manager in Thailand, then I went to UCLA to do my MBA. I started a venture in the US with my friends while doing my MBA, that startup failed however. In 2010 soon after I finished my MBA, me and my co-founder wanted to start a venture in Thailand - that is how we started Wongnai. All the learnings from my first venture in the US came handy while setting up Wongnai.

The genesis of the idea was very simple. It was just meant to answer the question of what are we going to eat today. We found that so many people in Thailand have the same question for ever. When I was in the US, I used to like Yelp a lot. And there was nothing like Yelp in Thailand, I was very confident that this idea would work in Thailand, as it was a huge pain-point waiting to be solved.

I started Wongnai with my high school and college mates.

Initial Obstacles

When we started the business in 2010, it was very hard to figure out how to do things as we have not done business in Thailand before. We had to do a lot of trial and error by ourselves to figure things out.

Focus on Local

We believe reviews are very local. So we want to serve locals first in local language. We will work on the user interface to be in English, but reviews will always be in Thai. Maybe in future, we will have a feature to include reviews in other languages as well. But our target is locals first. Majority of the websites here are in Thai

English Version

We think the maintenance cost is too high for the English version, there are sites like Trip Advisor for tourists already. Wongnai is focussed on the locals.

Team and Traction

We have about 25 people in total. 20 people in Bangkok and 5 people in Ching Mai. We have Wongnai apps on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry. We have close to 1 million downloads as of now, and 70% of them are from iOS. The app is free. Our traffic on the website is increasing as well.

Revenue Model

It is free for restaurants to be listed, but for some premium listings, they have to pay.

Mobile market in Thailand

The majority of traction for the apps comes from iPhones. There are 5 million iPhones in the market, and 2 million iPads. Andriod is very prominent in terms of numbers of devices, but in terms of user engagement and downloads - iPhone is still dominant.

Recent Series A funding from Japan’s Recruit Holdings

We have closed our Series A funding from Recruit recently. They are a very large firm from Japan. They have a similar website in Japan, so they are very experienced in terms of running this kind of business. We are learning a lot from them on how to grow and how to sell. Maejima-san is on our board from Recruit.

Growth Plans

We are planning to expand to regions outside of Bangkok such as Chiang mai, Pattaya and Phuket. We are focussed on creating a community of users in all these regions so that they stay more engaged with the product. We are hiring team members and are also pumping up marketing efforts so that more and more people can download our app.

We have over 100,000 restaurants in our database, and 15% of them are focussing on marketing online, we are targeted to bring everyone in that segment onto Wongnai.

Our market is not for restaurants alone, like Yelp we can go into other markets too, and focus on any local business that can be reviewed.

Fundraising advice to Thai entrepreneurs

I would say that you have got to focus on your business rather than focus on raising money. I did not approach investors, they approached me. That is the best way to close a deal. When you focus on your business, you do not have to seek funds, the funds seek you. So focus on building the business first - and the rest will follow!

What drives Yod

There is a real friendship between us and our users, and that makes me the happiest man!

More about Wongnai: http://www.wongnai.com/

We wish Yod and his team much scale and success. We shall bring you regular updates from this hot Thai startup, so stay tuned!

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