Telum Talks To... Mui Hoon Poh, Co-founder and CEO, Esseplore
Like other industries, the F&B industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 related restrictions. Telum spoke with Mui Hoon Poh from Esseplore, a tech-enabled food and travel company, on building a comms strategy and the brand as a startup with all its limitations.
What is the idea behind Esseplore and what are the issues faced by the F&B industry that Esseplore aims to explore
Esseplore started as a travel app aimed at business leisure travellers and DIY travellers to cities around Asia, to help them plan (through our AI-driven algorithm) a completely hyperlocal, unique experience. One of Esseplore’s pillars was dining, where travellers could have the experience of private dining in the homes of local chefs. However, due to COVID-19, the co-founding team pivoted quickly, expanding on the dining element by offering food from our gourmet home chefs to customer homes in Singapore.
Today, there are five issues in the F&B industry from the perspective of a private chef. First, the cost of building up a physical outlet or restaurant can be prohibitive. Many who want to build a culinary business cannot do so, as the starting cost is just too high, with a huge chunk of expenses going to paying rent. A private chef who is looking to start a culinary business will find these barriers formidable.
Second, individual private chefs really have no scale when it comes to running a business and as such, very little bargaining power especially with suppliers. Third, as private chefs are artisans, they prefer to focus on perfecting their creations. As such, they could prefer a platform or company which would manage the day-to-day administrative matters for them. Esseplore removes these barriers by offering them this exact platform.
Fourth, private chefs starting out need guidance and mentoring. They are new to providing the service and many lack confidence. Esseplore’s culinary team provides that guidance. Last but not least, from a market perspective, there is so much opportunity and demand for beautifully presented gourmet food at home, and Esseplore aims to help them take advantage of it.
From what you've observed, how has COVID-19 transformed the F&B industry?
COVID-19 has pushed a lot of F&B establishments to consider interesting ways to run their business. The home delivery business has grown significantly. There is also a lot of cooking from home and therefore great opportunities for providers in that space too.
Effective communication is key to every startup growth. Do you have any tips on how to hire an effective communication and PR team?
The keyword here, I feel, is effective. Many communications team and PR firms have limited manpower - a struggle that is not limited to the comms industry, but across the board - and diverting manpower to the bigger accounts makes more sense from the business perspective. Startups have limited budgets yet need a lot of groundwork to build their communications plans and strategies.
Startups will need to establish a clever strategy to work around this problem: An efficient, lean and self-starting in-house communications team is necessary and they will have to be proactive and hands-on, using platforms like Telum, engaging with freelancers, and working within a limited budget.
Due to budget constraints and the dynamic, mutable nature of start-ups, have your team adapted any innovative strategies / tools to build the Esseplore brand?
Yes, it means finding experienced people who are willing to work with us, the right platform, and our own team has had to roll up our sleeves and be willing to work on this to get the word out about Esseplore. To be frank, nothing works better than word of mouth. All of us are part of various professional and social communities. Getting the word out to groups that already trust us and amplifying that are key strategies.
Are there any specific challenges you found in building a startup in Southeast Asia? What is the key to build a durable business?
Building a startup is already a challenge in itself. However, Singapore is the perfect place to validate the business model. The challenges of scaling up would be: to fit the model to the market. Each market will have its differences and challenges. Any startup team will need to consider that as they scale up.